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What’s the potential impact of Brexit on healthcare?

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The decision to leave the European Union will have an ever-lasting effect on businesses of all sizes, in a range of sectors. Given that 12.6% of UK GDP is linked to exports to the EU, it’s expected that Brexit will have a greater impact on the UK trade than it will have on the EU. With the Partnership Agreement now in force, the UK is beginning a new chapter in its history – and healthcare is one of the many sectors that the agreement is likely to affect. Throughout the Brexit campaign, its impact on the NHS and healthcare more broadly had been massively debated. Since the transition period has now come to an end, what will the impact of Brexit look like for healthcare?

The workforce

One of the major areas of healthcare that will be affected by Brexit is the workforce. In the NHS, there are around 139,000 health care professionals with a non-British nationality, of which 42,000 come from EU countries. As a result of Brexit, there have been concerns that many doctors and other health care professionals would be forced to leave the UK, or be unwilling to remain, leading to a skills shortage. Studies have shown that the Brexit vote made many doctors feel unwelcome, and the UK’s decision to leave has arguably made the nation a less attractive destination for EU health care professionals due to the uncertainty. While EU professionals still have the right to continue to live and work in the UK, there are still many concerns over tax, pensions and other issues that could affect their ability to remain long-term.

Medical supplies and equipment

There’s no denying that Brexit could have a huge impact on UK medical supplies and equipment. It was confirmed that the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) would come to an end on 31st December 2020. The FMD was created to ensure medicines were safely supplied in the UK, but this legal agreement has now since ceased. This means the UK will no longer have access to the EU central data hub, however, medical packages containing the FMD safety features will still be accepted, but they must be in line with other UK packaging requirements. With stakeholders disconnected from the system, there’s now a further challenge for preventing counterfeit medicines from reaching patients.

Healthcare recruitment

One of the key issues that are likely to continue to affect healthcare in a post-Brexit world is recruitment. Staff shortages in the NHS have been a problem for many years. Around 4.5 million people contact the NHS every week, which is expected to rise as a result of an ageing population. According to research by the REC, public sector jobs face up to 7 more years of skills shortages and with the EU potentially impacting recruitment, many health care professionals will need to be re-trained to make up the demand. As a result, it’s all the more important that health and social care are promoted as viable career options for young people entering the workforce today, to ensure healthcare centres can continue to recruit at a high volume. 

Brexit will have wide-ranging effects on the healthcare industry, but with the right changes and positive attitudes, the health service can continue to thrive in the face of uncertainty.

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