Was Brexit the biggest scam in NHS history?

Donald Reid, former director of the Association for Public Health. Non-executive director of the former Watford & Three Rivers NHS Primary Care Trust

Just before the June 2016 referendum, the Leave Campaign sent a bus around the country bearing slogans which claimed that the money saved by not paying our annual EU contribution (£8 billion) could all be spent on improving the NHS.

But, although we haven’t even left yet, the NHS has already lost a potential £50 billion. This happened because until the referendum our annual rate of economic growth was a healthy 2.7%, much the same as in the other G20 countries. Immediately after the vote our annual growth rate fell, alone among the G20, to 1.4%.  In the following year the gap between the UK and the G20 narrowed but there was still about 0.5 of a percentage point gap. All of this was caused by businesses putting their growth plans on hold due to uncertainty caused by the vote to leave.

Since, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, each 0.5 percentage point drop in our annual rate of growth costs the Treasury £20 billion, we have lost at least £50 billion since the referendum, all of which could in principle be spent of the NHS, according to the Leave campaign’s own arguments. And there is worse to come, because the Governor of the Bank of England estimates that UK growth will fall to a lowly 1.2% in the event of a no deal Brexit. Since the Leave campaign knew that growth would fall in the event of a Leave vote, their claim that leaving the EU would benefit the NHS must be the most successful scam in NHS history, especially as it is known to have influenced a number of undecided voters.

The consequences for individual NHS patients like myself can be severe. Since the referendum, I have been registered as severely visually impaired/blind and so need electronic smart glasses to lead a normal life. However, a pair costs £2500 each and are therefore not available from the cash-strapped NHS. And it is much worse for those denied life-saving medicine, like the recent scandal over the withholding of drugs to treat cystic fibrosis.

If the Brexit madness continues, the Government will have to choose between abolishing the NHS, raising taxes, slashing other public services such as education or the police, or borrowing even more money to add to our huge National Debt. It is high time that the Leave campaign admitted the huge damage which they have already done to public services in this country.

Donald Reid was Director of Programmes for the Health Education Authority (1987 – 1993), Director of the Association for Public Health (1993 -199 99) and a non-Executive Director of the Watford and Three Rivers NHS Primary Care Trust from 2000 – 2006.