A “no deal” Brexit would be a “disaster” for the NHS, health service leaders have warned, as MPs prepare for a crunch vote on the prime minister’s deal to leave the European Union.
As well as concerns about the availability of key supplies, senior figures warned of price hikes, workforce issues and said a no deal scenario could put extra funding for the NHS in jeopardy.
“There is no doubt in our minds from every quarter that ‘no deal’ is a real disaster”
They were giving evidence to the Commons’ health and social care select committee at the same time as a debate on Brexit was taking place in Westminster, ahead of the key vote later this evening. It was the first of two evidence sessions “exploring the plan”.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation and chair of the Brexit Health Alliance, which brings together industry, NHS representatives and academics, warned that a UK exit from the EU without a deal could spell “disaster” for the health service.
“There is no doubt in our minds from every quarter that ‘no deal’ is a real disaster – certainly in the short to medium term,” he told the committee.
“Obviously a lot of people have talked about the supply chain issue – we have never had a situation where supply chains are disrupted for possibly up to say six months,” he said. “You might have a short or a limited restriction in supply but I think this would be really serious indeed.”
“If the economy is really taking a hit – to what extent is the £20.5bn safe?”
Mr Dickson, a former editor of Nursing Times, also raised concerns about the impact on the NHS and social care workforce.
“A third of the care sector in London are non-UK EU nationals, so the kind of pressures that could put on the system are, I think, are really severe and avoiding no deal would be a top priority for the NHS,” he added.
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust think-tank, warned that a “no deal” Brexit could hit the NHS financially, with a likely drop in the value of the pound.
“Our anxiety is that a ‘no deal’ scenario has a very substantial negative impact on this and the requirement for additional cash to deal with the price moves that would follow from that would be very significant – in the region of over £2bn,” he said.
“There is also a workforce concern in terms of the environment for EU staff – although commitments have been made to them,” said Mr Edwards.
“A concern remains, particularly going forward, given some of the proposals in the current Immigration White Paper – concerns not just for NHS but actually even more so perhaps for social care staff many of whom would be below the line on that and who would not get in,” he said.
“From the NHS point of view – the phrase no deal is better than a bad deal is probably not true,” he added.
Meanwhile, Dr Jennifer Dixon, chief executive of the Health Foundation, raised fears that no deal could affect funding already promised by the government to support the long-term for the health service.
“If the economy is really taking a hit – to what extent is the £20.5bn safe?” she asked, referring to the money promised by the prime minister in the summer to back the new NHS Long Term Plan.
“It is almost unbelievable that this would happen in an advanced economy”
Other spending due to be announced in the next spending review could also be hit – such as such as cash for public health, the training and education of healthcare professionals and capital funding money for new facilities, she warned.
“I think it is a very real live question – the extent to which that 20.5bn is in the bag,” she told the MPs on the committee.
Richard Murray, chief executive of the King’s Fund, said the long-term plan for the NHS was based on the premise that a “no deal” Brexit was unlikely.
“All the things that we have said assume that no deal doesn’t happen,” he said. “I think it is a bit of a blank piece of paper if it does.”
He agreed risks could include problems with the supply chain. “It is almost unbelievable that this would happen in an advanced economy – to face threats like this,” he added.
Health select committee
- You can watch a recording of today’s evidence session on parliament TV