How will Brexit influence health care?

How Will Brexit Influence Health Care?

In the past weeks there have been numerous questions asked and considerations expressed from various sides, from inside and outside the UK… about Brexit. 

The vast majority are stunned by what has happened. Although Wellbe has not been directly involved in the UK heath care so far, we have always been watching carefully for opportunities and we have also managed to establish a contact or two for future activities. That is why we find it interesting to present in this blog one view about the possible impact Brexit can have on the health care of the UK but also in a wider sense. The original text was published in IMTJ[1] on 5th of July 2016 and the author is Keith Pollard. Here is only one part of his comments of how the UK got to this situation, and what it means for the future:

„The result that no one expected

On Thursday 23rd June, the British people voted to “Leave” the European Union. It was a close result. Leave won by 52% to 48%. But opinion was sharply divided. People in Scotland, Northern Ireland and London voted in favour of “Remain”. The elderly, the “working class”, and low income earners wanted to leave; the young, those with higher education, and higher income earners were in the “Remain” camp.

A good or bad decision for the UK?

Well, it depends on whether you voted “Remain” or “Leave”.

But for me, the problem is that we let the people make the decision. That’s true democracy… but was a very confused, and poorly informed populace capable of making such a momentous decision?

IMHO… probably not!

Following the result, many of the “Leave” campaigners backtracked on their promises.

  • The promised transfer of the spend on the EU into the NHS…. isn’t going to happen.
  • The chances of maintaining access to the EU market AND controlling immigration… are much less than was promised.

It was a complex decision. It has already had and will have massive international, domestic, political and economic ramifications for the UK. Some commentary from the BBC:

  • The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has said that companies have already started cutting back on investments following the vote.
  • And he has abandoned his target to restore government finances to a surplus by 2020.
  • The ratings agencies Fitch and S&P have downgraded the UK’s credit rating, meaning they think that lending money to the UK government is less safe than it was last week.
  • There have been big falls in stock markets in the UK and around the world (although there have been considerable recoveries this week.)
  • The pound has dropped considerably against the US dollar, less so against the euro.

The impact of Brexit on the healthcare system

The threat to the UK’s healthcare system has two aspects – the impact on staffing and the impact on funding.

Last week, I went to my dental hygienist… she’s from Hungary. I bought a coffee from a barista from Lisbon, and a beer from a barmaid from Romania. Last year, I underwent surgery… the nurses, the support staff, the doctors were from India, Serbia, Portugal, Lithuania, Egypt, Romania, Turkey and Russia. The UK has a healthcare system that is highly dependent on an international migrant workforce.  25% of consultant specialists in the UK’s NHS are not British. In some leading university hospitals, the figure is over 50%. The NHS Confederation says there are currently 130,000 EU health and care workers in the UK, including 10% of all doctors and 5% of nurses.

According to the Guardian:

  • “the biggest threat to the NHS comes from a recession-driven round of additional spending cuts hitting non-ringfenced budgets such as social care.”
  • ” The most insidious effect of the current anti-European climate will be to discourage EU talent from working in our health and care system”
  • “EU investment in UK medical research will be lost and further damage may well be inflicted by lower economic growth. The eventual deal on access to the single market will have huge implications for UK pharmaceutical companies and many more besides.”
  • “The Brexit vote could undermine staffing, research, service reform, devolution and funding.”
  • “The health and care system has nothing to celebrate.”

10% of NHS and care staff are from the EU. They are plugging a skills and staffing shortage in a country which has an ageing population.

Some of them are fearful that their future jobs are at risk.

The NHS Confederation has even launched a Twitter campaign called #LoveOurEUStaff. The private healthcare sector is supporting it. BMI Healthcare, the UK’s leading private hospital company, has tweeted:

  • “In light of the #Brexit vote we just want to show our appreciation to all our EU staff. We #LoveOurEUStaff”

The impact of Brexit on medical tourism

The question all of our IMTJ and Treatment Abroad clients are asking…

The answer… who knows?

In the short term, things are very unlikely to change a great deal. A downturn in the economy and in public finances may be a bonus for outbound medical tourism from the UK as UK patients seek to save money on treatment and escape the waiting list which is likely to grow. We may see increased use of patients’ rights under the EU Directive.

But the truth is… only time will tell. So, it’s business as usual for the moment!“

[1] International Medical Travel Journal

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