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Brexit: NHS England boss demands £350m-a-week promised to Leave voters

Health service 'wasn't on the ballot paper, but it was on the battle bus,' says Simon Stevens

Harriet Agerholm
Wednesday 08 November 2017 09:28 GMT
NHS England boss demands £350m-a-week promised by Leave voters

The NHS should receive the funds promised to it during the EU referendum, the head of the health service in England is expected to say.

Simon Stevens, who is considered a moderate voice, will make an unusually direct address to the Government at a conference in Birmingham by citing a key pledge touted by the Leave campaign. Brexiteers controversially claimed leaving the bloc would allow the UK to divert £350m more funding every week to the health service.

Speaking to NHS providers, Mr Stevens will not specifically call for the full amount of £350m, but he will insist trust in democracy “will not be strengthened” if Chancellor Philip Hammond argues in his upcoming budget that economic turbulence caused by Brexit means he cannot promise extra cash for the NHS.

Mr Stevens is expected to say: “The NHS wasn’t on the ballot paper, but it was on the battle bus. Vote Leave for a better funded health service – £350m a week.”

He will quote Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings’ analysis that Britain would have voted to Remain in the EU without the pledge, adding: “Rather than our criticising these clear Brexit funding commitments to NHS patients – promises entered into by Cabinet ministers and by MPs – the public want to see them honoured.

“By the end of the NHS’s next financial year – March 2019 – the United Kingdom will have left the European Union.

“Trust in democratic politics will not be strengthened if anyone now tries to argue: ‘You voted Brexit, partly for a better funded health service. But precisely because of Brexit, you now can’t have one.’

“A modern NHS is itself part of the practical answer to the deep social concerns that gave rise to Brexit.

“At a time of national division, an NHS that brings us together. An institution that tops the list of what people say makes them proudest to be British. Ahead of the army, the monarchy or the BBC. Unifying young and old, town and country, the struggling and the better off.”

His speech will immediately follow a keynote address from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has recently clashed with Mr Stevens over the issue of pay rises for NHS staff.

Mr Stevens described the Health Secretary’s insistence that pay rises next year should depend on employees improving their productivity as “an own goal of the first magnitude. NHS experts have said it was unrealistic to expect the health service to make significant further improvements in staff productivity.

Mr Stevens’s call for money comes after leading health think-tanks warned NHS funding will be at one of the lowest rates in its history next year.

The Health Foundation, The King’s Fund and the Nuffield Trust have all calculated that the NHS needs £4bn more next year to prevent patient care from deteriorating.

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