No deal Brexit could put older people's heath and social care at risk
Published on 05 September 2019 12:43 PM
Age Scotland is calling for urgent reassurances over Brexit contingency plans in the face of uncertainty over health, social care and immigration.
The charity warns that shortages of medication and qualified health and care staff could have a serious impact on Scotland’s oldest and most vulnerable people.
Thousands of older European Union citizens living in Scotland, and Scottish citizens abroad, could also be plunged into limbo over their immigration status, with many be unable to complete the required paperwork in time.
Age Scotland has published a report detailing ten questions that the UK Government needs to answer on the impact of Brexit on older people in Scotland.
The Scottish Government has estimated there are 17,000 EU nationals working in Scotland’s health and social care services, with an estimated 9,830 EU nationals working in Scotland’s social care sector alone..
Brexit will exacerbate existing staff shortages in the health and social sector, and put additional pressure on hospitals and community health services. Figures published this week (SEPT 3) by ISD Scotland show that nursing and consultancy vacancies in NHS Scotland are already at their highest level since 2007.
Although a huge amount of effort has already gone into preparation for supplies of essential medicines, there is still a risk in the event of logistical difficulties and longer term disruption to the industry. Shortages of food and possible price rises will have a severe impact on the 170,000 older Scottish people who are already living in poverty, many with long-term health conditions.
An estimated 8360 people aged 65 and over from other EU countries currently live in Scotland, with many having considered it their home for decades. Many of these, including people with dementia and other cognitive impairments, will not apply for the EU Settlement Scheme by the due date. Those without internet access will need to visit the nearest scanning centre, which could involve a round trip of more than a day. This may be a struggle, since a third of older people never or rarely use the internet and a quarter do not have access to a car.
Older Scottish citizens living in the EU will also face uncertainty over their residency and healthcare rights in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Older people with existing health problems may find it difficult to buy private insurance or the price extortionate, having previously relied on their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) for medical cover.
If they choose to return to the UK following Brexit, the Government will need to ensure they can swiftly get access to the housing, care, and other support that they need.
Brian Sloan, Chief Executive of Age Scotland, said: “We have serious concerns about the impact of Brexit on Scotland’s older and most vulnerable people. There are too many unanswered questions that the UK Government urgently needs to address.
“Our health and social care sectors depend heavily on workers from the European Union, and are already struggling to cope with rising demand. While those already here will be able to stay, future workers coming from the EU will not get preferential treatment and some may be excluded by income thresholds keeping out low-paid staff. This means older people with debilitating health conditions will face even longer waits for the care that they need.
“With high numbers of NHS staff, including six per cent of doctors, coming from EU countries, any restrictions on immigration will undoubtably put further pressure on our hospitals and community health services. The vacancy rate for doctors and nurses is already sky-high, and this is likely to push our over-stretched NHS to the brink.
“Many older people are also very concerned about supplies of essential medication and are even stockpiling them ahead of October 31st. We need reassurances that anyone who depends on a particular medicine will still be able to access it or a suitable alternative, and these will be fairly distributed to those who need them most.
"In particular, it’s vital that there is no disruption to the flu vaccination programme which typically begins around this time.
“Thousands of older EU citizens, and Scottish citizens living abroad, could be thrown into limbo in November. We know that many older people who have called Scotland home for decades will struggle to get the required documentation in time. The Government needs to act now to guarantee that their rights and access to healthcare and benefits will be protected.
“We also need to ensure that older people are protected from abuse and neglect, and that the Government retains its commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights.”
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Notes to editors:
Age Scotland's briefing paper, What Brexit means for Scotland's older population: 10 questions for the UK Government is available at age.scot/brexit10questions