The impact of the EU referendum on the health and social care sector

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How will the upcoming EU referendum affect health and social care in the UK?

referendum is being held on 23rd June to decide whether Britain should remain in the European Union (EU). The impact of this decision will no doubt be felt on the health and social care sector if we do decide to leave the EU.

In an recent statement by Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, it was suggested that Non-British patients signing up to the NHS is one of the many reasons why the NHS is under pressure. Whilst a controversial statement, there is no denial that leaving the EU could change the way the NHS works in huge ways – be it positive or negative. 

Those who wish for Britain to remain within the EU argue that leaving would only worsen the staff shortages that the NHS is currently experiencing. Freedom of movement within the EU has allowed health and social care services within Britain to recruit from across the EU and have access to a wider range of candidates to fill vacancies. Without this option, would we struggle to provide the healthcare services we provide today? 

Others may debate that even if we fill vacancies with international recruits; the quality of care could be impacted. The candidates may carry similar qualifications but differences in culture, language and professional etiquette could impact upon the level of care and support provided. 

The other debate that has come to light following the announcement of the referendum is one of control. Being part of the EU means we do not have full control over the NHS and we are affected by any policies put in place as part of a wider remit. However, this doesn’t mean it is necessarily negative and there have been positive outcomes in the past. For example, social work students in the UK have been able to benefit from programs such as ERASMUS and spend a term in European universities. Examples like these show the benefit of being part of a wider community such as the EU and being able to share resources and see health and social care from a different perspective.

Leaving would also mean that agreements currently in place with the EU on social security and access to health care would have to be renegotiated which would affect the lives of not only migrants but also any British people that currently are living or are planning to live abroad.

Exiting from the EU would also make it more difficult to get access to EU funding for medical research projects. Major projects that need collaboration across teams and funding would be hindered as a result. A good example of this is the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm. Their support in connecting networks across the EU has improved the UK’s defences against infectious disease. In terms of demographics, the current challenges that face the care sector are actually EU-wide and therefore could benefit from the sharing of ideas EU-wide. 

As you can see, there are many arguments both for and against leaving the EU and there are many key questions we must ask ourselves before we vote. For more information, click here to be directed to the official Government page for the referendum.