With the ever tumultuous, ever impending departure of the UK from the European Union, fears have been raised over the sheer cost of such as exploit, along with concerns as to where the money for delaying and leaving the EU will come from. When the referendum results were announced 3 years ago, there was significant discussion around the future of an NHS and experts from government bodies were reluctant to give any firm figures around the NHS funding in future years. In the aftermath of the referendum, it also became apparent that funding to national health services and an estimated £350 million a week earmarked for healthcare provision diverted from the EU would no longer be available. However, there are some good prospects for private healthcare to flourish in the wake of a European departure, particularly in the context of UK business investment. Furthermore, a barrier to entry of visa’s for EU healthcare workers to work in the UK may pose a good basis on which to see a resurgence of British-sourced healthcare workers.
So what role does Brexit have exactly on the NHS budget and funding? The NHS is funded from national insurance and tax contribution, and has been affected of late in the midst of uncertainty over withdrawal agreements. Indeed, while nothing is certain, this period has proved uncertain for the NHS, with cuts to some services occurring regularly, yet investment in other areas have streamlined the provision of care. However, concerns from the regulatory boards for healthcare workers over the retention of staff are but one of many issues provoked by an impending withdrawal.
One of the biggest concerns from bodies such as the NMC are that the retention of nurses from EU states may be difficult, particularly due to costs and visa applications which may be necessary for EU citizens to work in the United Kingdom. Indeed, this has triggered an all-time low of new nurses registering in the UK amidst the ongoing uncertainty. Indeed, the gloomy possibility of a no-deal Brexit even poses significant pressure on basic provisions such as European healthcare given to Brits abroad through the EHIC system. This European health card system would be void in the event of a no-deal Brexit, meaning Brits would need to pay for medical services, or potentially take out much more costly insurance plans when travelling abroad. However, one could argue that there may be a better platform for private investment in healthcare, allowing a greater level of training and recruitment of novel healthcare workers at universities. Through internal investment, more workers could be sourced from the British Isles, bolstering the healthcare industry in the absence of EU support.
We have already delved into the very real possibility of medicine shortages, something which is being negotiated and large quantities of vital medicines are being stockpiled around the country. However, the import, delay and maintenance of these medicines is a crucial part of the concern, as delicate medicines like Insulin must be kept refrigerated and maintained properly to ensure its efficacy. The road delays, port delays and paper-work needed to negotiate a large quantity of cargo in and out of the country is but one of the many delays that could seriously affect provisions in the supply chain to NHS pharmacies, doctors and hospitals. Yet, these barriers potentially raise the possibility of outside and internal investment back into manufacturing, especially in pharmaceuticals and medical devices which are often outsourced into other countries. The development of further industry in the UK would only serve to provide more jobs, innovation and technological advances, allowing room for good trade deals with the rest of the world.
The secretary of state for health and social care wrote to the NHS and government advising against excess ordering and stockpiling independently due to government preparations; ‘Clinicians should advise patients that the Government has plans in place to ensure a continued supply of medicines to patients from the moment we leave the EU. Patients will not need to and should not seek to store additional medicines at home.’ Most of these concerns are voiced over the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, which may see no negotiation on the European medicine commissioning for drugs. However, the scale and prospect of humanitarian crises shall surely be avoided due to the long-term preparedness of the government and NHS yet concerns remain high for perishables and diabetic treatments.
Although far from settled, the tumultuous waters of the Brexit debate are still causing ripples throughout the political and societal spectrum. However, it appears that without major funding (despite a large budget announced by Chancellor of the Exchequor Sajid Javid), there could be serious consequences for staff provision and service upkeep in the NHS. Yet, the promising future for UK development, research and innovation is particularly attractive, especially in the context of a resurgence of automation and manufacturing in the UK. In the minds of some, investment in development of healthcare provisions may rekindle Britain’s industrial past, potentially creating thousands of jobs and further incentive for healthcare training to more British nationals than ever. The negotiation of the withdrawal agreement must be a priority, particularly in reference to avoiding catastrophic consequences for employment, travel and the safe provision of specialist medicines. However, we must remain optimistic that the future for healthcare investment in the NHS and private development seems promising.