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EU referendum: NHS couldn't cope without immigrants, says professor

By Allan Preston

Published 23/06/2016

Warning: Professor Martin McKee
Warning: Professor Martin McKee

A leading medical professor from Northern Ireland has warned our health service could not cope without immigrants from the EU.

As voters go to the polls today, opinion polls till show the result as too close to call.

Martin McKee CBE studied at Queen's University 30 years ago and is now Professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This week he returned for an event at Queen's University and said he was angry to see many posters for the Leave campaign using the NHS logo.

"I've just been talking to people over here and I've been hearing that the Vote Leave campaign is saying, 'If you stay in the EU it will be a threat to the NHS', when nothing could be further from the truth," he added.

"I come over seeing all these posters saying, 'Leave to save the NHS', and I'm saying this is nonsense and somebody needs to challenge it."

Professor McKee claimed the Leave campaign's assertion that the UK sent £350m a week to the EU that could be spent on the NHS instead was farcical.

"Not only do we get much of it back, it also pays for many important functions, such as food safety, medicines approvals and infection disease surveillance that we would otherwise have to do ourselves, but much less efficiently, even assuming we could find the people with these scarce skills," he added.

At odds with this view was high-profile cancer scientist Professor Angus Dalgleish, principal of the respected Cancer Vaccine Institute in London. In a speech entitled The Good Life after Brexit, he argued that migrants were bleeding the NHS dry. "Our membership of the EU is putting an intolerable strain on our NHS," he warned.

"NHS Trusts were not prepared for the millions of EU migrants who have poured into Britain because the Government estimate was nowhere near the reality. The health service is being bled dry. It is why our NHS faces a £3bn deficit."

But Professor McKee rubbished his argument and said: "In much of the UK, if you see an EU migrant in a hospital, they are most likely to be treating you.

"The NHS couldn't survive without them. Our medical schools, including Queen's, would suffer enormously with every British university declaring its support for Remain."

Professor McKee added that cross-border health co-operation could also be badly affected. "Those who think the border would remain open are deluding themselves," he said.

"I know that some supporters of Brexit have had enough of experts, but most people, when they are ill, will trust their doctor. At least when it comes to the future of the NHS, the overwhelming support of the medical profession for remaining in the EU should not be dismissed lightly."

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