NHS finances have been hit hard by Brexit with huge sums wiped off its balance sheet by the collapse of the pound since last year’s referendum.
The loss is revealed in the Department of Health’s annual accounts, which indicate that ‘exchange-rate’ changes had inflated payments to EU hospitals for the treatment of UK citizens abroad.
They show an expenditure of £736m for EEA (European Economic Area) medical costs in 2016-17, a 12 per cent rise from £658m the previous year.
Escalating costs following Brexit were described as an ‘emerging pressure’, the accounts state.
The Government had expected to spend £580m on EEA medical costs last year but actually spent £735m – costing the NHS an extra £155m.
The impact of Brexit has also been flagged this month by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which highlighted the risk of falls to the exchange rate, and the effect that leaving the EU could have on the economy.
BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said the figures showed that Brexit was having a ‘negative impact’ on the NHS even though the UK had not yet left the EU.
‘At a time when our health service is at breaking point and facing a £30bn deficit, every penny counts,’ he added. ‘Losing millions of pounds from the NHS front line will only put further pressures on an already over-stretched system and affect patient care.’
Leaving the EU also posed ‘serious risks’ to staffing numbers in the NHS, Dr Nagpaul said.
‘Four in 10 doctors are considering leaving the UK following the referendum,’ he added. ‘It also poses a risk to the UK’s world-leading medical research which receives significant funding and collaboration from the EU, and will negatively impact the provision of healthcare across Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
‘The Government must prioritise the NHS and its patients during Brexit negotiations and control the impact that leaving the EU will have on the NHS.’
The accounts also confirm that the department raided £1.2bn from its budget for much-needed projects to rebuild and repair NHS buildings for everyday running costs.
A comment on the accounts by the comptroller and auditor general, which keeps tabs on public finances, said the NHS remained under ‘considerable financial pressure’.
Dr Nagpaul said: ‘The fact that these figures also show capital budgets are routinely being used to prop up day-to-day spending is extremely worrying, short-termist and means we are storing up problems for the future. It is inevitable that building projects will have slippage and it is unacceptable that money for estates is as a result lost from the NHS.’
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