A report by health funding experts warns that current levels of NHS funding will be unsustainable if the UK quits the EU, unless the government increases taxes, cuts other public sector spending or accepts a higher overall fiscal deficit.
The warning appears to shed light on chancellor George Osborne’s decision last week to abandon a key pledge to create an overall UK budget surplus by 2020.
It also calls further into question claims by Brexit campaigners that the NHS could receive a £350m-a-week windfall if the UK quit the EU. RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker last week called on politicians backed the claim to 'deliver or resign'.
Independent charity The Health Foundation warned today that in the short term, the economic impact of quitting the EU could force the government to cut the NHS budget for 2019/20 by £2.8bn if it wanted to balance its overall budget.
The estimate is based on Institute for Fiscal Studies research showing that total public sector spending may have to fall by between £17bn and £28bn to achieve a balanced budget for 2019/20 in the event of the UK leaving the EU.
By 2030/31, the report warns that falling UK GDP could see the annual NHS funding shortfall rise to between £19bn and £28bn – between £365m and £540m a week.
Health Foundation director of research and economics Anita Charlesworth said: ‘It is widely anticipated that leaving the EU will lead to lower economic growth, and when the economy sneezes, the NHS catches a cold.
‘The NHS is already halfway through its most austere decade ever, with finances in a truly dire state – it cannot afford to face another hit. Eighteen months after the NHS five-year forward view there has never been a more urgent need for a clear plan to deliver the savings it set out and ensure the service has the staff it needs to sustain high quality care.’
NHS Confederation chief executive Stephen Dalton said: ‘The NHS is already facing multiple pressures from rising demand and cuts to social care. The current fiscal and political uncertainties are likely to stall plans for transforming how we plan and organise the delivery of NHS care.
‘We have not yet seen any evidence which suggests the NHS will be better off as a result of leaving the EU and we urgently need political leaders to move on from ill-informed rhetoric about the NHS.
‘If health and social care is to remain sustainable we need to have an honest conversation with the public about how it is funded.’