A ‘no deal’ Brexit would do serious damage to an already overstretched NHS, the Nuffield Trust has cautioned.
The warning comes in a new report, ‘How will our future relationship with the EU shape the NHS?’, which looks at the priorities for the NHS as attention turns to a possible trade deal with the EU.
The briefing highlights that if the UK leaves without any deal it could cause “extensive problems” for the NHS, including a “chaotic disruption” to supplies of medical products, delays in access to cutting-edge treatments and medical research, and a rise in prices that would push hospitals “deeper into deficit”.
Vital procedures provided across the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland could also be obstructed, which could force large numbers of pensioners to return for care in “an NHS which has no room for them”.
The Nuffield Trust’s Mark Dayan, author of the report, said: “Many different parts of EU law and EU institutions play an important role in enabling healthcare to be delivered to the standards we see today. Suddenly ending them with no replacement would do serious damage to an already strained NHS.
“For many things — from medicine regulation to the rights of NHS staff — there is a way through if deals can be secured. But if negotiations collapse entirely or if political red lines get in the way of future co-operation, patient care will suffer,” he added.
Scope of report
The report draws on a series of roundtable events for policy leaders dealing with Brexit in health and social care; a review of government, independent and academic literature; and consultation with experts and stakeholders.
It looks in depth at five key areas crucial to the delivery of health and social care to patients in the UK: medicines and medical devices; regulation of science, staff and health care; customs and trade; health programmes and agencies; and reciprocal and cross-border health care.
It also highlights that if the UK and the EU reach “careful, successful exit and trade deals” many of the issues can be addressed and that in some areas, such as medicines approval, life science regulation and the Working Time Directive, there are “glimmers of opportunity” to do things differently after Brexit.