Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The health service and the EU

Phil Hammond MD, writing in the current Private Eye :

cannot trace one prominent national medical, research or health organisation that has sided with Brexit. Doctors and scientists do seem to believe the UK is better off, healthier and safer in Europe.

The EU is not a prominent threat to the NHS as article 168 of the Lisbon Treaty clearly states that the organisation and delivery of health services is a national responsibility. A far greater threat to the NHS is the current UK government's creeping privatisation and outsourcing of vital service, and a lurch to the right from Brexit is likely to accelerate this.


Migration* is more complex and clearly puts strain on public services, including the NHS. However, EU migrants tend to be of working age, use the NHS less and pay taxes to fund it. Some even return home for healthcare because they can get quick access to specialists than in the UK.

Meanwhile there are 135,000 non-British European citizens working in the NHS and social care, about 10 per cent of the total, at all levels of the service from consultants to carers. 


As for the impact on research, Brexit would sacrifice our right to participate in the European Medicines Agency. We would have to pay to keep access to the centralised authorisation system, but have no influence on policy. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) would lose its vital European health technology assessments. To date, the UK has been the most successful country at winning competitively awarded EU funding for research and development in life sciences. After Brexit, the UK would have to pay to keep access to funding but have no influence in settting priorities in research and development.

Apart from the privatisation threat, all these considerations apply to the NHS in Scotland and Wales as well as England. Something I had not realised, and another good reason for staying involved in the EU, is the link between NICE and medical science expertise on the continent.

*Phil Hammond's evaluation of the "immigrant" situation chimes with my own. I am very happy for young fellow-Europeans to come over, take up vacancies which would otherwise remain unfilled, pay taxes which help fund my pension, then return home thus not being a burden on the state. I am sorry that Cameron and Osborne have not stressed the positive aspects of the free movement of Labour, and not made it clear that it is quite separate from the pressure from refugees from Africa and the Middle East. Of course, if they had done so they would have drawn attention to the fact that much of the latter is caused by our friends causing upheaval in the region.

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