Brexit: A Bitter Pill?

Emma Hogan 21 March 2019

This week it’s all about Brexit and the prickly topic of our NHS. Will we still have access to the medicines we need, will we be able to staff our NHS, will we actually get the promised additional £350 million in NHS funding? These are just a few of the questions that have raised their heads in the last 2 years as we try and battle our way to a Brexit deal.

With Brexit looming, let’s take a quick look at how the NHS post Brexit is expected to impact our everyday lives.

Access to medicines

Will Brexit affect access to medication?

This is a big question for many of our LaunchPanellists, whether they suffer from a condition requiring medication personally or are carers.

You’ve probably seen it in the news – the UK is currently experiencing a huge spike in drugs shortages in pharmacies and hospital trusts – the BBC reports that during the last 6 weeks 160 drugs (normally ~30) have been in daily short supply across UK Trusts. Pharmacists report having to send patients back to doctors to prescribe alternative medicines or lower dosages with some even dispensing a lower quantity and giving patients IOUs for the remainder.

For the month of March, the Department of Health & Social Care has agreed to pay a price premium on 34 drugs, down from 80 in January, in dire short supply. Take a look here to see whether your medication is currently on this list, this is updated monthly.

Shortages are already rife – so what’s to blame?

The official line from the Department of Health states that there is “no evidence” the “small number of supply issues” are related to Brexit.  However, in real terms, pre-Brexit is already having an impact on the supply chain as a whole, intensifying normal supply issues.  Government guidance to pharmaceutical manufacturers is to stockpile 6 weeks worth of supplies – guidance to hospitals and trusts has been to not stockpile. But, as with any shortages, the knee-jerk reaction is to stockpile when available. Experts agree that, “Stockpiling might be a plausible mechanism for price rises and therefore shortages.” (Mark Dayan, of the Nuffield Trust think tank).

He further goes on to say, “It is possible to see how we could be getting a foretaste of the impact of [a no-deal Brexit] on medicine supplies now.”

So will we still have access to medicines after Brexit?

The government insist that all precautions possible have been put in place including the guidance for manufacturers to stockpile as well as additional processes put in place for swift transport of imported medical supplies to ensure minimal impact.

It’s difficult to know whether Brexit itself will cause shortages but it’s clear to see that the buzz and fear around the topic is creating problems now.


After Brexit will we still be able to fully staff our NHS?

Free movement, a core EU principle, has enabled the UK to recruit from within the EU where there are UK skill shortages.  For the NHS this has been a huge boost to fill thousands of medical vacancies.  Currently an estimated 200,000 EU nationals work for the NHS, ~5% of the total workforce.

After Brexit, existing EU national workers will have options if they’d like to remain in the UK (Government guidance to be finalised based on the outcome of Brexit deal / no deal scenario).  But the situation is a bit murkier for those wanting to live and work in the UK after Brexit leading to a sharp drop in the number of EU applicants for UK posts. Some may celebrate this along the lines of ‘more jobs for UK workers’, but for the NHS, this could have a detrimental impact on patient care.

What does this mean for those who depend on the NHS?

Currently, the NHS is suffering from an extensive staffing deficit of 103,000, this includes ~40,877 unfilled nursing posts and a shortage of ~9,337 doctors.  With a declining number of applicants this will be even more difficult to manage and for us, fewer nurses and doctors means a potential decline in patient care as shifts get longer and the number of patients per staff member increase.

Can we afford to maintain our NHS?

It’s not all doom and gloom.

After the public outcry over the bold Brexit campaign claim (i.e. £350 million a week to go to the NHS rather than the EU after Brexit), last Summer saw Theresa May announce an additional £20.5 billion in NHS funding by 2023.  Experts suggest that after the £39 billion divorce bill, there is little left in the coffers for the NHS but it may have provided the inspiration for Government to find the funding elsewhere.

What does this mean for us?

Year on year, the pressure on the NHS increases.  The significant increase in budget suggests that the current government is committed to maintaining the NHS for the future – watch this space.

How do you feel Brexit may impact our healthcare system? Are you worried? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

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