Claims the NHS is in for a huge windfall after Brexit are based on ‘fantasy statistics’, doctors have said after the pledge was repeated by a senior cabinet member.
Foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the UK would ‘take back control of roughly £350m per week’ following the financial conclusion of a Brexit deal. ‘It would be a fine thing,’ he said in a Daily Telegraph comment piece last week, ‘if a lot of that money went on the NHS’.
The controversial claim of a so-called £350m Brexit dividend came under immediate fire from senior politicians from all political parties and was described by the official statistics watchdog as ‘a clear misuse of statistics’.
The dividend pledge played a prominent role in the pro-Brexit campaign and was emblazoned on the bus (pictured) that toured the UK promoting a vote to leave the EU.
Those who touted it were accused of ignoring the fact that it is a gross, not a net figure, and takes no account of the money the UK receives back from the EU.
It was also made on the assumption that there would be no shrinking of the economy, and public revenues after Brexit.
The Department of Health distanced itself from the £350m claim, referring BMA News to Mr Johnson’s office.
'Surprised and disappointed'
Parliamentary health select committee chair and Conservative MP for Totnes Sarah Wollaston said she would ‘love an extra £350m per week for the NHS but that won’t materialise from fantasy statistics’.
UK Statistics Authority chair Sir David Norgrove said the £350m figure confused two means of calculating the UK’s contribution to the EU and excluded important financial factors.
‘I am surprised and disappointed that you have chosen to repeat the figure of £350m per week,’ he says in a letter to the foreign secretary. Mr Johnson hit back, calling for Sir David to withdraw his letter.
Sir David’s letter mirrors one from his predecessor Sir Andrew Dilnot, issued last April, ahead of the referendum, which called the £350m claim ‘potentially misleading’.
This letter flags the European Commission’s own figures on the UK’s contribution, which puts it at £135m on average.
BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul said it was ‘astonishing’ that a senior government minister ‘sees fit to repeat the myth that Brexit could free up £350m a week for public finances’.
Four in 10 doctors from the EEA (European Economic Area) who are working in the UK are considering leaving following the Brexit vote, a BMA poll found.
The Department of Health’s latest financial accounts revealed that £155m had been wiped from its balance sheet following the collapse in the pound after the referendum.
‘It’s the costs that are mounting up, not the benefits of Brexit,’
Dr Nagpaul added: ‘The NHS needs real investment, not mythological offers.’
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