Paul Nuttall has claimed privatisation of the NHS could have to be debated this century – although not while he is Ukip leader.
The MEP, who has previously suggested more privatisation for the health service, said his party will be “committed to keeping the NHS in public hands and free at the point of delivery”.
But he said everything in politics should be up for debate, adding at some point “years on” from now there could be talks about how the NHS is funded - citing the country's ageing population as a factor.
Challenged about his views on NHS privatisation, Mr Nuttall told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC One: “I stood on a Ukip manifesto in 2015 ... which ensured we put £3 billion a year into the NHS and kept it public.”
Presenter Mr Marr read out Mr Nuttall's views from 2011 in which he said the “very existence of the NHS stifles competition” and as long as the NHS is the “sacred cow” of British politics “the longer the British people will suffer with a second-rate health service”.
Mr Nuttall said: “Firstly, nothing should be a sacred cow in British politics. All things should be up for debate.
“In certain areas like procurement, for example, I think the NHS could do better because in certain areas the NHS is paying 30% over the odds for certain drugs.
“If you brought in a private company you could hire and fire on the results they got.”
Told he was originally talking about privatising the NHS, Mr Nuttall replied: “Under my leadership Ukip will be committed to keeping the NHS in public hands and free at the point of delivery.”
A video was then played of Mr Nuttall previously describing the NHS as a “monolithic hangover from days gone by” and noting he wanted “more free market introduced into the health service” given the country's ageing population.
Asked about these comments, Mr Nuttall replied: “I made it clear we are an ageing population, we're a growing population as well.
“At some point in this century, years on, we may well have to have a debate on how we fund the NHS in this country.
“I want to make it clear, under my leadership Ukip will be committed to putting more money into the NHS but to the frontline – into nurses, into doctors, into midwives because it cannot be right that in England today 51 per cent of people who work for the NHS are not clinically qualified.”
Mr Marr said Mr Nuttall sounded as if he was “massaging the sacred cow” and asked if the Ukip leader had changed his views.
Mr Nuttall replied: “No, I think everything in politics should be up for debate. Nothing should be parked, because if you don't debate things, things never improve.”
Asked if the NHS will go private one day in the future, Mr Nuttall said: “Maybe at some point, in years to come within this century we'll have to have this debate but it won't be under my leadership in Ukip.”
Mr Nuttall suggested he would not seek to reverse benefits cuts proposed by the Government.
Despite his support for reintroducing the death penalty for child killers, Mr Nuttall also said it would not be Ukip policy.
Asked if he would reverse cuts to Universal Credit, he said: “I probably would not reverse the cuts.”
He agreed with the suggestion that the country's welfare budget is too high, adding: “We need to do something.
“It cannot be right that we have 1.7 million in Britain today who are unemployed, 600,000 of them are between 18 and 24, and this goes back to the key issue of immigration.”
On the death penalty for child killers, Mr Nuttall said: “If this was a referendum tomorrow and that was on the table, I would vote in favour – there are other people in Ukip who would vote differently. That is not going to be Ukip policy, that is a personal view.”
Asked if he would like a referendum on the issue, Mr Nuttall cited Ukip policy that if 10 per cent of people sign a petition within a certain period of time then one should take place.
Mr Nuttall was also asked about reports that his CV included claims that were not accurate, including a PhD from Liverpool Hope University.
He replied: “No, I've never claimed I've got a PhD. It's not on my website. It's on a LinkedIn page that wasn't put up by us and we don't know where it's come from.”
Mr Nuttall said he has always stated he wants to finish his PhD, which he started in 2004.
On whether the Conservatives will “betray the Brexit vote”, Mr Nuttall replied: “I think we're on a slippery slope.”
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