The NHS will suffer under all Brexit scenarios but the prospect of no deal is ‘by far the worst scenario’, researchers have said.
According to a study published in The Lancet today, all Brexit scenarios will have a negative impact on the ‘healthcare workforce, NHS financing, availability of medicines and vaccines, sharing of information and medical research’.
The review authors fear that the UK is not well prepared for any of the four Brexit scenarios they examined.
They expressed concerns that the NHS long-term plan only mentions Brexit twice, offering no details as to what it could mean for the health sector or how any threats associated with it should be addressed.
The Labour Party is now calling on the Prime Minister to ensure the UK leaves with a deal ‘for the sake of patients’, with Jeremy Corbyn yesterday announcing that the party would be willing to endorse a second referendum to stop a no-deal Brexit.
Four potential scenarios
Of the four Brexit scenarios mentioned in the study, a no-deal Brexit would be the worst outcome for the healthcare sector, the authors said.
This, they added, is because ‘all collaborations would immediately lose the legal basis on which they are conducted, making data sharing across borders impossible unless the EU formally recognises the UK’s data protection laws as compliant with EU law and access to funding would end, presumably with immediate effect’.
Other scenarios include exiting with the proposed withdrawal agreement – which was negotiated between the EU and the UK Government but not passed by Parliament and includes a transition period until the end of 2020.
Other possible scenarios are the political declaration on the future relationship, which is a framework for future relationship between the EU and the UK, and the so-called ‘Irish backstop’, which would be implemented after the transition period.
Recruitment and retention
The study emphasises that recruitment and retention of EU nationals is likely to be a major challenge following Brexit.
Although there would be arrangements in place until 2020 as part of the withdrawal agreement, if this were to go ahead, ‘uncertainty over administrative arrangements’ prevails.
Meanwhile the political declaration on the future relationship scenario features ‘no provisions facilitating recruitment and retention of NHS workers’, with the same applying in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Following Brexit, it could be more difficult for some healthcare workers to come to the UK. This is because the Immigration White Paper proposes a minimum salary threshold of £30,000 a year for skilled workers, the authors warned.
This comes after a report commissioned by the Cavendish Coalition – which comprises 36 health and social care bodies including NHS Employers – last year found that the NHS could be short of more than 50,000 nurses post-Brexit.
A report by the Migration Advisory Committee on EEA migration, published in September 2018, suggested the Government should scrap the cap on the number of high-skilled migrants from the EU while limiting access for low-skilled labour.
Commenting on the report, Labour MP Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘The Lancet devastatingly reveals the dangers to the NHS of a no deal Brexit.
‘For the sake of patients and the NHS, Theresa May must now act in the national interest and say no to no deal.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Leaving the EU with a deal remains the Government’s top priority. This has not changed. However, a responsible government must plan for every eventuality, including a no deal scenario.
‘While we never give guarantees, we are confident that if everyone – including suppliers, freight companies, international partners and the health and care system – does what they need to do, the supply of medicines and medical products should be uninterrupted in the event of exiting the EU without a deal.’