Disruption to medicine supply chains and barriers to science investment will hit sector, Nuffield Trust says
The UK’s health and care sector faces a perilously uncertain future after Brexit, a report has said.
The Nuffield Trust thinktank stated: “The perilously uncertain future facing the UK at the end of the Brexit transition period could put the UK’s health and care system at risk.”
The report said new migration rules, possible disruption to medicines and devices, an ongoing economic slowdown and barriers to science investment would hit the health sector.
Referring to possible disruption of medical supplies, the study said that while extensive planning had been undertaken by the government and NHS, “it is not clear exactly what scenario has been prepared for and what the impact will be if disruption is longer or broader than expected”.
The Nuffield Trust said: “Plans will not have anticipated the effect of the current border restrictions brought in as a result of the new Covid-19 variant.”
In its assessment, the study said: “The health of the public could be directly worsened by a prolonged economic slowdown that leads to lower living standards and a squeeze on public spending, as well as the possibility of less effective regulation of determinants of health like air pollution.
“These risks could hit the most vulnerable hardest.”
The social care sector will find itself “blocked from recruiting staff from the EU because of a new unilateral migration policy, exacerbating dire workforce shortages” when the Brexit transition period expires, according to the report.
It stated that the impact of the coronavirus crisis had already “dramatically slowed” migration.
National insurance number registrations for EU and non-EU applicants decreased by 70.1% – from 190,509 to 55,428 – between the fourth quarter of 2019 and the second quarter of 2020, the study said.
The Nuffield Trust also raised concerns about funding for medical research. It said: “In the longer-term, senior government and industry figures believe the UK will face a loss of investment for medical research and life sciences, and a permanent increase in the cost and difficulty of accessing supplies.”
The report said the government’s highly contentious internal markets bill “risks jeopardising devolved countries’ plans to introduce new public health measures, like further pricing measures for alcohol, tobacco packaging and e-cigarettes, calorie labelling and high-fat foods in Scotland, and in banning hormone-injected beef in Wales”.
There was also a lack of clarity over how medicines, supplies and staff would enter Northern Ireland after the transition period ends, the study suggested.
Mark Dayan, of the Nuffield Trust, said: “Despite Covid-19 pushing health and healthcare to the top of the domestic agenda, there are so many serious questions that remain unanswered about the future of the sector after the UK leaves the single market on 1 January 2021.
“A lack of transparency over the planning for the disruption ahead has fed into a sense of uncertainty for the sector – both in the short and long-term.
“There are a particular set of fairly immediate issues, which should be in sharp focus – from the double-whammy of Covid-19 and Brexit-related workforce shortages and economic fallout, to the very real danger of supply chains of medicines and medical devices being disrupted.
“But it doesn’t end there. There are some deeply concerning and unresolved issues that may affect health in the UK over many years to come and potentially risks the health of the UK population.”
The Nuffield Trust carried out the research with academics from the universities of Oxford, Sheffield and Michigan. It was funded by the Health Foundation.