NHS waiting times will rise after Brexit, claims report
Brexit will pose serious challenges to the health service in Northern Ireland, a new report has found.
Academic think tank The UK In A Changing Europe has said waiting times will rise and there will be increased pressure on an already overstretched workforce here.
There will also be a reduction in rights when travelling, and delays in the approval of lifesaving or life-prolonging medicines, according to its report, Brexit And The NHS.
The document adds weight to concerns already raised by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in Northern Ireland, which has warned that nursing numbers may decrease further as a result of Brexit.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that health officials have no idea how many EU nationals currently work in the health service here.
However, according to the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the number of nurses coming to the UK from other EU countries fell by 89% last year, while the number of EU nurses leaving the UK grew by 67%.
Janice Smyth, head of the RCN in Northern Ireland, said she was stunned to learn that the Department of Health was unable to provide such figures.
"I would have thought information like that would be crucial in working to mitigate any negative effect of Brexit on the health service in Northern Ireland," she said.
"The nursing workforce in Northern Ireland is in a very precarious position. We already have a shortage of 1,500 nurses in the service, and that doesn't include shortages in our private nursing homes.
"We cannot have any more nurses leaving the profession than already have, it would have a serious impact on our ability to deliver a safe and sustainable service."
Ms Smyth was reacting to the findings of Brexit And The NHS, which argues that while the health service already faces funding pressures, these might increase as a result of the UK leaving the European Union.
A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said it had identified a number of priorities and was working closely with other organisations in preparation of leaving the EU. She added: "It would be premature to form a view on the impact of EU exit on the provision of healthcare at this time.
"The department will continue to monitor the outcome of the UK Government's EU exit negotiations and will discuss any potential impact on cross-border acute services with the Department of Health (in the Republic) through our existing joint oversight arrangements."