EU referendum: Brexit could cause significant staffing issues for NHS while pharmaceutical sector would suffer

James Nickerson
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NHS Healthcare Organisation Looks To The Future
The EIU sees little room for positive outcomes in healthcare if the UK (Source: Getty)

There are "substantial risks for the country's health sector" if the UK votes for Brexit, a new report has warned.

A report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) argues that the economic and political implications of Brexit, which are described as gloomy, could have direct implications for the health sector.

First, if the economy does indeed slow or even go into recession, the result will be a reduction in tax revenues and therefore a reduction in the funds available for public services such as health.

Taking into account the projected drop in GDP brought about by Brexit, the EIU thinks healthcare spending per head would be around £135 lower than if the UK stays in the EU, and that's on top of the £22bn in efficiency savings the NHS is still expected to deliver by 2020.

Read more: Boris bangs economic drum for Leave as PM unveils dossier

But Vote Leave was quick to rubbish the claims and said "the EU is bad for Britain's health".

A spokesperson highlighted the EU's clinical trials directive as one impediment that hinders life saving drugs coming to market.

"Leaving the EU would mean our money will be spent on our priorities, like the NHS," a spokesman for Vote Leave said last ngiht.

Meanwhile, the Remain camp pointed out nearly eight per cent of the UK’s doctors now come from EU countries, which means that around 10,000 doctors currently employed by the NHS would potentially be affected by Brexit.

The report comes as the NHS remains a key battleground in the EU economy. Those campaigning for a Leave vote have said Brexit could boost the NHS by £100m a week, but NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has warned leaving the EU could damage the health service.

Brexit would also impact on suppliers, including the pharmaceutical industry. Sales would drop sharply, while currency depreciation and increased trade barriers would eat into overseas revenues, and patients will find it more difficult to access all treatment options.

"Healthcare is an industry that functions on the basis of regulation, some of it national but much of it operating within an EU framework," the report said.

"For pharmaceutical companies, Brexit would disrupt everything from product development, market approval, pricing and reimbursement, all the way to the actual shipping of the goods. It would bring a period of uncertainty that would inevitably dent trade."

The UK's exit from the 28-member bloc would also hit foreign investment, because the opportunity for multinational companies to establish "sound business bases in Europe would shrink".

Read more: Brexit will cost six per cent of GDP, says Economist Intelligence Unit

"Many healthcare suppliers, particularly those from outside the EU, see the UK as one of the best places to establish their European headquarters," the report said.

"While the country boasts its home-grown multinationals, notably GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, US companies such as Gilead Sciences and Eli Lilly have established their European headquarters in the UK. By doing so, they benefit from an English-speaking base, with access to a large international pool of potential skilled staff, and from well-connected airports, as well as trade links."

On top of that, the UK would lose ground as a hub for research and tech transfer as UK funds could not replace EU funding which have proved vital in the UK's success.

For research and academia, the consequences would be less immediate, but may have longer-lasting implications for the UK’s success as a base for innovative research.

That's not to say it's all bad: the EIU thinks many consequences could be mitigated in the long run. But, ultimately, it sees "little room for positive outcomes in healthcare if the UK" votes for Brexit.

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