Worcester’s MP, Robin Walker, has spoken out for the benefits to the NHS of Britain remaining a member of the European Union and the risk to local services if the country were to leave.
Far from the claims of Vote Leave that more money would be available to invest in the health service if the UK were to leave the EU both the Conservative chairmen of the Treasury select committee and the Health select committee have come out in favour of Remain. Both are agreed that a decision to leave would put at risk the economic growth that underpins increasing investment in the health service.
The Treasury Select Committee recently concluded that the claim that £350 million would be available to invest in health services after a leave vote was “highly misleading” and when their chair was asked what they should do about the claim being painted on the side of their battle bus said they should “repaint it immediately”.
Speaking at the Centre for Policy Studies the Committee Chairman said of Vote Leave’s claim:
“This is nonsense politics. It is a form of electoral bribery. It is of an order of magnitude worse than usually encountered in general elections – £350m a week or £50m a day, is a false prospectus.”
“It has the some of the corrosive characteristics of Tony Blair’s claims on Iraq. I very much regret that the electorate has been expected to wade through this mountain of nonsense to find grains of truth.”
Today more than 60 leading clinicians have written to the Times newspaper outlining why they think the NHS will be stronger if people vote to Remain, saying:
‘‘We have benefited from Europe-wide action on matters such as new infectious diseases (including the zika virus), environmental pollution, climate change, and antibiotic resistance – all of which are public health threats that do not stop at the Channel. In addition, about 20 per cent of our medical research is now funded by the EU; we receive considerably more back from the EU for this than we pay in. If we leave we can expect to lose a good proportion of this to other EU countries.”
“Finally, rather than the discredited £350 million a week that Leave campaigners say would be redirected to the NHS, it seems far more likely that there would be an immediate large decline in national income, which can only worsen the existing financial crisis that faces the NHS. It is Brexit that is the threat to the NHS, not our membership of the EU”
The Royal College of Physicians, whilst remaining officially neutral has published a detailed analysis which concluded that Britain’s EU membership has been good for the nation’s health, helped guarantee patient safety and supplied thousands of frontline staff for the NHS. The doctors’ professional body, representing 30,000 medics, has warned that Brexit could harm patient care and public health.
The President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, who submitted evidence to the RCP, said: “The survival of the NHS and its capacity to improve hinge on three core needs: more money, more people and more research. Each of these will be negatively impacted should we leave the EU.”
Negative campaigning from Vote Leave suggesting that the NHS is being overwhelmed with migrants have also been hugely exaggerated. You are more likely to be treated by a doctor or nurse from overseas than to be waiting behind an immigrant for treatment.
There are 273,000 doctors within the UK, of whom 1/3 come from overseas with 693,000 non-medical health workers, 100,000 of whom are from other countries. The NHS could not survive without them. The process of validating the professionals is, in the case of Medicine, carried out by the GMC that agrees common standards with the EU but the UK has powers to require English language skills and specific elements of training related to the UK health system.
A similar system also goes for the registration of medicines, clinical trials and the sale of medicines within the EU all of which require common standards, led originally by our own registration authorities. Were we to leave we would have to reestablish our own Medicines Commission thereby delaying the introduction of new treatments from the EU as well as increasing costs. When we would wish to sell our medicines within the EU we would have to submit to a separate set of authorities for approval which would delay our EU sales and increase our development costs. As one of the UK’ largest employers and biggest exporters is the pharmaceuticals industry this would be a significant risk both to jobs and to research.
Professor David London a Worcester based retired Doctor who worked with European colleagues in medical practice and research, having chaired the European federation of his medical specialty, endocrinology, acted as a research consultant for European companies developing new medicines, worked with the Commission on medical research ethics and fronted the development of a new specialty, Pharmaceutical Medicine, said:
“The EU is a significant provider of funds for medical research. In this context, the Royal Society is committed to our remaining in the EU, not only for financial benefits but also as a facilitator of the free movement within the Union of scientists at all levels and for all purposes. Britain benefits from the free movement of scientists within the EU as it has world leading universities and research facilities which need to attract the best and the brightest from across the continent.”
“UK Medicine and UK Medical Science carry great authority in determining policy within European Medical institutions. Were we to leave, this authority would be lost, and with it our influence.”
In addition to the views set out by the Royal College of Physicians there has been support for the benefits of EU membership from The Royal College of Surgeons and The Faculty of Public Health Medicine. The Royal College of Midwives has also come firmly out in favour of Remain.
Belonging to the EU enables UK nationals travelling within Europe to have access to the health services of the constituent countries and just as UK citizens are supposed to take their E111 forms with them in order to access healthcare elsewhere in the EU, the UK parliament is in the process of passing legislation to tighten up requirements for overseas visitors to the UK to pay for or make sure their government pays for their healthcare in the UK.
The UK has one of the strongest and most productive life sciences industries in the world, generating turnover of over £56 billion pa, and employing c. 180,000 people. The UK exports £38m of pharmaceuticals per day to the EU, over £14bn per year. In recent years, the UK has on average contributed around 12% of all EU funding and received around 15% of research funding from Framework Programme 7 and Horizon 2020 – supporting a wide range of research including in health. The Oxford Vaccine Centre, an institute at the University of Oxford, is just one example – they have received £2.3m in EU support for their work to accelerate the development of vaccines against Ebola.
The NHS relies on EU health and care workers to provide safe high quality care: The UK is a net importer of health and care workers. In September 2015, 9.4% of NHS Doctors (10,136) and 6.3% of NHS Nurses (20,634) in England were from another EU country. Skills for Care estimate that 80,000 people from other EU countries work in social care settings.
The EU ensures quick access to safe drugs and medical devices for UK citizens: Through the European Medicines Agency, the UK is able to access cutting edge pharmaceuticals and medical technology faster. New treatments regularly get to market far more quickly in Europe than elsewhere in the developed world, and there have been instances of new medical technology being licensed in Europe two or more years ahead of the US.
Dr David Tibbutt, a former Worcester Councillor and retired Consultant Physician, who was chairman of the Worcester Conservative Association during the 2015 General Election said:
“The “In or Out” debate for the EU referendum is multifactorial and hence the difficulty in weighing up the issues. Healthcare is one of the major issues. Over 10% of our NHS staff come from the European Economic Area and loss of those from the EU would create a staffing crisis. The Royal College of Physicians (30,000 doctors) favours staying in the EU and although officially neutral the British Medical Association (150,000 doctors) has listed the clear EU benefits to the NHS. Leaving the EU is likely to result in our loss of huge amounts of research funding and cooperation.“
“We have also benefited from world leading checks on medicine quality. And what would happen to the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) when we go on holiday to Europe? … it is most likely to be invalid leading to our having to pay for all urgent health needs. The benefits of remaining in the EU far outweigh the disadvantages”.
In a powerful intervention last week the Chair of the Heath Select Committee Dr Sarah Wollaston, who had previously supported the Leave campaign said that she could no longer do so saying:
“Having listened carefully to both sides of the debate, I believe our NHS and research will be safer if Britain remains in the EU”.
“The consensus now is there would be a huge economic shock if we voted to leave. Undoubtedly, the thing that’s most going to influence the financial health of the NHS is the background economy. So I think there would be a Brexit penalty.”
“The NHS is not just a passive beneficiary of a strong economy, health is a key driver for economic growth. Listening to the evidence, the EU has played a positive role in promoting good health whether that be in terms of water and air quality or the scientific research for which the UK is clearly a net beneficiary.”
“We contribute 11% of the EU research budget and receive 16% of its allocated funding. The UK also plays a strong leadership role in the surveillance, shared intelligence and response to the health threats which are no respecters of national boundaries as evidenced by our ability to respond to the Ebola outbreak, saving countless lives.”
Concluding, Robin Walker said:
“It is clear that the NHS is safer and better off if we choose positively to Remain. The growing economy in the UK currently helps to support increased investment in our health service each year and improvements in care and medicine. I want to see more doctors and nurses in our local health service and an expansion of our hospital. To put that in any way at risk would be irresponsible and I am afraid that leaving the EU would be a very substantial risk.”
“It is simply wrong for the Leave campaign to pretend that the major pressure on the NHS comes from immigration. It is well established that the greatest pressure comes from an ageing population and more people living with long term conditions. We need to keep attracting the brightest and the best people to work in health and care and Europe helps us to do that. You are more likely to be treated by an EU citizen than to be waiting behind one for care.”
“Quite apart from all that, we benefit from huge investment in research which could not be guaranteed in the event of a Brexit and the UK’s leading position as a centre for drug development and testing – pharma companies and medical research experts alike have warned that all this would be at risk were we to leave.”
“I am passionate about improving and investing in our NHS and I would add my voice to the overwhelming weight of medical opinion to call for a Remain vote in Worcester. It is striking that even as Leave stick to their guns on the impossible claim that £350 million that we don’t give to the EU would be spent on the NHS, the serious experts such as the chairs of the Treasury and Health Select Committees are walking away from their claims.”
Notes to editors:
For the views of medical experts set out in the Times newspaper see:
For the views of the Treasury Select Committee Chair see:
For the views of the Royal College of Physicians and the BMA see:
For the views of major Pharmaceutical companies see:
To read Sarah Wollaston’s statement in full:
For a previous letter from 200 health professionals and leaders in the Times see:
For Robin’s previous releases and information on the referendum: