This is my first post which mentions the B word … and what a subject Brexit is! The topic has dominated discussions in the UK since the 48/52 vote split back in 2016.
There has been much talk both pre and post the vote surrounding how the UK would be impacted by Brexit. Now Brexit has become a reality, people are voicing their opinions and concerns on all things associated with the UK’s departure from the European Union. One issue that has been raised often is the NHS and the future effect of Brexit on this long-standing institution. I wanted to take a few minutes to write about what I’ve discovered so far.
It is hard to determine what is going to materialise with Brexit. Remainers paint a story of doom and gloom whilst Leavers look forward to rainbows and pots of gold. It is difficult to know what is going to happen until things actually start happening. But we can look at some facts and what they could mean to the NHS.
Firstly; the workforce. In the NHS, currently around 10% of doctors and 5% of nurses are EU workers. With the NHS being the biggest employer in the UK this equates to 160,000 members of the workforce in total being EU nationals. Although many of these may be able to stay, the NHS is already struggling to fill vacancies so the threat of even some nationals returning to their native countries poses a risk to the NHS.
Yet Leavers maintain an improvement in workforce morale could be seen through leaving the EU. Gone will be the days of the EU working time rules; with surgeons able to undergo much more training that previously was not an option for them due to time constraints. In turn, this could see a significant improvement in patient safety.
Medicines And Medical Equipment
The UK is part of the European Medicines Agency and currently plays a key role in collaboration and participation within the organisation. It is not definite as yet if Brexit will have any influence here. Pharmaceutical companies work with very complicated international supply chains – sourcing materials, manufacturing, packaging, testing and so on. Even a home-grown British product may be passed around other member EU states prior to being declared a finished creation. It could be that Brexit makes this already-complicated process harder or less cost effective for the NHS.
Conversely, other experts have welcomed Brexit, pointing out that the legislation which covers surgical equipment standards is not as rigorous in the EU as the UK. In fact, the UK is classed as the ‘gold standard’ when it comes to testing and regulation of equipment. With reliability concerns over some equipment from the EU, the UK would be better placed to instil their own standards once and for all.
The NHS has benefited in recent years from a lot of funding from the EU for medical research purposes. We’re talking hundreds of millions of pounds. But whilst some EU colleagues will wish to maintain relationships with only those remaining in the EU, Brexit could enable more of the UK’s own money to be spent on medical research.
As with everything Brexit-orientated, it seems there are pros and cons. However, whatever your viewpoint, we all hope that one thing remains the same; the care and dignity exhibited to patients.