A senior MP and one of the most prominent health experts backing Brexit has refused to hand out the Vote Leave campaign’s NHS leaflets, branding them “deliberately misleading”.
Dr Sarah Wollaston, a former GP and now chair of the House of Commons Health Select Committee, said that the Leave campaign should “stop treating the public like fools” by claiming that Brexit would free-up £350m a week to spend on the NHS.
While attacking “outlandish claims” on both sides of the EU debate, Dr Wollaston singled out Michael Gove’s warning last week over the dangers of increased immigration for the NHS.
“There are many reasons for the pressures on the NHS, but largely because we are living longer and with multiple and complex conditions,” she said in an article for The Times Red Box website. “As many have commented; if you meet a migrant in the NHS they are more likely to be caring for you than ahead of you in the queue.”
Dr Wollaston, the Conservative MP for Totnes, said that NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens had been right when he said on Sunday that the NHS was dependent on overseas staff.
“He also highlighted the dependence of the NHS on a strong economy and the knock on consequences for any uplift in funding of financial turbulence. In my view, it is an increase in the percentage of our national income that we spend on health and care that will save the NHS, not Brexit,” she writes.
The NHS has been thrust centre stage in the EU debate in recent days, after Mr Gove claimed that staying in the EU would see the UK population rise by 5.2m by 2030, making the health service “unsustainable”.
Vote Leave has also released campaign material claiming that the £350m Britain contributes to the EU each week could be spent on the NHS, and would be enough for a new hospital each week. The Leave campaign has already been criticised by the UK Statistics Authority for using this figure, as it does not taking into account for the UK’s rebate, or payments received from the EU. The actual net figure is between £110m and £135m a week.
“After the rebate and funds already committed to support farmers, exporters, regional development projects and science, the leave campaign clearly does not have an extra £350m per week to promise the NHS and they should stop treating the public as fools,” Dr Wollaston writes.
“There are legitimate concerns about pressures of population growth on housing, schools and certain areas of health provision but the current pre-occupation [with] exploiting the NHS, and its protected branding, to support the leave campaign’s argument on the EU is a cynical distortion which undermines the credibility of their other arguments.
“I will not hand out Vote Leave’s deliberately misleading leaflets about the NHS.”
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