What Dominic Cummings said is true – the Tories don’t care about the NHS | Julie Ward

A no-deal Brexit will be grim for patients. Yet gagging orders are being used to keep the truth from coming out

Dominic Cummings, the “mastermind” behind the Vote Leave campaign, and now the prime minister’s top political adviser, wrote after the referendum: “Would we have won without £350m/NHS? All our research and the close result strongly suggests no.” Cummings also said in 2017 that Tory MPs “don’t care about the NHS”. Cummings, who was found to be in contempt of parliament earlier this year, is now leading the prime minister’s attempts to take the UK out of the EU without a deal. So, with the leavers now in charge will their infamous £350m a week cash injection for the NHS come to fruition? Of course not – we are instead looking at a potential crisis that could cost lives.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, refuses to rule out deaths from medicine shortages if the UK crashes out, saying: “‘No deal’ is not pretty. It’s very difficult for the economy and for lots of other areas like healthcare.” But still he serves in the government. And his department is even trying to stop the truth from getting out. Through freedom of information requests to all NHS trusts in England and Wales I have learned that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has essentially imposed a gagging order to prevent trusts from publishing their own impact studies about what a no-deal Brexit would mean for hospitals, staff and patients. Hospital chiefs have been told that releasing the information could cause trusts “premature financial harm, and so possibly put public wellbeing at risk”.

A whistleblower, who is currently a doctor in the NHS, risked his career by ignoring the gagging order, and told Newsnight the situation was “as serious as it gets”. NHS trusts cannot afford a no-deal Brexit; the government’s own figures show the economy would contract by up to 9% and cost the country £13bn a year. I have written to the health secretary on this urgent matter and two months on have still not received a reply.

The Royal College of Radiologists has said that the NHS will have “no choice but to prioritise” which patients receive cancer treatment in a no-deal Brexit, and the British Nuclear Medicine Society voiced its apprehensions about delays that would occur in such an event. It said: “Any delay could mean too little of a product arrives at a hospital – meaning fewer patients will be able to be scanned or treated, or a radioisotope shipment might not be able to be used at all.”

Yet we have a government prepared to ignore this expertise, while being completely certain in its belief that everything will be fine so long as we just summon up the courage to believe in Brexit.

Liz Truss, the new business secretary, said that she “does not fear no deal” and that the government is “well-prepared” for such an eventuality. Yet the government has nearly 10 Brexit-related bills that still need to see their way through parliament when the house sits again next month. Meanwhile, we only have a handful of trade deals that will continue beyond Brexit.

At every turn the reality of Brexit has been shrouded in secrecy, whether from giving parliament scant information, rejecting freedom of information requests, gagging orders and making businesses sign non-disclosure agreements. The government has also refused to give the public accounts committee further information on the 320-plus Brexit workstreams, which is a cross-departmental Whitehall planning exercise for a no-deal scenario. A RAG (red, amber, green) report should be done by the National Audit Office immediately on each workstream to find out how advanced or otherwise the government preparations actually are. The public and parliament should not be kept in the dark any longer.

Three years after the leave campaign’s empty promises the economy is £360m a week worse off than if we had signalled our intention to remain in the EU. The leave promises have not been matched by reality and the future looks even bleaker. It is frightening that our very own government is potentially putting party survival before people’s lives.

I may disagree with Cummings on many issues, but there is one thing we can agree on: the Tories do not care about the NHS.

• Julie Ward is a Labour MEP for the North West England region

• This article was amended on 15 August 2019 to remove an incorrect reference to a “dry run” for no deal being undertaken by the Royal College of Radiologists


Julie Ward

The GuardianTramp

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