The NHS will possibly be hit with a £500 million a year bill on the return of thousands of British pensioners from European countries after Brexit, a report by the Nuffield Trust has predicted. Due to Europe negotiations, many retired British pensioners may not get care abroad post-Brexit and will have to return to the UK, meaning that there will be a large influx of an ageing population into an already strained healthcare system.
There are currently around 190,000 British pensioners living in European countries who have access to healthcare costs that are paid for as part of the reciprocal agreement in the S1 scheme. Whilst part of the EU, the UK presently puts around £500 million into S1, yet if the scheme ends and isn’t replaced after Brexit then these people will have to return to the UK. It is estimated that their care will cost around £979 million annually, meaning that Britain will have to find another half a billion pounds a year to pay for the return of these pensioners to the UK.
As it is now, the UK realistically gains more from S1, as the migrants arriving in the UK are usually working age and pay taxes, whereas those leaving the UK are typically pensioners finding their holiday homes in European countries like Spain. It is predicted that a loss of carers migrating to Britain from Europe – which could happen in post-Brexit rulings – could cause a shortfall of 70,000 paid carers by 2025/26 if the migration of unskilled workers is no longer permitted. There is already a shortfall of nurses within the health care system, as significantly a lot of nurses coming from Europe have been filling the gaps with around 22,000 now working in the NHS. About a third of newly registered nurses by last year were trained in Europe, showing the massive loss we could suffer from a hard Brexit deal.
The report shows that an extra 900 hospital beds will be needed to treat the returnees, which is equivalent to two hospitals roughly the size of St Mary’s in Paddington, London, as well as extra staff to manage the mass number of care work that will have to be taken on. As well as this, medicines could cost more post-Brexit as the UK may be asked to leave the European medicines licensing system, which means that reports estimate that the UK’s drugs bill could rise by £100 million.
It is also predicted that there will be a shortage of up to 70,000 social care workers by 2025/26, assuming that wages in the industry are not risen to attract more local staff to replace the workers we may lose from the EU. All of this shows a desperate need to come to some kind of arrangement in the Brexit negotiations.
All three major political parties in the UK have pledged to increase health spending after the general election on June 8th, but all parties fall short of the 4% average increase due to Britain’s growing and ageing population. There could be a funding boost found from the UK’s exit of the EU membership fees, but nowhere near the £350 million a week for the NHS mythical figure that was flaunted during the referendum campaign. As well, all of this relies on the NHS being recognised a priority in spending, which we cannot necessarily be sure it will be.