Brexit has pushed our NHS to the edge and failed our country. Now, they want you to forget their Brexit lies. Don’t.


Brexit has pushed our NHS to the edge and failed our country. Now, they want you to forget their Brexit lies. Don’t.

Here we breakdown the following 10 ways that Brexit has been a disaster for our NHS: 

  • less money to treat patients  
  • less money to pay NHS staff  
  • higher costs for medicines, equipment and energy 
  • shortages of doctors, nurses and care workers 
  • longer waiting lists and delays 
  • higher risks of medicine shortages 
  • more deaths from Covid
  • harder to prepare for a future pandemic 
  • exclusion from EU policies and programmes  
  • Brexit is bad for your health. 

Less money to treat you and your family 

Brexit has meant about £600 million a week less for spending on the NHS and public services - not £350 million a week more as Vote Leave dishonestly claimed.  

That’s because Brexit has battered the UK economy. The Centre for European Reform estimates that the UK government is receiving about £40 billion less in tax revenue every year. The UK’s real net contribution to the EU was in most years about £10 billion.  So that means roughly £30 billion a year – or £577 million a week – less for the government to spend. 

Meanwhile, the UK has spent about 20 per cent less per person on health than similar European countries over the past decade. That means more people die – for example, 9 per cent of people in the UK who had the most common type of stroke died within 30 days in 2019, compared with 6.2 per cent in Germany. 

 

Less money to pay our hardworking NHS staff   

Government Ministers, like the rest of us, clapped NHS workers as they saved thousands of lives during the pandemic. But you can’t live off applause. Now, junior doctors, nurses and ambulance staff have had to strike to fight for fair pay.  

But Brexit means the coffers are empty. Without Brexit, NHS employees would have had more room for manoeuvre. 

Whether it is beds and the best care for patients or decent pay for staff, the NHS desperately needs funds – and Brexit means there’s just less money there. 

Higher costs for medicines, equipment and energy  

Brexit – by adding costly red tape to trade with neighbouring countries and because of the fall in the value of the pound – has made inflation worse in the UK than it needed to be. Brexit is partly why the UK in May 2023 had the highest annual inflation rate in the G7, at 8.7%, while inflation in the eurozone had dropped to 6.1%. 

So, because of Brexit, everything the NHS buys is costing more than it needs to,.  

Whether that is medicine, food or energy.  

Runaway inflation also adds to the need to pay staff more, while meaning there’s less money around to do that. 

Finally, one of the policy remedies for high inflation is raising interest rates and this is happening in the UK. But borrowing becoming more expensive – partly because of Brexit - will raise the cost of capital investment in the NHS, making it more difficult to provide new hospitals and other health infrastructure. 

 

Shortages of doctors, nurses and care workers 

Brexit has made it much more difficult for the NHS to recruit staff from Europe. 

A November 2022 survey by the Nuffield Trust estimated that there are 4,000 fewer EU doctors working in the UK than if we had stayed in the EU. This has particularly affected crucial specialist areas like heart surgery and anaesthesia.  

Meanwhile, the number of nurses and midwives coming from the EU to work in the UK dropped by around 90% between 2015 and 2022.  

There were in March 2023 112,500 NHS full-time equivalent vacancies in England alone, with vacancy rates reaching 10% for nurses. The number of staff the NHS actually needs to recruit is even higher, at an estimated 154,000 – some personnel are not recruited because, partly thanks to Brexit, there is no money to pay them.  

Vacancies that are being filled are often taken up by doctors and nurses from developing countries that can ill afford to spare them. The Royal College of Nursing has called this “unsustainable and potentially unethical”. 

And these are vacancies in a system that even if fully staffed has far fewer doctors per capita than most EU countries: England has 2.9 doctors per 1,000 people and would need an extra 46,300 to reach the average of 3.7 across the 22 EU states that are members of the OECD.  

Even if the government delivers on its promises to train more home-grown doctors and nurses, that would not feed through into fully trained and available staff for many years.  

Dentistry has not been spared by Brexit. The number of EU trained dentists registering in the UK has halved since the referendum. This is a big part of the reason why many patients no longer have access to NHS dentistry at all. 

Care workers are mostly not employed by the NHS but the 165,000 vacancies in 2022 in the care sector – which has long relied significantly on EU nationals - mean more patients need to be kept for longer in hospital beds needed by others, further lengthening waiting lists. 

 

Longer waiting lists and delays 

The funding and recruitment crises made much worse by Brexit are having a disastrous impact on the NHS’s ability to provide care when people need it.  

The waiting list for treatment in England alone is at a record 7.4 million, with half a million added in the five months to April 2023.  

Macmillan Cancer Support estimates that at least 100,000 people across the UK have had their lives put at risk over the last decade because of delays to tests or treatment for cancer. Brexit is not the primary cause of that. But it is making it harder to put it right and to save more lives. 

The President of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine estimated 500 people were dying a week this winter because of delays to ambulances and in A and E.  

 

Medicine shortages  

Brexit is making the UK more vulnerable to shortages of medicines. 

The Brexit-related fall in the value of sterling has made all imports – including medicines - more expensive. The NHS therefore has to spend more of its pounds to get the same amount of medicine as before.  

In addition, medicines are heavily regulated, some have a short shelf-life and protecting patients is crucial. So Brexit delays and additional red tape can cause particular problems. 

There are global shortages and price rises in some medicines. The UK is likely to be harder hit by these than the EU, because Brexit has made supplying medicine to the UK more difficult. That could get worse if the belated post-Brexit introduction of full checks on EU imports leads to still more queues and delays. What is more, the UK will be outside the EU’s proposed stockpiling and anti-shortage measures. 

The number of medicines for which the Department of Health and Social Care has had to agree to pay higher than the previous going rate in order to maintain supply has risen from around 20 a month before the referendum to consistently over 100.  

Last but not least, leaving the EU’s huge medicines market saw the UK – and the NHS - start to lose out in the race to attract innovative new medicines and clinical trials. So UK patients could now be at the back of the queue for lifesaving new treatments. 

 

More deaths from Covid 

The recently opened Covid-19 public inquiry has already heard that Brexit weakened the UK’s pandemic preparation and response and contributed to one of the highest death tolls from in the world.  

It is a myth that the reason the UK was one of the first countries in the world to roll out a vaccination programme is because of Brexit. It could have done that while still in the EU. 

Contrary to government claims, the UK had by summer 2021 been overtaken by several EU countries in terms of numbers of people receiving vaccinations. By the start of 2023 the UK was behind France, Germany, Italy and six other EU states. 

So when Boris Johnson trumpeted that Brexit had allowed the UK to save more lives from Covid, he was lying - again. 

While details remain unclear, the collective purchasing power of the EU also seems to have meant it was able to obtain vaccines and protective equipment at cheaper prices. 

Harder to prepare for a future pandemic 

Brexit is hampering the UK’s ability to prepare for a future pandemic.  

First, Brexit’s hit to the economy means less money is available for pandemic preparation.  

Second, the EU has moved quickly to learn lessons by setting up a specialist agency for pandemic preparedness, pooling resources and expertise and by providing additional funding to reinforce health systems. The UK, again, is left out and left behind. 

 

Exclusion from EU policies and programmes 

Brexit meant the EU’s medicines regulator, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) – and its 900 high-skilled jobs - moved from London to Amsterdam in 2020. EMA’s presence in London once attracted other jobs and many business visitors. Those have gone to Amsterdam, too.  

The government now accepts that the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will in most cases simply cut and paste EMA decisions. “Taking back control”, this is not. 

Post-Brexit, the government has yet to negotiate the UK’s participation in the EU’s € 95 billion Horizon Europe research and innovation programme, which has a major health component. Michelle Mitchell, CEO of Cancer Research UK, says that this “impacts patients who aren’t benefiting from potentially life changing innovations and treatments.” Meanwhile a King’s College London study found that: “If the UK is not involved in EU collaborative cancer research…patients with cancer will pay the price.” 

For now, data is continuing to flow between the NHS and its EU counterparts. This is crucial for collaborative research, clinical trials, the movement of professionals and in dealing with cross-border threats like Covid-19. But UK divergence from EU data protection rules – proposed by the government – would be a big threat to these transfers of data, risking the further isolation of the NHS from other European health systems. 

 

Brexit is bad for your health 

Brexit is not only undermining the NHS’s ability to meet existing challenges, but also making those challenges bigger, in many direct and indirect ways. 

The less money there is for the government to spend on the NHS, the harder it will be to develop and maintain world-class primary care services. So more people will get seriously ill. 

Brexit is a major factor in the cost of living crisis which has left many people unable to afford to eat healthily or to heat their homes in winter. Inequality and poverty are proven to increase the risk of ill health. 

Inflation in food prices – especially fresh fruit and vegetables – has been particularly high. Between December 2019 and March 2023 food prices rose by almost 25 percentage points. Analysis by the London School of Economics suggests that without Brexit this figure would be 8 percentage points lower. 

If people can no longer afford high quality, fresh, home-grown or EU products and have to replace them with lower cost processed foods, this will over time further damage public health and lead to yet more demands on the NHS.  

Meanwhile, the government’s desperation to strike trade deals, even if that means allowing in food products from faraway countries banned in the EU, could put British farmers out of business and further undermine the quality of the British diet.  

Obesity rates in the UK are already the highest in Europe, with over one in four people obese. The Soil Association has pointed to the risk that Brexit will make that problem still worse, with obvious implications for healthcare.  

Brexit’s £40 billion annual hit to tax revenues is making it harder to provide adequate public services, including not only social care and mental health support but also public green spaces and sports facilities that help people to stay healthy.   

The bottom line is that Brexit is damaging the UK’s economy, society and the physical and mental well-being of millions of British people. And it is the NHS – itself seriously weakened by Brexit - that will have to try to pick up the pieces. 

Decades of Brexit lies, cover-ups and scandal have finally caught up. Britain cannot thrive whilst crippled by Brexit and the people responsible want you to forget their lies. Don’t. 

 
Join the Battle for the Soul of our Country. 

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