Our NHS is safer in Europe: #NHSsaferIN
Today I’m proud to be joining NHS staff and supporters at a rally at Congress House. We’re coming together to say don’t risk a leave vote – Don’t risk our NHS. And there’s a lot to concern us, whether we work in the NHS or rely on it for our families’ health care.
To start with, there’s the potential loss of so many talented NHS staff from the EU. That could unleash a staffing crisis in the NHS.
Where on earth would our NHS be without all the staff who are so dedicated to it: The doctors, nurses and support staff? The NHS staffing roster includes 50,000 staff from the European Economic Area – including 9,000 doctors, 18,000 nurses and midwives, and over 2,000 other health professionals.
These are people who fill crucial skills gaps, and use their incredible knowledge and expertise to help save British lives.
Of course the government should be investing more in training opportunities for locals. Our government’s NHS bursary cuts have been the worst thing possible in dealing with a growing training crisis.
But migrants don’t clog the NHS up – they prop it up.
Yes, our NHS is at breaking point. Staff are over-worked and services are stretched. But that’s not because of decent, hard-working migrants who pay their way. Migrants are often younger people, less likely to need health services than the average UK citizen but still paying UK taxes to support them.
The NHS is in a staffing crisis because the government has imposed another five-year spending freeze. The Tories’ pay cap has created recruitment and retention problems throughout the service, which means more and more taxpayers money is wasted on agencies and management consultants, increasing our deep reliance on EU healthcare staff.
Across the NHS, staff are demoralized – fed up with too little funding to help the patients they care so deeply about, too many top down reorganisations and not enough ministerial respect. And fed up that their dedication is being taken for granted.
The EU’s Working Time Directive means we have rules that protect staff wellbeing, and don’t needlessly risk patient safety. We already have dedicated health staff putting in long hours, but many Brexit leaders want to overturn their rights to refuse excessive working hours and push them to work even longer.
And of course funding for the NHS depends on Britain’s economy doing well. Pretty much everyone agrees leaving the EU will hit the economy (even brexiteers admit it would hurt in the short term), and that will put our crisis hit NHS even deeper in trouble.
Based on IFS analysis, if we leave the EU, the public purse is likely to lose enough money each year to fund the whole of NHS England for 3 months.
Of course not all the public spending cuts would fall on the NHS. But it could still be as much as £10 billion a year by the end of the decade. Equivalent to every hospital trust in England cutting 1,000 nurses and 155 doctors.
But the thing that gets me about the discussion of the NHS in this referendum campaign is the hypocrisy. Because when did the leading lights of Brexit ever give a toss about the NHS?
Does anyone really believe that Boris Johnson cares about the NHS? That’s the same Boris Johnson who is on record saying he doesn’t believe in a free NHS; and that if people paid for services, they’d value them more.
Or Michael Gove who co-authored a book saying the NHS is “no longer relevant in the 21st century”? Or Iain Duncan Smith, who has said he’d prefer a social insurance system? Or even Nigel Farage, who believes that within the next ten years the NHS should be replaced by private health insurance?
I don’t believe they support the NHS as we know and love it, any more than I believe they oppose the EU/US TTIP trade deal. If we came out of the EU, these men would sign us up to their own secret trade deals like a shot. We wouldn’t even know about the deals; let alone have the chance to change them.
But perhaps the Leave campaign’s most shameful fib of all is the claim that leaving the EU would mean more money for the NHS. Frankly, I was gobsmacked when I first saw the Leave campaign’s battle bus slogan.
As the Tory MP and former GP Sarah Wollaston said last week, when she defected from leave to remain: “it simply isn’t true”. Even if we trusted them to do the right thing with the cash, the sums simply don’t add up. They’ve been repeatedly slammed for it by the UK’s statistics watchdog.
The leave campaign are fond of saying we remainers are negative. To be honest when faced with a change that could cause such damage it’s hard not to be. But there are also positive reasons to vote Remain for our NHS.
Being in the EU helps make our NHS better. It means a common set of professional standards across the EU. And when you’re away for work or on holiday, British citizens get the right to free healthcare in other member states.
It also means significant funding for research and development into health. Just last year, the UK received £232 million of EU money – incidentally the largest slice of funding received by any EU member state. That included vital money for research at Great Ormond Street children’s hospital, University Hospital Birmingham and NHS Blood and Transplant services. It keeps the NHS at the forefront of healthcare worldwide.
So we have a choice to make. To build our NHS – or risk it. To back our NHS – or privatise it. And to celebrate and cherish NHS staff – or demonise and divide them. A vote to Leave isn’t just a big gamble with jobs, wages and rights, it’s also a big gamble with our NHS.
The NHS was built by and for working people. It is about solidarity, collaboration and co-operation. And it is too special, too precious, to entrust to the privatising Tories and UKIP, who are pushing Brexit as a way towards a deregulated, low-tax and low-services UK.
The NHS needs to be safeguarded if it’s going to be able to care for our children and grandchildren. I’ll be voting remain to do that.