What does Brexit mean for the NHS?
Posted on 21 July 2016
The biggest impending health policy initiative is the childhood obesity strategy. Originally postponed last autumn and then again when the referendum campaign got underway, public health experts were pinning their hopes on a July launch.
Measures to reduce sugar content of food and drink products, curb price promotions in supermarkets and extend TV and online fast food advertising restrictions were seen as urgently needed in the battle to reduce obesity and the Type 2 diabetes risk. It's understood that a little more work on the strategy is needed but the essentials are in place.
In the light of the referendum result there can be no certainty about when the obesity strategy will be published.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron had been keen to lead the launch of a policy which was seen by Downing Street as a high profile "domestic legacy" initiative similar to the dementia plan under the coalition.
Looking further ahead, the question of funding for the NHS is already being raised. There was a much criticised claim that Brexit would save the UK £350m a week in payments to the EU and allow more funding for the NHS. This did not take account of about £200m of rebates to the UK. Nigel Farage has already said that claim was a mistake.
Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England, has made clear that the financial stability of the service depends on the state of the economy. Growth will generate the higher tax revenues which can fund higher public spending.
But plotting the path of the economy in the run-up to the exit in 2018 is anyone's guess. The prospect of a recession has been raised by the Bank of England. That was dismissed as scaremongering by Leave campaigners.
Nobody is contesting that the NHS needs staff from outside the UK, but how that will be affected by Britain's new status will not be clear for a while. The prospect of a new immigration policy may or may not at the margin deter foreign doctors, nurses and care workers from working in the UK.
The actions of pharmaceutical companies will also be studied closely. There have been warnings that Brexit could lead to drug trials in the UK being reduced with investment shifted to other European countries.
Health organisations have expressed concern about the uncertainty which will inevitably persist after the UK electorate's momentous decision. That uncertainty won't ease any time soon. Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation summed up the mood: "The NHS has broadly benefitted from being in the EU and leaving it will undoubtedly have implications which are yet to be clearly understood."