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What would Brexit mean for the healthcare sector?


A Brexit could have huge implications for the UK’s booming healthcare sector. David Edwards, the head of our healthcare and regulatory and compliance teams, discusses the main issues.


The implications for healthcare employment

An EU directive provides for the free movement of professionals in the healthcare sector by allowing the automatic registration of qualifications to practice in all member states. This encourages UK businesses to employ EU nationals.

As a result we have seen a change in the minimum training requirements for doctors, nurses, vets and dentists, and this harmonisation means the UK can access the expertise of its EU counterparts in order to provide the best healthcare possible.

However, the Brexit campaigner Business for Britain argues that this directive has a number of flaws, notably vague wording which Business for Britain says ‘would be dangerous for UK patients’ who can’t speak directly to their doctor, or for doctors who may misunderstand what a patient is saying.

The debate over company law

The Companies Act 2006 was a wide-ranging reform that aimed to clarify many elements of company law. However, 10 years on, the EU continues to create rules requiring implementation by the UK, which sometimes appear to confuse the clarification of the 2006 Act.

Businesses campaigning for a Brexit maintain these amendments and changes are not only increasing the ‘red tape’ burden, but make it even harder to forge foreign trade deals.

The majority of EU regulation is implemented through directives, which are at face value legally binding. Brexiteers allege this means businesses across Europe are increasingly reluctant to do business with one another, and that differing forms of bureaucracy make healthcare innovation more difficult to achieve.

The issue of health insurance

Currently the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) system means UK residents can receive emergency medical treatment in any EU country as if they were an ordinary citizen of that country.

EU health card

The Stay campaign says leaving would result in rates of holiday insurance increasing due to the rise in medical claims. Pro-EU campaigners insist this would have a negative impact on the level of tourism across the EU.

In addition to the lack of clarity regarding the rate of pensions for UK citizens living in the EU, Stay campaigners say uncertainties around the EHIC caused by a Brexit may cause an exodus back to the UK, due to potential financial risks.

Nonetheless, it is important to keep in mind that the EHIC originates from the European Economic Area (EEA), rather than the EU, so a vote to leave would not necessarily result in it becoming invalid.

Countries such as Iceland and Norway operate the EHIC without being members of the EU. However, given that there is no precedent for a member state withdrawing from the EU, much would depend on whether the remaining EEA countries would be willing to accept a system similar to that of Iceland or Norway.

Harrison Drury’s specialist healthcare lawyers advise a range of healthcare businesses and professionals. For more information contact David Edwards on 01772 258321. We have a team of solicitors based in Preston and all throughout Lancashire including Lancaster and Clitheroe.

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