Jeremy Hunt has admitted his claim of an extra £10 billion for the NHS involves “painful” cuts in other health budgets, after heated Commons clashes.
The Health Secretary was forced to make the concession after five senior MPs – including two Conservatives – accused him of misleading the public about the extra funding being put in.
Led by the Dr Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative chairman of the Commons health select committee, the five wrote to the Chancellor, urging ministers to abandon the “incorrect” £10 billion claim.
They say the figure has been fiddled by excluding money for recruiting and training NHS staff and – in particular – deep cuts to spending on improving public health.
In the Commons, Labour said the only way to discredit the £10 billion figure further would be if Mr Hunt put it “on the side of a bus and got the Foreign Secretary to drive it”
And Ms Wollaston warned she would not back down in the growing dispute, highlighting the harsh effects of cuts to public health and the “serious crisis in social care”.
In reply, Mr Hunt continued to insist that the NHS was being given an extra £10 billion over six years – more than the £8 billion over five years its chief executive had requested.
But, he acknowledged: “The Government has never claimed there was an extra £10bn increase in the department of health’s budget.
“I have always accepted that painful and difficult economies in central budgets will be needed in order to fund that plan.”
The distinction is the closest Mr Hunt has come to accepting Dr Wollaston’s accusation – that he has changed the spending definition to include just the money that goes to NHS England.
Total health spending, including public health and training, will only rise by £4.5bn by 2020-21, according to the health committee’s report in the summer.
Yet, at Prime Minister’s Questions last month, Theresa May told MPs: “The NHS came up with its five-year plan, led by Simon Stevens as its chief executive.
“He said that £8 billion was needed. We are giving £10 billion of extra funding to the NHS.”
The letter was also signed by Dr James Davies, a Conservative MP who is also a family doctor, Labour’s Ben Bradshaw and Emma Reynolds, and Dr Philippa Whitford of the SNP, an NHS breast cancer specialist.
It said: “The continued use of the figure of £10bn for the additional health spending up to 2020-21 is not only incorrect but risks giving a false impression that the NHS is awash with cash.
“This figure is often combined with a claim that the government ‘has given the NHS what it asked for’.
“Again, this claim does not stand up to scrutiny, as NHS England spending cannot be seen in isolation from other areas of health spending.”
Mr Stevens has warned that much of a promised extra £10 billion each year for the NHS has been “back-ended to 2020”, which made tough choices inevitable in the intervening years.
It was only in 2016-17 that the NHS was getting “broadly what we asked for” – which meant that, between 2017 and 2020, the Government is providing less cash than requested.
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