Britain's exit from the European Union will lead to cuts in NHS spending and put close to 10,000 doctors and 19,000 nurses at risk, concludes a new report by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

In direct contrast to leave campaigners' claims that Brexit would mean more money for the NHS, the report's author argues that healthcare spending would actually likely fall.

EIU forecasts that, should the UK vote to leave the EU, by 2020 healthcare spending would be £135 lower per head than if the UK were to remain, in addition to the £22 billion efficiency savings the NHS is still expected to deliver by then.

The report also warns of the potential impact on the thousands of EU workers currently employed by the NHS, stressing that, while it is not certain they would be asked to leave the UK if the country votes for Brexit, "their tenure would become more uncertain," and "they would also become harder to replace if they did leave".

This is particularly pertinent given that health officials are already struggling to maintain adequate levels of healthcare staff. According to the Public Accounts Committee, in 2014 there was an overall shortfall of around 5.9 percent between the number of clinical staff healthcare providers said they needed and the number in post, equating to a gap of around 50,000.

Isolated market

Elsewhere, from pharma's angle, the UK would no longer provide the ideal point of entry to European markets post-Brexit, the report argues. "Instead it would be just one isolated European market that cannot be entered using the EU centralised drug authorisation pathway," which means that "business opportunities for healthcare suppliers would become less attractive," and "regulations governing registration and trade would be more cumbersome, increasing the cost of doing business".

This echoes arguments in a letter published by The Observer in May - signed by more than 90 life sciences leaders - warning that Britain's departure from the EU will bring uncertainty to the industry, creating new barriers to inward investment and threatening access to novel medicines.

On the research side, the EIU argues that the UK would lose ground as a hub for R&D and for technology transfer in the case of Brexit. "UK research funds could not effectively replace the EU funding, particularly in terms of the benefits of international collaboration," the repot warns.

"Although many of these consequences can be mitigated in the long run, we see little room for positive
outcomes in healthcare if the UK were to vote for an exit from the EU," it concludes.

"With opinion polls finely balanced, the stakes are high: a vote in favour of Brexit would have far-reaching implications for the future of the UK, including its healthcare sector," said report author Annie Pannelay. "Like many in the health service and the pharmaceutical industry, we have concluded that there are substantial risks for the country's health sector if the UK leaves the EU."