A report by the Nuffield Trust suggests that tens of thousands will come home to use the NHS, raising the cost of healthcare paid for by the UK government to £1bn a year. It says a new deal needs to be reached with other European countries to keep pressure off the health service.
The NHS faces a £500 million bill for treating British pensioners living in Europe after Brexit.
Tens of thousands of pensioners could return home for healthcare if arrangements which save the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds collapse as Britain leaves the EU, a report warns.
There could be a shortfall of 70,000 social care workers from the EU if unskilled immigration is curbed, according to the Nuffield Trust think tank.
Brexit’s impact on the NHS has been contentious since the claim by Vote Leave that ending EU contributions could mean another £350 million a week for the health service. Last year, the Office for Budgetary Responsibility projected a £15.2 billion hit to the public purse from Brexit, implying a £2.4 billion cut in NHS spending if health was not protected.
However, Nuffield’s report focuses on specific areas where Brexit means the NHS will need more money than it otherwise would.
One key concern is the cost of treating 190,000 UK pensioners who live elsewhere in Europe and are entitled to care locally under the EU’s S1 scheme. Britain pays in £500 million a year to help to fund the scheme.
Mark Dayan of the Nuffield Trust calculates it would cost £978 million a year if these people had to be treated in Britain, requiring 900 more beds, equivalent to two large hospitals, and 1,600 extra nurses.
Only a few thousand EU pensioners live in Britain, with their governments paying only £14 million a year under the S1 scheme.
Mr Dayan said: “It is possible that extra funds could be found for the NHS from any cancellation of Britain’s EU fees, but whether or not [they] will outweigh the significant staffing and financial costs Brexit may impose on services remains to be seen.”
At the same time, the NHS, home care and care homes could be left short of tens of thousands of staff if EU migration is restricted. Mr Dayan said that social care would be particularly badly hit as low-paid workers with few qualifications were likely to suffer under an immigration system favouring the highly skilled.
“The NHS and social care were already under pressure from before the EU referendum. If we handle it badly, leaving the EU could make these problems even worse.”
Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “These stark figures show Theresa May’s extreme version of Brexit would be a disaster for the NHS.”…
Mark Porter, head of the British Medical Association, said: “Politicians must keep the health service and its patients at the forefront [of their minds] during Brexit negotiations.”