What will Brexit mean for the NHS?

More funding being available for the NHS was a key argument used by the Brexit camp in the run up to the referendum, but now that the vote has passed and the UK is set to leave the EU, what will this really mean and will there be a benefit at all?

Leaving the EU would not, despite how the campaign made it look, necessarily mean there was more money to direct towards the NHS. At best, this was a misleading claim and at worst it was an outright lie. Brexit was never going to be the savior of the NHS, with health academics at the London School of Economics and Imperial College London concluding that once Britain’s EU rebate was accounted for, the best case scenario would leave a maximum of £1.4 billion that could be spent on the NHS, which would fail to even cover its current deficit of £2.5 billion.

Will things get worse for the NHS?

Politically speaking, Brexit is theoretically going to protect the health budget despite the inevitable cuts to public spending, but this is not the black and white situation it at first appears to be. Even if protected, a predicted weaker pound will lead to higher inflation which will cut into the exisiting reserves. The Labour Party predicted that a post-Brexit economic slump could force the government to cut the Department of Health’s budget by as much as £10.5 billion – which to bring to life, would mean a rough equivalent of each hospital in England being forced to lose around 1,000 nurses and 155 doctors.

What about the non-financial impact?

While the monetary figures are the leading topic of debate, there are other fears that Brexit could damage the NHS in non-financial terms. Once out of the EU, Britain will no longer have any influence over the European Medicines Agency, the regulator that approves drugs for use within the EU. As Britain presently benefits disproportionately from available funding streams, funding for medical research could also suffer. Furthermore, health and safety at work legislation, the safety of foods and regulations around certain medicines are all European initiatives. There is a risk that if we were no longer bound by these, public health, both physically and mentally, could suffer, leading to an increase in sickness and an extra strain on the NHS.

Theories abound as to what the impact of Brexit will be, but until the move to leave the EU has actually been made, we can only speculate. However, there impending Brexit may not have been the positive thing for the NHS that it was made out to be after all.