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How will the EU referendum result affect health and social care?

Posted on 13/06/2016

The EU referendum is certainly the topic on everyone’s lips at the moment, with voting day edging ever closer. On 23 June, the people of Britain will decide whether we continue our membership of the European Union. There has been plenty of propaganda on both sides of the debate, and a lot misleading information circulating the internet.

Whatever the result, the health and social care sector will feel the impact in a number of different areas, and there are pros and cons to both leaving and staying.

One of the main areas where health and social care could be affected is in staffing. At the moment, thanks to freedom of movement within the EU, the NHS is able to fill staff shortages with workers from outside the UK. The industry is facing a recruitment crisis as it is, with an increasingly ageing population putting strain on services and requiring more care workers than ever. Currently a large proportion of care workers are born outside the UK, which helps to keep the NHS and care services functioning. On one hand, the system is reliant on international recruitment and unless additional funding is provided for training and development of staff within the UK, there would be a real problem in maintaining and delivering services. The Leave campaigners say that having foreign care workers can create communication issues with service users, affecting how they can manage and cope with their care needs.

Public spending on the NHS is very much at the heart of the debates regarding the referendum when it comes to health and social care. ‘Brexit’ campaigners suggest that leaving the EU will free up public spending due to not have to pay into the EU fund, releasing money that could be used to help strengthen the NHS recruitment and training programs. Vote Leave pledges an extra £5.2 billion a year (£100 million a week) into NHS services after exiting the EU (see: http://www.voteleavetakecontrol.org/briefing_health).

However, there is unlikely to be an immediate injection of funding, as leaving the EU will create an initial downturn in the UK economy and reduce public spending across all sectors, including the NHS and social care services, which is in no position to suffer further cutbacks. By ploughing this funding into the NHS, cutbacks would have to be taken in other areas, such as education, welfare or defence to make up the shortfall. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), which remains independent in the debates, suggests that government finances would be reduced by £20-£40 billion by 2020 (as reported in an article in The Guardian).

Immigration is a hot topic in the debate in all areas, and one that affects health and social care. Figures show that net migration from the EU in 2015 was 184,000, which is a lot of additional people with access to health care services. However, 78% of EU migrants of working age are in work (higher than that of UK nationals), paying tax and National Insurance contributions into the NHS. An article in The Independent looks at the issue of migration and the impact on the NHS in greater detail.

We’ve only looked briefly at the key issues affecting health and social care here, and there are plenty of great analyses and blogs on the subject with balanced, impartial views (take a look at this one from homecare.co.uk, for example). If you would like to share your thoughts on this, then please tweet us @YtBoss_uk

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