NHS England Chief Executive Simon Stevens has intervened in the referendum debate to declare that leaving the EU could damage the NHS.
Citing Bank of England governor Carney’s warning of ‘Brexit’ leading to a ‘technical recession’, Stevens told the Andrew Marr Show: ‘If Mark Carney is right, then that is a severe concern for the National Health Service, because it would be very dangerous if at precisely the moment the NHS is going to need extra funding, actually the economy goes into a tailspin and that funding is not there.’
He added: ‘When the British economy sneezes, the NHS catches a cold and this would be a terrible moment for that to happen at precisely the time the NHS is going to need extra investment.’
Stevens insisted: ‘These are just the practical realities the NHS would be facing and as one of the nation’s most important social institutions, it seems reasonable that as we take one of these important national decisions, this goes into the balance.’
BMA member Anna Athow commented yesterday that ‘Stevens and his privatisation plans for the NHS are a much greater danger to the NHS than anything that could happen after the UK leaves the European Union.’
She added: ‘Under the TTIP trade deal that is being negotiated by the US and the EU the mechanism exists for privatising the NHS and preventing any government from renationalising it. This is why Stevens wants the UK to remain in the EU – to facilitate closures and privatisation – meanwhile, he continues to impose massive multi-billion cuts on the NHS.’
BFAW trade union regional officer Roy Streeter commented: ‘Despite Cameron giving way to the cross party demand of the House of Commons that the NHS should be excluded from the terms of the EU-US TTIP trade deal, if the UK stays in the EU privatisation of the NHS will be imposed on us!
”I don’t think TTIP will be changed to leave the NHS alone. Now you’ve even got the Labour leader, Corbyn speaking on the same platform as Cameron. Our union’s view is we should leave the bosses’ and bankers’ EU. We need socialism.’
Prime Minister Cameron later told ITV’s Peston on Sunday that the country ‘wants to hear’ from people like Carney and Stevens, adding that the NHS chief was ‘making a very important point’. Cameron and Stevens remarks followed a warning by Chris Hopson, head of NHS Providers, which represents hospital trusts, that up to 50 hospitals face losing A&E or specialist units after running up deficits.
Writing in Saturday’s The Times newspaper Hopson said the funding gap is too big to be solved with better management. Referring to the £22bn ‘efficiency savings’ being demanded, he said: ‘No-one in the NHS believes that these savings will be enough to cover the large financial gap that is rapidly opening up. We are therefore going to have to ask difficult questions about the pattern of health services. Does it make sense to keep open two A&E departments 14 miles apart when they are so poorly staffed? Why don’t we close one and have the other fully staffed?
‘Can every district general hospital continue to provide its own specialist urology and rheumatology services, particularly when there aren’t enough consultants to staff them?’ NHS England boss Stevens, has told the country’s 44 local health areas not to ‘duck difficult decisions’ as they come up with five-year plans by the summer for transforming care.
Last week Stevens praised Lancashire Teaching Hospital’s decision to close Chorley’s 24-hour A&E and replace it with an urgent care centre due to a lack of doctors calling it ‘a responsible set of actions under difficult circumstances’. He has promised to give cash and backing to local leaders who make ‘challenging’ decisions.
Payment rates to hospitals have been cut by 20% in the past five years and face further reductions as part of the £22bn ‘efficiencies’ programme while patient numbers have soared. Cliff Mann, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said health bosses were in denial if they they thought that closures would work.
He said: ‘It takes as many staff to see patients whether they are on one site or two.
‘There is a huge increase in ambulance costs because you have got to move people 30 miles rather than five and it takes longer to discharge people because families are less able to visit.’