Theresa May’s claim of a “Brexit dividend” for the NHS is a “reckless pledge” that ignores the economic damage leaving the EU could wreak, a group of leading health professionals say today.
Writing exclusively for HuffPost UK, 12 high-profile clinicians, including ex-chair of the Royal College of GPs, Dr Clare Gerada, slam the Prime Minister’s big NHS announcement and say “there is in fact a growing Brexit deficit” in the health service.
While welcoming the £20.5bn-a-year boost, the group says Brexit “poses the biggest risk to our health service in its history” and the public should get a vote on the final deal struck with Brussels.
May has said her long-term 3.4% increase in funding for the NHS, announced to mark its 70th anniversary this week, will end the “sticking plaster” approach to health funding and has admitted people will have to pay “a bit more” in tax to fund it.
But she has been roundly castigated for continuing to say that money would partly come from a “Brexit dividend”.
Dr Gerada told HuffPost that May had “attempted to appease” Brexiteers by “talking about a fictitious source of funds”, adding: “There is no Brexit dividend and it is disappointing that what should be good news, namely additional NHS funding, has been clouded by citing a non-existent funding source.”
Fellow signatory Martin McKee, professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and a supporter of the pro-single market campaign group Open Britain, went further and said the PM should apologise.
He said: “Everyone who wants to see the NHS’s funding put on a sustainable basis will be alarmed that the Prime Minister thinks it can be paid for out of something that doesn’t exist.
“There is no Brexit dividend and an NHS funding plan that relies on such a source would be literally worthless.
“The Prime Minister should apologise for misleading people about NHS funding and instead level with the public about the need to increase taxes to pay for a better NHS.”
During a set-piece speech at the Royal Free Hospital in north London on Monday, May said there would be an extra £394m-a-week going to the NHS in England in 2023/24 - far exceeding the £350m famously plastered on the side of the Vote Leave bus.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents organisations across the healthcare sector, celebrated the funding increase, saying it represented a “significant improvement” and May and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt “deserve credit” for securing a longer-term settlement.
However he cautioned that the pledge needed to be viewed in a “realistic” way, adding the sum falls short of the 4% the NHS needs to improve.
“The truth is that in spite of this welcome extra investment we will face hard choices and we need an honest debate about what the NHS can and cannot do,” he said.
“One danger is that it simply goes to prop up the existing system, which will certainly not be able to cope - even with this injection.”
The Open Letter In Full
As health professionals experiencing the effect of chronic under-investment in our health service we welcome the Prime Minister’s pledge of greater investment for the NHS.
Too often politicians have paid lip-service to investing in our hospitals, clinics and surgeries without spelling out how they intend to fund those services. So it is with some concern that we read the Prime Minister’s plans to fund this latest investment through a so-called ‘Brexit dividend’.
The Government’s own analysis recently found that under all Brexit scenarios the economy will be weaker, while the Bank of England, the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Institute for Fiscal Studies all agree that Brexit is damaging our economy.
So it is clear that far from there being a ‘Brexit dividend’, there is in fact a growing Brexit deficit.
Any investment must be welcomed, but the patients and NHS staff need certainty, not yet another reckless pledge from politicians.
As we prepare to celebrate the 70th birthday of the NHS, the truth is that Brexit poses the biggest risk to our health service in its history.
With so much at stake, it is only right that the public are given the chance to take a view on the final Brexit deal through a people’s vote.
Professor Trisha Greenhalgh, Primary Care Health Sciences, Fellow of Green Templeton College
Professor Martin McKee, European Public Health, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Dr Clare Gerada, GP and former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners
Dr Nicholas Hopkinson, Reader in Respiratory Medicine, Imperial College London
Dr Lauren Gavaghan, Consultant Psychiatrist in Eating Disorders, Bristol
Professor Tamara K Hervey, Jean Monnet Professor of European Union Law, EU Health law specialist
Professor Simon Capewell DSc, Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool
Professor Louise Kenny, Faculty of Health & Life Sciences, University of Liverpool
Professor Carol Dezateux, Paediatric Epidemiology at the Institute of Child Health UCL
Professor Malcolm Macleod, Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, University of Edinburgh
Professor Tom Walley, Dean, Institute of Psychology, Health & Society
Dr Mike Galsworthy, Healthier in Europe