In June, the British public will vote on whether to leave or remain in the European Union (EU). Whatever the outcome, there are growing concerns about how this could affect our health service.
The NHS’ greatest resource is its staff. The NHS is the fifth largest employer in the world and ensuring staffing levels are filled, with the right mix of skills for such a big organisation, would be near impossible without the ease of being able to recruit internationally. The NHS is heavily reliant on skilled workers from overseas and free movement across the EU means that the NHS is able to recruit doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals from EU countries without the complications of visa restrictions. The GMC claims there are now “more doctors than ever” coming to work in Britain from Europe.
Doctors working hours are currently closely administered by the European Working Time Directive, which ensures they’re not overworked. Fixed-term worker rights, collective redundancy, paternity, maternity and parental leave, protection of employment upon the transfer of a business, and anti-discrimination legislation would be transferred back to the UK government’s control, meaning they could be removed altogether.
Expats would also face uncertainty about their healthcare. Currently in Spain, the large expat community gets free GP treatment and their hospital treatment is paid for by the NHS. If the UK leaves the EU, then all of the UK’s deals with each member state has to be renegotiated, which could cease the current arrangement, resulting in expats paying for their own treatment if they wish to continue living abroad.
One of the main reasons given for leaving the EU is the financial benefits for the NHS. Jeremy Hunt said a vote to leave would put NHS funding at risk. However, campaigners for Brexit (British exit – the possibility that Britain will withdraw from the EU) argued that leaving the EU could secure the health service, reducing the burden on the NHS caused by immigration from Europe.
According to figures, leaving the EU could save the NHS financial crisis without having to increase taxes or make cuts elsewhere. Lord Owen, who was health secretary for Labour in the mid-1970s, states that it would be impossible to take the NHS back to its original purpose unless the UK votes to leave in the June referendum. He claims that leaving the EU is the only way to regain control over the NHS. (The Guardian)
It’s unclear whether Brexit would be good for the NHS or not. Either way, the UK’s health service will face big changes, which is a frustrating conclusion for those who love the NHS.
The vote takes place on 23rd June. Please share your opinions with us – we want to know your thoughts.