The end of free movement is the death of the NHS

The end of free movement is the death of the NHS

To many, the 2019 election was the Brexit election, the ultimate and final confirmation from the British public that they wanted out of the European Union. Whilst I don’t have a strong stance of the EU, for me, the issue at stake was not Britain’s membership of the EU but rather the fate of NHS.

Mass shortages in the NHS

By westkinassociates – immigration lawyers – 5th Floor Maddox House, 1 Maddox Street, Mayfair, London, W1S 2PZ

In November it was reported that over 11,000 EU nationals working in the NHS had left since the 2016 Brexit referendum. This has led to a mass shortage of NHS workers, especially nurses, 4,783 of which have left since the 2016 referendum.

The UK government have responded by announcing plans for an “NHS visa” which would allow those with a job offer from the NHS a fast-track to entry in the UK. The government have also insisted that they will work to train nurses to reduce reliance on foreign nationals. However, healthcare experts are worried that this will not be sufficient to deal with the on-going shortage. 

There are close to 55,000 EU nationals working in healthcare roles in the NHS. 

Free movement and trading relationships

Sadly, one of the selling points of Brexit was this false narrative that we would “regain” control over British borders. To the leave campaigners, it was only through ending freedom of movement that Britain could become “great” again and distribute its resources to the “real British public”. This is problematic for two reasons.

The first, as outlined above, was that EU citizens were a net benefit to the British economy and especially to the NHS. Sectors which are heavily reliant on EU migrants’ labour will find themselves in a precarious position post-Brexit.

The second reason is that Britain could no longer continue its previous trading relationships with the EU in the same fashion. A prerequisite for remaining in the EU customs was freedom of movement, and thus with the end of free movement, Britain finds itself outside of the EU customs arrangement and with some tough decisions to make.

A US trade deal

One of the chief priorities of Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, is entering into a trade deal with the US. It was from here that speculations arose that he was planning to sell off the NHS.

Whilst the Conservatives have vehemently denied the allegations that they would sell off the NHS. There are worries that any possible trade negotiation with the US would be predicated on opening up the NHS to deregulation and privatisation to enable US pharmaceutical companies to charge more for their drugs.

Currently, under a nationalised framework, the NHS is able to purchase drugs 2.5 times cheaper than US citizens. This is because of the strong purchasing power of the NHS. If America pharmaceutical companies wish to sell anywhere in Britain, it will have to engage with the NHS. This leverage is to the advantage of the most vulnerable in Britain. 

If the UK does enter a trade relationship with the US, and the NHS is opened up, it is ultimately the poor, sick and elderly who will suffer the most.


In the lead up to the referendum in 2016, a bright red bus travelled around the country. On the side of the bus, it read that membership in the EU cost the UK £350 million and that that money could be used to fund the NHS.

With the Brexit deal done, it seems increasingly likely that Brexit will cost us far more than £350 million.