The National Health Service (NHS) would be imperiled if Britain votes to leave the European Union (EU), Simon Stevens, the Chief Executive of NHS England has warned. But Mr Stevens conceded that much of the pressure currently felt by the NHS comes from rising demand – which is fueled by the EU’s open borders policy.
Referring to Bank of England Governor Mark Carney’s prediction last week that Brexit would lead to recession, Mr Stevens yesterday told the BBC: “If Mark Carney is right, then that is a severe concern for the National Health Service, because it would be very dangerous if at precisely the moment the NHS is going to need extra funding actually the economy goes into a tailspin and that funding is not there.
“It’s been true for the 68 years of the NHS’s history that 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.”
But Brexit backers have pointed out that, while the NHS is currently coping with a record deficit in the region of £2.5 billion this year, we currently send around £10 billion a year net to Brussels as membership fees for the EU club.
“Any extra funding would be helpful and Simon Stevens has been overseeing the biggest deficit in the NHS,” former Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox told the BBC earlier today.
Pointing out our current spend on EU membership, he asked: “You don’t think we could spend that money better ourselves, on our priorities rather than handing it over to the bureaucrats in Brussels?”
He added: “With the biggest deficit the NHS has ever run he [Mr Stevens] might be better spending his time on that rather than getting involved in the referendum.”
Mr Stevens also admitted during his interview that the financial pressure currently being felt by the NHS is purely down to higher demand from the service.
The NHS needs to find an extra £30 billion by 2020, £22 billion of which is expected to come from efficiency savings.
“We have a plan to make the savings,” Mr Stevens said. But he added: “let’s just be clear what we’re talking about here. We’re not talking about cuts in the level of spending on the NHS; we’re talking about the extent to which we can create ourselves more headroom to deal with the extra pressures, the extra treatments that we want to offer over the next five years.”
Pressures like the 2.5 million people expected to arrive in the UK over the next decade-and-a-half if we remain within the EU.
“The idea of asking the NHS to look after a new group of patients equivalent in size to four Birminghams is, clearly, unsustainable,” said Justice Secretary Michael Gove in a recent speech.
Meanwhile, documents leaked last month from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiations currently taking place between Brussels and the U.S. have made it clear that the NHS will likely be broken up if Britain remains within the EU, thanks to new rules on publicly-owned monopolies.
The documents include proposals for an annual committee meeting between representatives from the EU and the U.S. – at which British representatives will not necessarily get a seat – “to review state-owned enterprises and monopolies.” That definition brings the NHS under the committee’s remit.
“The parties acknowledge that anti-competitive business practices and state interventions have the potential to distort the proper functioning of markets and undermine the benefits of trade liberalisation,” the documents say.
UK Independence Party health spokeswoman Louise Bours warned: “This committee has been requested by American investors, who will meet with EU officials once a year to decide the fate of our NHS.
“If we don’t say goodbye to the EU we will have to say goodbye to the NHS.”