Campaigners have argued that leaving the European Union could help “fix the NHS funding crisis”.
Claims about future funding for the NHS were at the centre of the first official day of campaigning ahead of the EU referendum on 23 June.
The Vote Leave group suggested the NHS deficit “could nearly be eliminated” if the UK voted to leave and “we choose to spend our money on our priorities like the NHS”.
It said in a statement on Friday that its research showed the NHS could face a shortfall of £12.3bn by 2020-21, based on previous think-tank predictions, and that the UK’s net contribution to the EU was £10.6bn.
Gisela Stuart, Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston and chair of Vote Leave, said: “The NHS is facing a crisis due to growing demand for healthcare and a squeeze on funding.
“If we ‘vote leave’ we will be able to stop handing over £350m a week to Brussels and we will be able to instead spend our money on our priorities like the NHS,” she said. “The money we send to the EU will plug some of the gaps in the NHS funding crisis.”
Ms Stuart’s call was echoed by campaign colleagues mayor of London Boris Johnson and justice secretary Michael Gove.
However, the Britain Stronger in Europe group disputed the £350m figure, arguing that much of it came back to the UK via rebates in the form of subsidies.
The Trades Union Congress also responded to the claims that leaving the EU could allow more to be spent on the health service, noting that it was “not up to the ‘leave’ campaign to set NHS funding”.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The reality is that Brexit would plunge the NHS into a staffing crisis, which could lead to the longest hospital waiting lists we’ve ever known,” he said.
“And with experts warning that Brexit would hit Britain’s economy, the consequences for NHS funding would be dire,” he added.
The TUC also highlighted that Mr Gove had previously argued against giving the NHS extra money, quoting a 2005 publication that he co-authored Direct Democracy: an agenda for a new model party.