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As the nation goes to the polls to vote in the EU Referendum (or ‘Brexit’, to use its tabloid name), we take a look at some of the implications for the UK healthcare sector.

Clearly the status quo is a Remain vote – and more uncertainty surrounds a Leave victory – so what can we expect following the vote on June 23rd?


A vote to Remain would keep the UK in the EU and would serve to reinforce that membership for the foreseeable future as well – another Referendum is unlikely for a generation or more.

In a recent consultation by the Royal College of Physicians, the RCP said EU membership has had “a significant positive impact on public health and patient care in the UK”.

Examples of EU-led legislation include moves to improve food safety, air cleanliness, exposure to tobacco smoke and the availability of high-quality medical devices and pharmaceuticals.

There are also significant benefits for the medical workforce, with free movement of employees between different member states, and this brings to the UK qualified individuals trained to a high standard elsewhere in Europe.

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A Leave vote – nicknamed ‘Brexit’ for ‘British exit’ by the press – would remove access to EU funding such as research grants, and could make it more difficult to employ qualified professionals from the continent.

However, one respondent to the consultation, Dr Ian Fellows, pointed out that the UK is a net contributor to the EU – meaning Brexit would leave more money in the economy to compensate for those lost funding areas.

Dr Fellows added that the free movement of individuals has led to net inward migration into the UK, putting extra strain on NHS services, with this only likely to increase as new member states like Turkey join the Union.

What will happen?

Nobody knows which side will win – the polls are very close in the final days before June 23rd – or what the outcome will be either way.

In the short term though, nothing is likely to change except fall in the value of the pound if a Brexit vote wins; even if so, there is a minimum two-year negotiation period before the UK can formally exit the EU.

As such, both camps can expect the status quo to hold steady for probably the first year at least, before the details of any agreement start to become clear.