Lib Dems urge George Osborne to approve an emergency £2bn cash injection for NHS

 

Senior Liberal Democrats are calling for Chancellor George Osborne to approve an emergency £2bn injection into the NHS to avert a funding crisis in hospitals next year.

They argue the extra money is essential to cope with the rapid ageing of the population and to afford expensive new drugs and treatments for chronic conditions.

Fears have been growing of a financial black hole in the £100bn annual budget for the NHS in England, although the Department of Health insists it can meet the extra demands from a continuing programme of savings.

But Lib Dem sources said they did not share the department’s optimism and urged the Chancellor to act in his Autumn Statement in November or December - the last before the general election - in which he will set out spending plans for the next financial year.

“The NHS has done amazingly well over the last four years to survive in the middle of tight spending and growing demand on the NHS, but there is a shortfall in 2015-16,” said a source.

“If there is chaos in the NHS four months before the [May] election, we will be in a position where we can be put under huge pressure by NHS managers who realise they have leverage over us. But then we would look reactive.

“If we act now, we can look proactive. It will even see the electorate agree with us about something.”

It is understood that Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, will meet party colleagues shortly to discuss the possible intervention.

Supporters of the move believe the Conservatives could try to use it against them as evidence of Lib Dem profligacy, but insist it would be supported by the voters.

“All the indicators are pointing in the wrong direction,” said a senior party figure. “We have an ageing population, new medicines are developed all the time and we have to deal with more and more lifestyle diseases. It is a problem faced by all western economies.”

The NHS budget has risen since 2010 in line with inflation rather than in response to pressures such as demographic changes and steep rises in the drugs bill. The service is also coping with the rising cost of staff pensions.

Any move to find an extra £2bn would require cuts elsewhere in Whitehall or tax rises because of the Coalition’s deficit reduction rules.

Today it emerged that Jane Ellison, the Public Heath Minister, told a private meeting of the Tory Reform Group that the Government’s reforms meant it could no longer exert much day-to-day control over the NHS.  She said it was “a bit like being on a hire wire without a net at times.”

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