Brexit could result in longer waiting times at hospitals and delays in getting new medicines, a report has claimed.
The UK in a Changing Europe think tank is warning that far from a Brexit dividend for the NHS, the health service The UK in a Changing Europe think tank could actually be worse off after March 2019.
Slower economic growth could mean less money is available for the Government to spend on the health service, leading to an increase in queues for treatment, according to the report.
Additionally, the UK could lose out on new access to new medicines, as pharmaceutical companies prioritise trading with the larger EU market.
Professor Anand Menon, director of The UK in a Changing Europe, said: “This report shows the UK’s future relationship with the EU will play a critical role in the health and well-being of the country.
“Our aim has been to make clear the potential challenges so they can be anticipated and appropriate action taken.”
Extra funding for the NHS was one of the key themes of Vote Leave’s anti-EU campaign in the run up to the 2016 referendum.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson – who fronted the campaign – has repeatedly sought to pressure Theresa May into committing to increase health spending after Brexit, based on the assumption the UK will have additional cash at its disposal as it is no longer paying EU membership fees.
The analysis by The UK in a Changing Europe think-tank disputes that claim, and said: “Brexit is forecast to mean less money for public services generally, including the NHS, due to lower economic growth and productivity.
“This of course comes on top of existing funding pressures.
“Should these pressures become more acute after Brexit, there will be direct knock-on effects on waiting times, and thus recovery rates, as well as the quality of care that can be delivered.”
It adds: “Even without Brexit, addressing the pressures on NHS funding would likely have required significant tax increases, extra borrowing or diverting more money away from other services. Brexit will make responding to these challenges even more difficult.”
On access to medicines, the report warns: “Practical concerns have also been raised about the future status of the UK as a market for new drugs. There is a danger that it would be regarded as a comparatively low priority market given its size relative to the EU and the US.
“New drugs might be less likely to be launched in the UK, therefore taking much longer to reach patients.”
The report does note that Theresa May wants the UK to remain part of the European Medicines Agency after Brexit as an associate member.
But it envisages problems with this approach, saying: “The UK would be entirely dependent on the regulatory procedures of the EU without any meaningful say over how they were designed and implemented.
“UK authorities would be responsible for any dangers to public health arising from the sale or use of EU-based products without any power to hold regulators to account, which might prove politically unsustainable.”
A source at the pro-Brexit group Leave Means Leave dismissed the report, saying: “It’s disappointing to see re-runs of these Remain arguments in the report which were answered so conclusively during the referendum.
“Professor Menon’s comments in this area are about as single-dimensional as his comments on defence with his questionable paper last week.”