Take It From a Party That Has Always Said No to the Privatisation of Our NHS - Our Health Service Is Better Off If We Stay in the EU

The use of the NHS as a political football in this campaign is sickening. Amid such bluster it's hard to discern what's right but I'm convinced that being a member of the European Union is the best bet for our most treasured public service.
Chris Radburn/PA Archive

Here's a list of the parties who have been in power in Westminster since 1945 who haven't undermined the founding principles of our public NHS:


That's right - there aren't any. Despite creating the NHS, and their current leader championing it, sadly, when in power, marketization was ramped up by New Labour. The Tories and the Lib Dems went further, of course, by attempting to dismantle the health service that we all treasure so much. It's no wonder that people don't know who to trust when it comes to the NHS and the EU Referendum.

The use of the NHS as a political football in this campaign is sickening. On the one side you have the architects of the hated Tory Health and Social Care Act (Cameron and the Lib Dems) saying that staying in the EU will protect our NHS, while on the other arch-privateers like Gove, Johnson and Farage say that our health service will be saved if we leave. Amid such bluster it's hard to discern what's right but - as someone who represents a party which has always defended the principle of a universal, free healthcare system - I'm convinced that being a member of the European Union is the best bet for our most treasured public service.

For a start there's simple economics. There are very strong arguments - from sources as varied as the IMF, WTO and the Trade Unions - that being part of the EU benefits our economy overall. If we left that risks a weaker economy, and even less money for public services.

Then there's the people who staff our NHS. There are 100,000 health professionals in the UK from other EU countries. You'll have met some of them because they've treated you, or someone you love. Perhaps it was one of the 937 German doctors, one of the hundreds of Romanian midwives or the thousands of Polish people who work right across the NHS. Without them our health service would be in dire straits - yet the Leave campaign would pull away from the EU's free movement zone, thus risking an even more serious staffing shortage than the one we currently face.

We know from independent sources, including the UK Statistics Authority that Vote Leave's claim of Britain being able to save £350m a week if we leave are a pack of lies. But, let's pretend for a moment that leaving the EU would - despite the evidence - save the UK some money. Would the people in charge of the Leave campaign really spend the extra cash on the NHS? Key Leave campaigners support privatisation of our NHS and they've been consistently on the side of cuts. Their pledge to spend more money on the NHS is nothing short of political opportunism and, as John Major of all people put it: "The NHS is about as safe with them as a pet hamster would be with a hungry python."

Some who defend the NHS have rightly asked whether leaving the EU could protect our NHS from damaging trade deals like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)- the mammoth trade deal being negotiated between the EU and the USA.

As a staunch defender of the NHS and proposer of the NHS Reinstatement Bill in Parliament, I share the view that TTIP must be opposed by all of us fighting for our NHS. Mounting pressure from citizens, campaigners and politicians across Europe has successfully forced the EU to open up TTIP to more scrutiny. In France the movement against TTIP is so strong that the Hollande Government might even block the trade deal from moving forwards. Meanwhile, leaving the EU would not rid us of the threat of a TTIP-style trade deal. The UK Government is a major driving force for TTIP and I am in no doubt that the NHS would be forced open to yet more privatisation and deregulation if we left the EU, including via a trade deal as bad as TTIP.

By staying in Europe we have a much better chance of changing what we dislike about the EU, including things like TTIP, and working with others across the other 27 countries who share our values and commitment to protecting public services. Together we are much more powerful, can campaign more effectively and have a much louder voice.

Since David Cameron has been Prime Minister, a shocking number of NHS staff have been transferred to the private sector. From 664 full time equivalent staff working for the private sector in 2010, jumping to 17,867 by 2015 - a dramatic and deliberate increase under the Tories' watch. I am working with MPs from across the various different political parties to argue for us to remain in the EU but that doesn't mean I won't tell the truth about the other things that matter to you and me. So I hope you'll trust me when I say that the biggest threat to the NHS is the Tories, not the EU.

Britain is healthier because of our EU membership. UK citizens can access healthcare in the EU, a point made by two previous NHS chiefs who explain why the NHS and UK citizens are better off in the EU. This positive message also comes from UK health professionals, including the Royal College of Midwives. Scientists are also speaking up for the EU - by collaborating and sharing data we can better fight diseases that affect us all.

So on 23 June I'm voting to stay as part of Europe and every day until then, as well as every day afterwards, I'll keep fighting for a publicly funded, universally accessible, national health service.

Caroline Lucas is the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion


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