Leaving the EU will “further undermine” the future of NHS funding, said Stephen Dorrell, chair of NHS Confederation.
Speaking at the opening of the NHS Confederation Conference today, Dorrell said: “Far from providing an opportunity to increase NHS funding it is overwhelmingly more likely that Brexit would further undermine finances of a health sector which are already likely to become unsustainable.”
As 65% of Trusts face a deficit, Dorrell said the NHS cannot afford a period of economic instability, which is likely following an exit from the EU.
He said: “There is an overwhelming consensus that it would reduce national income in both the short and the long run.”
“That is not project fear that is telling the truth,” he said, adding that analysis from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) illustrates “the extent to which Brexit presents a threat for the health and care sector.”
He said: “The IFS concluded that the effect of Brexit would be that by 2020 either taxes would have to be higher or spending would have to be lower by between £20 and £40 billion per annum.”
In his speech Dorrell also highlighted the intrinsic link between a strong economy and a well-funded NHS, saying,“if the economy is smaller, the cake is smaller and there will be less to go around.”
His comments come as the NHS Confederation calls for a public debate around the future funding and structure of health and care services.
Even without the EU referendum, Dorrell said questions around the long term funding and structure of health and care services needs be addressed.
He said: “Health and care services are a vital part of a growing, wealth creating economy. We need to invest in building a sustainable society where we help people stay well, focusing on health and care in a place, rather than single institutions working in silos.
“Securing the necessary funding will be important for achieving our vision.
“We need a strong economy to guarantee the growth in funding that the health and care service requires and evidence suggests leaving the EU would undermine this.”
Dorrell also addressed the future role of sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) that would provide opportunities to change how the health and care system is structured and deliver care in a different way.
Dorrell urged everyone to shift their focus to outcomes, rather than activity.
This needs to be about treating people, not conditions, protecting patients, not structures, Dorrell said.