The first day of campaigning over the referendum for the retention of Britain’s status within the European Union has seen the NHS as a central topic of debate.
In particular, the Brexit campaign claimed that the UK is sending £350 million weekly to the European Union, and that this could instead be diverted to funding the NHS.
Yet health unions stated that this claim was “spurious and outrageously misleading”, and indicated its belief that Brexit would ultimately means less money for the NHS than currently.
Meanwhile, UKIP leader Nigel Farage challenged David Cameron to a one-on-one debate on the claims contained in a leaflet sent out to households around the country, setting out the government case for continued EU membership.
The vote to leave the political union has been strongly backed by major figures such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and is manoeuvring into centre stage as the campaign over the European Union intensifies.
Vote Leave, backed by Johnson and Gove, believes that a significant proportion of the over £10 billion contribution that Britain makes to the Brussels government could be diverted directly to medical care should Britain eliminate its direct ties with the EU.
Unveiling the campaign’s first billboard ad, Labour MP Graham Stringer outlined the problems that the Vote Leave campaign perceives with the existing British relationship with Europe.
“Our NHS is struggling to cope with rising demand and needs the support that is currently siphoned off to Brussels. Instead of handing over £350 million a week to the EU we should spend our money on our priorities like the NHS. If we take back control of our borders, democracy and economy on June 23 we can ensure that the UK and our health service prospers for this and future generations.”
But TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady was scathing regarding the claims of the Vote Leave campaign, and offered her opinions that the relationship between Britain and the European Union is actually beneficial for the NHS.
“It’s not up to the Leave campaign to set NHS funding. The reality is that Brexit would plunge the NHS into a staffing crisis, which could lead to the longest hospital waiting lists we’ve ever known. And with experts warning that Brexit would hit Britain’s economy, the consequences for NHS funding would be dire.”
And Unite national officer for health Barrie Brown also suggested that the problems with funding of the NHS are fundamentally based in Britain and the existing Conservative government.
“It is spurious and outrageously misleading to blame the EU for problems that are home-grown and made worse by the Tory government. And it defies belief to think that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove would do a massive political U-turn and divert billions of EU cash into the NHS – when they have supported real cuts to the NHS budget and been enthusiastic flag-wavers for the privatisation and break-up of the NHS.”
It seems that the NHS will be a major battleground in the debate over Europe in the coming weeks, as British people contemplate whether or not to vote in favour of Britain retaining its status as an EU member.