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Brexit could lead to extra £500m bill for NHS

Thousands more NHS and social care staff may be needed

Adrian O'Dowd

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Experts are warning that the NHS could have to find an extra half a billion pounds per year to cope with an influx of retired British people coming back to the UK from living in the European Union (EU) because of Brexit.

Health think tank the Nuffield Trust has today published a briefing on the impact of Brexit on the NHS and social care, the second of its general election briefings.

The new briefing ‘Getting a Brexit Deal that Works for the NHS’ says that 190,000 British pensioners currently live in other EU countries and receive healthcare under the EU reciprocal S1 scheme.

The briefing’s authors calculated that if these people decided to return to the UK in the event that this benefit was withdrawn after Brexit, then the cost to the NHS was likely to be around £979 million – around twice the amount that the UK government currently reimburses to other EU states for their care (around £500 million net).

Their calculations are based on the age profile of the people involved, and their likelihood of using healthcare.

In addition, this would mean a sudden need for more staff to help look after the extra people.

The authors estimated that around 900 extra beds would be likely to be required as well as 1,600 more nurses, doctors, other health professionals, and support staff.

Brexit could also mean higher costs for the NHS if it had to pay to replace staff because EU migration was reduced, or if it faced a rise in the cost of medicines.

There was, they explained, a risk that the NHS would no longer have access to as wide a supply of medicines at as good a price if the UK left the EU’s medicine licensing system, possibly meaning an extra cost exceeding £100 million per year.

Another issue was the NHS’s reliance on overseas staff (including the 10,000 EEA doctors currently working in the NHS), they added, saying: “The UK has long depended disproportionately on doctors from overseas to fill medical posts.

“In recent years, it also appears to have become increasingly reliant on nurses and social care workers migrating from the European Economic Area. It is vital that the NHS gets a deal that helps rather than hinders it in dealing with the staffing crisis.”

Among some possible benefits for the NHS from Brexit was a funding boost for the UK when it stopped paying its EU membership fees, said the authors.

However, their analysis calculated that social care faced a shortfall of around 70,000 workers by 2025-6 if net migration of unskilled workers was halted after Brexit.

Report author Mark Dayan, Nuffield Trust policy and public affairs analyst, said: “It is possible that extra funds could be found for the NHS from any cancellation of Britain’s EU membership fees – but whether or not these benefits will outweigh the significant staffing and financial costs Brexit may impose on already stretched services remains to be seen.”

Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said: “These figures are a stark reminder that with the NHS at breaking point, politicians must keep the health service and its patients at the forefront during Brexit negotiations and reduce the impact that leaving the EU will have on health and social care across the UK.”

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