Returning expats alone could cost the health service £1bnby Mark Dayan / June 8, 2017 / Leave a comment
Forget the election: whoever wins, 2017 will go down in history as the year Brexit began. Negotiations will start in earnest within the next few weeks, considering the difficult issues of the UK’s divorce settlements and rights for European citizens here and British citizens in the EU. By winter, discussions will begin on our future trading arrangements with our largest market.
These negotiations will touch on every area of government in Britain. The Financial Times reports that we will have to negotiate no less than 759 international treaties, governing everything from crucial components for our nuclear reactors to the wellbeing of swordfish in Chile.
But in the eyes of Britain’s electorate, only one other issue competes in importance with Brexit itself: the state of the National Health Service. Our analysis suggests many of its supporting pillars could be strengthened or weakened by the deal we get—and one of the most alarming statistics relates to the potential post-Brexit cost of healthcare for expats living in the EU.
NHS funding unexpectedly became a major and contentious issue in last year’s EU referendum. The accuracy of the famous claim that we could give the NHS £350m a week currently sent to Europe was questionable, but there is a reason the health service’s finances came into play. Across the UK, services are struggling to cope with years of relative austerity, a fact contributing to difficulties in staffing and waiting times.
“European migrants made up almost a third of newly registered nurses in the UK last year”
Read the small print of the Leave campaign, and their specific suggestion was to spend an additional £100m a week on the NHS. That amount really could be freed up by cancelling our EU membership fees. But on the other hand, the long-term economic costs of Brexit threaten to take even more money out of the Treasury. The OBR estimates that the hit to the public finances could be £15bn by 2020. That would mean significantly less money for the NHS, not to mention services like housing and social care which its patients rely on.
Perhaps an even bigger issue is the end of free movement of labour, which both Labour and the Conservatives say will be part of their Brexit deal. Here, there is more downside than upside for the NHS. EU migrants using…