The Health Impacts of Brexit: risks of harmful impacts increase whilst chances of positive impacts remain unchanged

A new report looks at evidence that’s emerged since January about the possible real-life effects Brexit could have on people’s health and well-being in Wales, as the chance of a no-deal Brexit on 31 October has increased.

It finds the likelihood of positive impacts has remained relatively stable since a previous analysis in January. Meanwhile, the likelihood of some negative impacts, such as those relating to food standards or environmental regulations, has increased.

The report also identifies new positive and negative potential impacts of Brexit, such as opportunities to increase exports due to reduced value of Sterling, and a negative impact on the mental health and well-being of citizens. 

The report builds on a detailed analysis, The Public Health Implications of Brexit in Wales: A Health Impact Assessment Approach, originally published in January 2019, and examines the potential effects of Brexit on the short, medium and long-term health and well-being of people living in Wales. The original report and the update look at the likelihood and intensity of any potential positive impacts and opportunities, as well as potential negative impacts.

Professor Mark Bellis, Director of Policy and International Health at Public Health Wales, said:

“As we witness events in Westminster and Brussels, it’s easy to forget that Brexit is more than a political conundrum – it is an issue that is already impacting many people’s live in Wales and will have a substantive impact on many more.  That is why Public Health Wales has now conducted two assessments of how Brexit may affect the health and well-being of people living in Wales. Our Health Impact Assessments take a balanced and impartial view of the possible positive and negative impacts of leaving the EU.

“Our latest assessment shows little evidence of change in the likelihood of positive impacts since our last analysis in January.  On the other hand, we have seen the likelihood of other potentially negative outcomes increase.”

Some of the review’s key finding regarding the changes to the potential impact on the determinants of health, and population groups identified, are:

•    Food standards – the likelihood of a major negative impact has increased from possible to probable
•    Environmental regulations i.e. air quality, bathing water quality – the likelihood of a major negative impact has increased from possible to probable

While the report finds some potentially positive impacts on people living on low income (due to possible reductions in house prices) and small business owners and employers who import or export goods and services, it also identifies a number of potentially negative impacts.

These areas include:

•    Economic impact due to changes in immigration
•    Tackling illicit drugs
•    Mental health
•    Community and third sector services
•    People with a range of disabilities
•    Farmers and rural communities
•    People employed in sectors exposed to changes in trade terms with the EU e.g. some manufacturing sectors

Liz Green, Programme Director for Health Impact Assessment at Public Health Wales, said:

“This analysis is part of our ongoing work to assess the real-life impacts of Brexit on the health and well-being of individuals and communities in Wales.  It should be seen alongside our previous Health Impact Assessment in January, and our Research and Evaluation Team’s more recent Supporting Farming Communities report about concerns in the farming sector about the future of the industry.

“With our previous analysis in January, we highlighted the need for action to maximise any potential opportunities for improving health and well-being in Wales following Brexit, as well as mitigating or preventing any possible negative impacts or unintended consequences.  This new analysis indicates little evidence of change in the likelihood of positive impacts, while the likelihood of other potentially negative outcomes has increased.”

With the increase in the number of determinants of health affected by Brexit, the report recommends action in these additional areas, including further research to understand more fully the impact of Brexit as it occurs and how any affects can be mitigated for the future.

In addition, the review’s findings suggest that while Brexit will affect the general population as a whole, there could be population groups who potentially may be particularly affected by Brexit, for example, people who are elderly and have chronic conditions or disabilities, who require access to medication and health and social care services, and who may also be on a low income. Such populations will be more susceptible to any negative effects of Brexit such as inflationary pressures on food and fuel, supply of medicines and medical devices and staffing issues experienced by services they access. The report suggests that further research and active engagement with vulnerable groups is critical to developing ways of protecting their health and well-being regardless of the final Brexit outcome.

The original report featured nine recommended actions suggested for Welsh public bodies, organisations and agencies. These remain relevant and can be found, along with the report in its entirety, on the Public Health Wales website.

The new report, The Public Health Implications of Brexit in Wales: A Health Impact Assessment Approach – a rapid review and update, is available on the Public Health Wales website below:

Report

The Public Health Implications of Brexit in Wales: A Health Impact Assessment Approach – a rapid review and update