By Chuka Umunna MP, Chair of Vote Leave Watch
The current Government is planning damaging and unnecessary cuts to accident and emergency departments at a time when the service is under its greatest strain for many years. During the referendum on our membership of the European Union, the Leave campaigners promised an extra £350 million a week in funding for the NHS. Instead of slashing away at vital services, the Government should keep the promises made by leading members of the Cabinet, like Boris Johnson, and give our National Health Service the resources it needs to overcome the immense pressures it is under. To those Leave Ministers and MPs, people who voted Leave and Remain say put your money where your mouth is and support the amendment signed by over 50 MPs, which I have tabled, to the Article 50 legislation requiring the government to set out how it will make good on the key Vote Leave promise.
The news this morning was deeply worrying for anyone who loves and depends upon our NHS. According to analysis by the Health Service Journal, as many as 33 accident and emergency units in hospitals could be facing closure or downgrading – that’s one in every six in the country. From Sandwell to Shrewsbury and Telford to Teesside, the services on which communities depend could be taken away.
The terrible irony is that this is the worst possible time for the Government to be considering cuts, as our NHS is under unprecedented pressure. NHS winter crises which ceased when Labour was in Government, because we invested and reformed our Health Service to make it more effective, have returned with a vengeance. The number of life-saving operations cancelled has reached a new high. Nine in ten hospitals have been overcrowded this year. Record numbers of hospitals are being forced to divert patients elsewhere.
This is both a human tragedy and an indictment of seven years of Tory Government. As the House of Commons Health Select Committee has said, the Government has refused to deliver the investment in our NHS it promised. It spent years, and billions of pounds, on a top-down reorganisation for which there was no mandate and no support among doctors and nurses. And they have failed to confront the real challenges facing the NHS – the crisis in social care, a shortage of GPs, our rapidly ageing population.
Certainly the NHS can become more efficient. But the idea that it can overcome its current problems through savings alone, after seven years of cutbacks, is absurd. Everyone apart from the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister knows that the only answer is for our NHS to be given a meaningful, long-term increase in funding.
That’s why they need to come good on the promise made by the five cabinet ministers – Boris Johnson, Liam Fox, Priti Patel, Andrea Leadsom, and Chris Grayling – who promised during the referendum campaign that Brexit would leave £350 million a week available to spend on our NHS. Just think what that money could achieve – a lifeline for A&E services threatened with closure, more GP surgeries, real investment in adult social care, and more.
Along with dozens of MPs from Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, I am pushing an amendment to the Article 50 bill going through Parliament to force the Government to set out its plans on how Brexit will impact on health spending and how the Vote Leave pledge will be met.
There is no reason why Tory Leavers should not support this amendment. Even Iain Duncan Smith said yesterday that he would take a look at it. They made the promise, they ought to be transparent about whether or not it is deliverable. If you want those MPs to keep their promise, and help get our NHS the spending it needs, please sign our petition at http://www.voteleavewatch.org.uk/show-us-the-money.
This article originally appeared in The Independent.