Brexiteers’ attempts to drag the NHS into their anti-EU campaign hinges on two dubious claims. The first is that we would be significantly better off if we left the EU. The second is that our government would spend its new-found windfall on plugging the gaps in public spending on the health service.
The first of these two claims has been roundly demolished. Not only has Vote Leave been censured by the UK Statistics Authority for using an invented figure for our budget contributions, but even that figure is dwarfed by the massive economic benefits we gain from EU membership — benefits calculated to be nearly £10 for every £1 we pay in.
The second claim is equally ludicrous. By far the biggest threat to the NHS today is the ideologically-motivated cuts programme being pushed through by the Conservative government.
As evidence for this, as if any were needed, I visited two village pharmacies in my constituency today — one in Pateley Bridge in the Yorkshire Dales, and the other in Dunnington near York. In both places, staff and customers were desperately concerned that the pharmacies were under threat because of brutal threatened cuts to their funding.
I was extremely impressed by the central role of these pharmacies in their local communities — not only as a crucial health service for local populations, but as a hub for community activities of all kinds. The cuts will inflict real damage on these vital community resources, and some may well be forced to close.
Worse still, they are false savings. Community pharmacies provide services which will simply be diverted to more expensive GPs and hospitals if they close.
Anyone who thinks our cuts-obsessed government would suddenly rush to reverse this damage if we quit the EU is sorely mistaken. On the contrary, the negative economic impact of Brexit is likely to squeeze public services even further.