Wollaston abandons Brexit camp over 'shameful' NHS claims

Former GP and health select committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston has changed her mind over the EU referendum, abandoning the Brexit camp over its 'shameful' claims about the future of the NHS.

The Conservative MP for Totnes, Devon and chairman of the House of Commons health select committee wrote in her blog that a ‘financial lie’ had ‘knowingly’ been put at the heart of the vote leave campaign, which implied a ‘financial bonanza for the NHS’.

‘It's an empty promise and one which would soon backfire,’ she said.

‘A strong economy has always been the cornerstone of funding for the NHS and for all the arguments about the scale of the economic turbulence, the clear consensus is that the effects would be significant and negative. Far from a leave dividend there would be an economic penalty and the NHS would suffer the consequences.’

Brexit campaign

Dr Wollaston, who had initially backed the UK leaving the EU, also criticised a recent focus on immigration from leave campaigners.

‘If you meet a migrant in the NHS, they are more likely to be treating you than ahead of you in the queue and very many of our core health and social care workforce come from the EU,’ she said.

‘How does it feel for them? I know from my correspondence and from private conversations how intensely painful and alienating many of my EU constituents have found the tone of the debate.’

GPonline revealed last year that more than one in five UK GPs were trained overseas.

Dr Wollaston said that if the UK votes to remain in the EU, our relationship with Brussels should be ‘reset’. But she backed the EU’s role in promoting good health.

Evidence

‘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,’ she said.

‘We contribute 11% of the EU research budget and receive 16% of its allocated funding.’

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, Brexit campaigner and fellow Conservative MP John Redwood said he hoped Dr Wollaston would reconsider. He acknowledged that the £350m saving often quoted for leaving the EU is a 'gross figure' that does not take into account funding that comes back to the UK.

But he added: 'I hope Sarah will think again because she, like me, thinks we need to spend more money on health. We can do so out of all the money that we save and we would also be able to give that cancellation of VAT on fuel to people's households.'

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