Leaving the European Union would starve the NHS of investment and could lead to an exodus of foreign national clinicians, the Health Secretary has warned.
Jeremy Hunt said voting to leave the bloc would “truly undermine the public finances”, leaving less money for the health service.
“Those who want to leave need to explain how they could protect the NHS from this economic shock,” he wrote in an example for the Observer newspaper.
“No savings can compensate for the economic volatility that would follow a vote to leave.”
Mr Hunt added that the NHS relied on 100,000 EU national citizens in its workforce and that they could be at risk amid “uncertainties” over work permit and visa statuses in the wake of Brexit.
Campaigners to leave the bloc are divided on whether the UK would continue to have full access to the single market and associated free movement rules after it left the political union.
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign, however said that leaving the EU would in fact make more money available for the NHS.
“Under Jeremy Hunt's stewardship, the NHS has plummeted into a financial crisis,” he said.
“If we vote to leave we can stop wasting money on EU bureaucrats and instead spend our money on our priorities like the NHS.”
Some campaigners to leave the EU also warn that TTIP, a free trade deal between the EU and US, would put the health service at risk.
At the last general election Labour promised to exempt the NHS from the planned accord – which aims to open up markets to international competition and allows corporations to sue governments for policies that they believe get in the way.
In numbers: the NHS crisis
The claims on both sides about the EU’s effect on the health service come the same month as the Health Foundation warned the NHS’s financial position had “substantially deteriorated” in recent years.
Research by the organisation found that all regions of the English NHS had gone from a surplus in 2012/13 when Mr Hunt took up post to all but one being in overall deficit in 2014/15.
The Foundation blamed Government policies leading to an increased reliance on expensive agency workers, with funding failing to keep pace.Reuse content