George Osborne was today accused of fiddling the figures after it emerged that a third of the Government’s extra investment in the NHS will be money that has already been allocated to the Department of Health.
In an interview with the BBC, Mr Osborne said he would use Wednesday’s Autumn Statement to set out plans to provide an additional £2bn a year for frontline NHS services from next April.
He also announced that a further £1bn in banking fines would be spent over the next four years to improve and update GP surgeries so they relieve some of the pressure on hospital services.
But what the Chancellor did not mention was that the £2bn investment included £700m that had already been allocated by the Treasury to the Department of Health. Treasury sources later insisted that it was legitimate to include this money in the overall investment total because it had been found through “back office” cost savings and had never been allocated to the NHS.
In numbers: the NHS crisis
Labour’s shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, accused Mr Osborne of “recycling funds” rather than finding new money for the NHS. “The Chancellor’s spin is of no help at all to an NHS in real crisis now,” he said. “This will only reinforce the view that Cameron and Osborne simply can’t be trusted with the NHS.”
Labour said it would stick to Mr Osborne’s spending commitment as well as finding an additional £2.5m raised through new taxation.
Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, Mr Osborne said it was only because the economy was improving that he had been able to find the extra funds. “Because we have a strong economy and we have got the public finances under control, we can afford to put £2bn into the frontline of the NHS across the United Kingdom,” he said.
He added he would supplement the investment by using the money raised from the £1.1bn fines imposed on the banks in the Forex rate-rigging scandal to improve GP services.
This is expected to include investment to allow certain types of chemotherapy to be offered in GP surgeries as well as kidney dialysis. The Government is keen to see more services devolved down from hospitals to the community.
The new investment was broadly welcomed by the unions and NHS England who will be responsible for allocating all of the funding. “The Government has listened [to the NHS] and responded with the funding we need for next year to sustain frontline NHS services and kick-start transformation,” said Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England
“Of course there will still be pressures and difficult choices, but the Government has played its part and the NHS will step up and play our part, too. Today represents an extremely welcome vote of confidence in the NHS’s own five-year plan.”
Dr Mark Porter chair of the British Medical Association said it was “an encouraging step forward”. “It does appear that politicians of all parties are starting to get the message about the dire state of the NHS finances.”
“We are particularly pleased that policymakers have listened to the BMA and confirmed that £250m will be allocated annually for the next four years to invest in GP premises and out-of-hospital infrastructure.
“Many GP facilities have been starved of investment for decades with the result that a number of GP practices are too small and inadequate to cope with the number of patients.”
Peter Carter, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, added: “The health service has been under-resourced for years. Investment has not kept pace with patient numbers and the unprecedented budget constraints imposed on the NHS have led to cutbacks and brought it to a point of financial crisis.
“It’s crucial this additional investment is used to relieve the pressure on frontline services. The money must go to the right places, including community care and mental health services, as well as hospitals.”