NHS chief warns Brexit could be 'very dangerous'
The head of NHS England today warned that Brexit could be "very dangerous" for the health service, warning that funding, staffing and the price of drugs could all be hit by a vote to Leave.
Simon Stevens said any chance of an economic slowdown from leaving the bloc is a "severe concern" for the NHS.
Mr Stevens also rejected the Leave campaign's claim that money sent to Brussels each week could be diverted to the health service, pointing out that any savings would only be enough to fund the health service for 19 days.
He also dismissed the idea that immigration was harming the health service, saying that hospitals and nursing homes have "benefited greatly" form EU workers.
David Cameron welcomed the intervention, saying that the NHS chief executive was making a "very important point" about the relationship between economic growth and NHS funding.
Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show, Mr Stevens pointed to warnings from Bank of England governor Mark Carney about the possible risks of Brexit.
"When Mark Carney says that the risk of a slowdown in economic growth, possibly a recession if we end up exiting the EU, if Mark Carney is right then that is a severe concern for the NHS because it would be very dangerous if at precisely the moment the NHS is going to need extra funding at that moment the economy goes into a tailspin and that funding is not there," he said.
"It's been true for the 68 years of the NHS' history that when the British economy sneezes the NHS catches a cold, this would be a terrible moment for that to happen at precisely the time the NHS is going to need that extra investment."
Leave campaigners have repeatedly claimed that the money the UK spends on EU membership could be redirected to alleviate the financial pressure on the health service. However Mr Stevens was dismissive of that argument, saying:
"Unfortunately the UK Statistics Authority has shown that that isn't actually money that would be available for the NHS because when you net off what we give with what you receive it's a rather lower figure than that.
"That lower figure, even if all of it were deployed to the NHS is enough to fund the NHS for 19 days each years...the other 11 and a half months of the year it's the performance of the economy that will count."
He also issued a double warning about the effects of leaving on EU staff and potentially on the cost of drugs to the health service.
"It is pretty clear that the balance of the advantage is such that the risks would be greater were we to find ourselves in an economic downturn or were we to find a number of our nurses and doctors contemplating leaving and, indeed, if the pound were affected because a lot of the drug treatments we buy are priced in euros and dollars, so that could make it more difficult for us to get the treatments we need at an affordable price."
The Prime Minister seized on the comments, telling ITV's Peston on Sunday that the NHS chief had made an important intervention.
“I thought Simon Stevens was making a very important point, which is the fortunes of the NHS are tied to the fortune of the economy. If we have a strong economy we can have a strong NHS.
"Now all the experts seem to be saying, the IMF, the OECD, the Bank of England, the Treasury, the Office for Budget Responsibility, are all saying the economy would suffer if we left the European Union and the single market. That is quite a consensus, I think if that were to happen obviously that would have a bad affect on the NHS.”