The people have voted and it’s unlikely to be good news for either the NHS’s finance or efforts to give it a digital makeover.
Even before the United Kingdom voted to leave Europe on Thursday, the financial clouds were gathering for the NHS and, consequentially, Health IT projects around the country.
Quentin Cole, health industries lead partner at PwC, was among the first out of the block predicting added pain for the NHS.
"The resulting insecurities of this result will be felt strongly across the health service,” he said.
"The NHS is facing unprecedented financial difficulty and needs a long-term sustainable funding settlement to allow it to navigate the real challenges it faces. This result makes that less likely as we face the very real prospect of economic uncertainty.”
Leave campaigners claims that the NHS could actually save money by leaving the EU, claims that were widely panned as inaccurate, have been quickly downplayed.
Even on the morning of victory, UKIP leader Nigel Farage backed away from his earlier claims that the NHS would save £350m a week if the country left the EU.
Jason Parker, KPMG’s head of Healthcare, said as well as the economic uncertainty, the Brexit would have implications for NHS “research and innovation” as “many collaborations and employees in this domain rely on existing links with the European Union”.
“NHS leaders will be hoping that the Brexit camp stay true to their word to redirect some of the capital linked to the European Union back into the NHS, however whether that is financially practical remains to be seen.”
NHS Confederation chief executive Stephen Dalton said it was “impossible to predict” the impact of the Brexit.
“The NHS has broadly benefited from being in the EU and leaving it will undoubtedly have implications which are yet to be clearly understood,” he said.
NHS organisations would be anxious to see how the decision affected “affects recruitment, economic stability, legislation and their local efforts to transform care”.
“The NHS’s top priority will be to adapt to the new circumstances and continue its high quality services for patients.”
Last month during an interview on the Andrew Marr Show, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said a leave vote would pose a real risk to the NHS through its impact on the economy.
“When the British economy sneezes the NHS catches a cold. And this would be a terrible moment for that to happen; at precisely the time the NHS is going to need that extra investment.”
The funding gap that already exists, and is at risk of widening with a departure from the EU, already had implications for IT investment.
The acute sector finished the previous year with a headline deficit of £2.4 billion, and filling that gap would swallow a lot ‘transformation fund’ that the NHS secured as part of its settlement with the Treasury.
This fund was meant to pay for frontloading investment to close future deficits, such as the digital investment envisaged under ‘Five Year Forward View’. Less money for the NHS will inevitably mean less money for digital transformation.
During the NHS Confederation’s annual conference last week, Stevens warned ominously of a financial “re-set” for the NHS after the referendum was out of the way.
Although with a post-referendum shake-up in political leadership already underway, those plans too could be in doubt.
There are potential implications for data management as well, although what these could be remains unclear.
Incoming rules for EU data protection will no longer apply in the UK, and NHS health data stored might have to be repatriated from the continent.
The Information Commissioner’s Office issued a statement this morning, stating that while the Data Protection Act remains in place legal reform will be needed.
As the EU’s incoming data regulations will not apply here, the UK will have to develop its own equivalent regulation if it wanted to continue trade with the Single Market, the ICO said.
“With so many businesses and services operating across borders, international consistency around data protection laws and rights is crucial both to businesses and organisations and to consumers and citizens.”