6 ways Brexit could flatline the NHS

by Luke Lythgoe | 31.05.2017

Forget the revitalising shot of £350 million every week which Brexiters falsely promised the NHS during the referendum. Leaving the EU could cause the NHS’ health to deteriorate in a number of ways.

1. Less money to spend

Most parties have pledged more money for the NHS in their election manifestos. But it’s not as easy as that. As health secretary Jeremy Hunt told the i: “In the end the Brexit negotiations will determine whether our economy stays strong and we can carry on putting more money into the NHS.”

The referendum has already led to higher inflation – and that’s before Brexit has even happened. Theresa May’s pledge to take us out of the EU’s single market, which is responsible for half our trade, is bad enough. If she carries out her threat to quit with no deal at all, the economy will really be clobbered. That will mean lower tax receipts, and less money in the coffers to spend on healthcare.

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2. Fewer nurses

Record high numbers of EU nurses have quit the NHS and record low numbers have joined since the referendum. The Royal College of Nursing has blamed this on the May’s failure to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK.

In the worst case scenario – according to a leaked internal government document – we might see a nursing staff shortage of between 26,000 and 42,000 by 2026.

3. Fewer doctors

A similar phenomenon is happening with EU-trained doctors and non-medical NHS staff. Guardian analysis showed 2,348 EU doctors left NHS England between July and September 2016 compared with 1,281 in the same period in 2015 – a rise of 83% year on year.

4. No more care on the Costas

The Nuffield Trust estimates that, unless a deal can be made that allows expats to get medical treatment abroad, an increase in EU-based Brits returning home for healthcare could cost an extra £500 million every year. In the unlikely scenario that all 190,000 of Britain’s pensioners return, the NHS would need an extra 900 beds – enough to fill two new hospitals the size of St Mary’s Hospital, London.

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    5. Drug trials for children with cancer

    Brexiters were keen to cut free of the EU’s clinical trials regime. But leading doctors have warned this could mean British patients are no longer able to take part in potentially life-saving trials – with a particular impact on children with cancer. Since the number of children with specific types of cancer is so small, pharmaceutical companies are likely to conduct trials in the EU where the number of patients is higher and testing is therefore more robust.

    6. Radioactive treatments cut off

    Theresa May has decided unnecessarily that leaving the EU also means quitting Europe’s atomic energy community, Euratom. Even the Brexit-supporting Telegraph has warned of the potentially dire consequences. All the medical isotopes used by the NHS are imported and so governed by strict international rules on the transportation of nuclear materials. If we crashed out of the system with no new deal, the NHS would lose access to radioactive isotopes used to treat cancer.

    Edited by Hugo Dixon