Last Friday we were lucky enough to have a visit from our local MP, Catherine West, who came into our BNC session to discuss the future of the NHS. We had the opportunity to practise using our speaking up skills to share our opinions and ask questions about things we were curious about.
One of the things that came up was how Brexit would affect the NHS, which was something that we hadn’t really thought about before.
Catherine West was worried that Brexit would have a detrimental affect on the NHS, which is already struggling because it doesn’t have enough doctors and nurses. Many of the staff working for the NHS, from doctors to nurses to other hospital staff, are from other countries in the EU. According to her facts and statistics, approximately 5% of all NHS workers come to the UK from other European countries. But what will happen to these workers after Brexit? Will they be allowed to stay and continue to work? Will they even want to? And what effect will losing these workers have on the NHS’s future? Fewer doctors and nurses will lead to increased staff shortages, longer waiting times, fewer available appointments and less efficient treatment for those in need.
Although staff shortages were what we discussed during our meeting with Catherine West, we weren't convinced that Brexit would definitely have a purely negative affect on the NHS's future. In fact, we felt sure that it would have other effects on the NHS- both negative and (hopefully) positive- and decided to do some research of our own.
Firstly, it could lead to a shortage of essential medicines. According to a BBC article we found, we import a lot of our medicines from the EU (37 million packs a month!). One of the issues surrounding Brexit is the issue of free trade. If we end up with a no-deal Brexit it might be very difficult to quickly get the medicines the country needs from somewhere else in the EU, which would have a detrimental affect on patient care and could even lead to an increase in deaths.
Secondly, the UK benefits from access to research funding from the EU. This will continue during the transition phase but, after that, it seems likely that the UK will be less likely to lead research problems and, therefore, may not see the full benefits of the research that is taking place. This could lead to slower improvements in healthcare and technology, which would, once again, have a detrimental affect on patient care.
But are there any potential positives or was Catherine West right about how much of a bad thing it would be?
At the moment, one of the big problems is that the NHS is overloaded with too many patients, many of which are migrants. Following Brexit, there could be fewer migrants to the UK which would mean fewer patients and less pressure on the NHS.
One of the big draws of the Leave campaign was the claim that money saved from payments to the EU could mean an additional £350 million a week to be spent on the NHS. A lot of our discussions in BNC this issue have been around the need for additional NHS funding, so this sounds like it could be great for the future of the NHS. However, using our scepticism we wondered whether or not the NHS would have got this additional funding regardless of whether or not Brexit had happened since the government have been promising this for a while.
Following our discussions and research, we came to the conclusion that althoguh Brexit will clearly have some negatives for the NHS, it seems probable that there were also be some positives that could lead to substantial improvements, especially where funding is concerned. If nothing else, the fact that the Leave campaign talked so much about the benefits for the NHS might just be enough to push the government to respond to the NHS's needs.
What do you think? Will Brexit affect the NHS positively, negatively or not at all?