According to a health think tank, Brexit could cost the NHS a whopping £500m a year as British pensioners could return to the country if their right to free healthcare across Europe is withdrawn.
In a report outlining the impact that leaving the EU could have on the NHS, the Nuffield Trust said that the main increase in costs could be from pensioners returning to the UK if their right to free healthcare in those countries was withdrawn as a result of Brexit.
There could also be a shortfall of around 70,000 workers in the social care sector by 2025/26 if Brexit prohibits unskilled workers migrating to the UK, while the NHS could also face a major shortage of nurses, according to the report.
Under the terms of the EU’s medicine licensing system, the NHS can secure medicine for reasonably low prices, but if the UK withdraws from the EU’s medicine licensing system, the NHS could incur costs of over £100m dependent on the terms of the UK’s exit from Europe.
The report does concede, however, that there could be some positives from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. While the extra £350m figure that was used during the Leave campaign was a myth, there is actually some scope for extra funding when the UK ceases paying its EU membership fees. This could, in theory, give the NHS additional money for the next few years.
There are roughly 190,000 British pensioners receiving healthcare currently living in the EU under the EU reciprocal S1 scheme. Under this scheme, the UK currently pays in around £500m, but this could almost double to around £979m if the NHS has to treat these people returning to the UK, as well as needing an extra 900 hospital beds to cope with the demand, according to the Nuffield Trust. Almost a third of nurses who registered last year in the UK were trained in the EEA (European Economic Area), the report says.
The report also states that in order to avoid a staffing crisis in social care, either a significant amount of migration to the UK from the EU needs to happen, or staff wages would have to increase in care homes and agencies in order to attract people from the EU to the sector.
Scott Sanderson, Healthcare Partner at Hawsons, had this to say: “It is clear that this issue has significant consequences and must be given high priority in the agreement with the EU in order to prevent a staffing crisis. While, in theory, the extra funding from leaving the EU would help, the potential costs of the NHS treating these extra people, along with the extra hospital beds may be too much for the NHS to cope with, especially with the funding constraints from the Government.”