THE BLOG

Brexit's Impact On Britain's Health And Social Care

18/11/2016 16:39
NIKLAS HALLE'N via Getty Images

Coverage of Brexit's implications on health and social care has quite rightly focused on the need to guarantee the status of the 160,000 EU staff already working across our sector.

Urgently removing the anxiety and uncertainty for these vital staff will mitigate the risk of them leaving, and our sector (represented by the Cavendish Coalition) is clear that it needs to happen now.

But another topic of equal importance is the future of Higher Education and research, as this is intrinsically linked to our workforce in our most specialist and university hospitals and, ultimately, the care which patients receive.

The UK has long been a world respected centre for healthcare research, with NHS patients benefiting from cutting-edge care and techniques discovered in university labs and translated to the bedside. Our country has also benefited commercially from breakthroughs which have gone on to be sold around the globe.

But evidence from Higher Education and health research organisations suggests this is now under threat. There is a real risk that it will become harder for the UK to access the best research teams, collaborate with European colleagues and bring world-leading researchers into our universities and research hospitals.

Participation in such initiatives can be invaluable to patients who enrol in clinical studies, giving them access to innovative life-saving treatments when no other medical option is available.
The same quality of collaboration on such a scale will not be possible with other regions of the world, such as the USA, where commercial interests are often the key driver. Further challenges to working with other health systems are posed by varying values and cultures, and, in some cases, a tendency to adopt a protectionist approach. Likewise, a smaller national research programme would not have the same clout to attract internationally renowned clinicians and researchers.

Another consideration is that UK organisations are the largest beneficiary of EU health research funds, having secured more than €670million from the EU's Programme for Research in the period 2007-13. Despite helpful reassurances from both the UK government and European Commission, we expect a decline in the UK's (including NHS) involvement in the next calls for projects due to the uncertainty about what happens after 2020.

There is further concern around European Reference Networks for rare and complex diseases. These are a new form of EU collaboration between specialised healthcare providers to pool knowledge in clinical areas and increase the speed at which new medical technologies are incorporated into healthcare.

A continued ability to lead and participate in these networks is hugely important for the NHS's international research reputation. A quarter of all proposed European Reference Networks are led by NHS Trusts and all feature one or more NHS trusts as members. In the aftermath of the EU referendum, an unhelpful climate of anxiety has emerged both for the NHS consultants leading these networks and for their fellow partner European clinicians, who now face total uncertainty around the future landscape of their planned co-operation. If the NHS were no longer allowed to take part in these networks, this would be a significant blow for us and our international leading role in medical science. It would appear that continued participation will need to be specifically agreed in leaving negotiations in this area as well.

Finally, higher education export earnings from the UK are currently valued at an incredible £10.7billion - the vast majority derived from tuition fees paid by non-UK students. Furthermore, research income from EU sources topped £3.9billion between 2009/10 and 2014/15.

Yet one incentive to protect our research institutions outweighs all the others - and it can be applied to those 160,000 EU workers who are already dedicating their professional lives to our health and social care system.

Time and time again it has been proven that building and nurturing an inclusive and competitive environment, where students, nurses, doctors, carers and thousands of other workers can thrive, is a recipe for success - and it's imperative that we defend it.

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