Would you trust this bunch of Brexiteers with the NHS? #NHSsaferIN
One of the strangest sights in this referendum has been the line of Brexit leaders queueing up to piously claim they’re really in this to help save the NHS.
From early on, they’ve touted that leaving the EU would free up £350m a week to spend on the NHS. It doesn’t take long to debunk their maths – it doesn’t include the hefty rebate the UK gets before a penny is paid to the EU, or the grants UK regions get straight back. It also doesn’t account for the huge fees we’d have to pay for a Norway-style deal to access EU markets. The UK Statistics Authority has repeatedly told them the £350 figure is wrong and shouldn’t be used, yet it keeps popping up in their campaign.
But even if they did manage to scrape together a fraction of their unbelievable savings claims, we really can’t believe this lot would actually choose to spend it on the nation’s health.
You don’t need to take our word for it though. Here are some other things that Brexit’s NHS champions themselves have said in the past about our National Health Service:
Boris has form on the NHS. As far back as 2003, he was advocating that people should be made to pay for access to NHS services:
“There is a moral point. If NHS services continue to be free in this way, they will continue to be abused like any free service. If people have to pay for them, they will value them more. Above all, there is an economic point. In a very modest way, this extension of private funds into the NHS would help the Chancellor’s straitened circumstances”.
– From ‘Lend me your ears, The essential Boris Johnson’ (2003)
Boris’ plan risks discouraging sick people from getting the help they need because they are concerned about their personal finances. Not only that, but in practice initiatives like Boris’ proposal often result in increased costs to the health services, as patients avoid going to their GP and instead shift to already overburdened accident and emergency services.
Dan Hannan is may keep his disregard for the NHS to himself in a UK context but when addressing a US audience he is far more forth-coming. In a 2009 interview, given in the context of Obama’s attempts to pass the Affordable Care act, he warned fox news “You (the US) are our friends, and if you see a friend about to make a mistake you try and warn him…And we’ve lived through this mistake, we’ve lived through this mistake for 60 years now”. The host proceeds to recount other bloodcurdling warnings Mr Hannan has previously delivered against the perils of nationalised health care. Given Dan Hannan’s role as a long-time advocate of Brexit, we should be very concerned for the future of the NHS if he and his friends are empowered by a vote to leave.
The controversial millionaire and UKIP donor behind the Leave.eu and Grassroots Out campaigns, Arron Banks, isn’t much of a fan of the NHS. On a recent trip to the US, to meet with American libertarian groups, he wasn’t quite toeing the campaign line, saying “If it were up to me, I’d privatize the NHS.”
Back in April, he famously described the £4,300 per household that the Treasury claimed leaving the EU would cost as “an absolute bargain”:
“There are 6.7 million households in Britain, averaging about 2.3 people – £4,300 per year per would cost the average Briton just 21p per hour.”
Having a personal fortune of £100 million probably lends a unique perspective to the situation, but if you take even a fraction of that sort of cash out of people’s pockets, you also lose the Exchequer and the public services that rely on it a lot of taxpayer funding. Not such a bargain for the NHS.
UKIP Leader and Brexiteer-in-Chief Nigel Farage has in the past called it “ridiculous” to ringfence the NHS budget to protect it from spending cuts, and believes public spending should come down radically across the board.
UKIP could teach the Tory party a thing or two about splits with their NHS policy. In 2012, the National Executive voted on whether it should be UKIP policy to switch the NHS to a private health insurance system, before deciding in the words of one NEC member that “we cannot change it wholesale because the public love it”. As late as last year though, Nigel Farage was unwilling to let it drop, saying NHS privatisation was “a debate that we’re all going to have to return to.”
Prior to taking the helm of the Vote Leave campaign, Matthew Elliot was the founder and Chief Executive of The Taxpayers Alliance. Under his stewardship the TPA produced a range of suggestions for the future of the NHS. These included:
- “£10 prescription charge”
- “abolishing all exemptions from prescription charges except for low income groups”
- “£20 flat-rate GP consultation charge”
- “£20 daily ‘hotel’ charge for overnight hospital stays”
- “£25 fine for missed outpatient hospital appointments”
Each of these suggestions individually and all of them together aim at undermining the principle of universal healthcare provision. Increasing the cost of prescription charges, to take just one example risks dissuading those on limited incomes from accessing the medication they need, while also stigmatising those who still receive free medication and weakening vital support for the system from those who are better off.
Douglas Carswell, has never been coy about his disregard for national healthcare. In 2012 he went as far as to advocate that the health system, and every service procured by government be opened up to private enterprise:
“Open market procurement: when taxpayer money is spent on buying goods and services, it ought to go to the firm that provides the best value. For all the lip service paid to open tender, in reality the rules often act as a barrier, keeping out competition. “Rather than centralise the procurement system, which will exacerbate these problems in pursuit of illusory gains from economies of scale, government needs to go for genuine open market rules for everything from health contracts to IT and defence.”
The NHS has already seen increasing procurement of private services, after the reforms of enacted by the previous government. The results have not been pretty, with GPs forced to spend valuable time procuring services that could be spent treating patients, and we do not wish to see any more.
Back in 2005, Carswell joined other right leaning Tory politicians including Dan Hannan and Vote Leave’s Michael Gove to co-author a book, Direct Democracy, which offered a manifesto for a new model of conservatism. It describes the NHS as a “centrally run, state monopoly” that is “no longer relevant in the 21st century”, and hoped to “break down the barriers between private and public provision, in effect denationalising the provision of health care in Britain.”
As late as 2014 Liam Fox was advocating scrapping the ring-fencing of NHS funding and opening healthcare up to the kind of cuts that were devastating other public services:
“I think we’ve tested to destruction the idea that throwing lots more money at the Health service will make it better”
It should be noted that at this time the so-called ringfence around the NHS meant that while funding was not being actively reduced, it was nowhere near matching demand. This resulted in a real terms cut to funding that has left the NHS facing terrifying financial pressures.
Would you trust them?
The leave campaign’s attempt to invoke the NHS is even proving hard for some brexiteers to swallow. When she realised she’d have to ride around in a bus emblazoned with the “£350 million a week” slogan that she knew to be completely wrong, Tory MP Sarah Wollaston defected from leave to remain. The former GP and chair of the House of Commons Health Select Committee agrees:
“The consensus now is there would be a huge economic shock if we voted to leave … Undoubtedly, the thing that’s most going to influence the financial health of the NHS is the background economy. So I think there would be a Brexit penalty.”
Brexit would hurt our NHS in loads of ways: from access to EU healthcare workers during our government-caused staffing and training crisis, to slashing the funding available for services. And from cutting off our health researchers from the millions they get EU science funding to undermining NHS staff’s rights not to work excessive hours.
Our government already have the NHS on the ropes after years of funding cuts and creeping privatisation. Leaving the EU could make it even harder for us to rebuild.
Given what many of those leading the leave campaign think about the NHS though, you have to wonder if they think that would actually be a good thing?