Budget 2017: Chancellor Philip Hammond rejects NHS chief's plea for emergency £4bn injection

He points to NHS England chief Simon Stevens’ responsibility for problems, saying the plan he drew up ‘is not being delivered’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 19 November 2017 11:17
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Philip Hammond: Government will address pressures on NHS in a "sensible, measured and balanced way"

The Chancellor has rejected an NHS chief’s plea for an emergency £4bn injection in this week’s Budget, accusing him of exaggerated claims of a crisis.

Instead, Philip Hammond appeared to blame Simon Stevens for problems in the health service, saying the plan that the head of NHS England drew up “is not being delivered”.

Mr Stevens took the extraordinary step of making a public plea for an extra £4bn, warning waiting lists for operations would otherwise hit a record five million people.

That call was echoed by Sarah Wollaston, the respected Tory head of the Health Select Committee, who pointed out health spending per head is set to fall.

But Mr Hammond appeared to dismiss the warnings, making clear his belief that the NHS did not need – and would not receive – the £4bn asked for.

“In the run up to Budget, people running all kinds of services and government departments come to see us and they always have very large numbers that are essential, otherwise Armageddon will arrive,” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

Increases in funding would be delivered in a “sensible measured and balanced way”, the Chancellor said. Some extra money is expected in Wednesday’s Budget.

Mr Hammond also made clear the Government’s frustration with the NHS England chief executive, amid continued speculation that he could be sacked.

“I’ll just remind you that Simon Stevens drew up the NHS five-year view, back in 2014.

“He drew up the envelope of resource he asked for: £10bn by 2020. The Government agreed that. That plan at the moment is not being delivered.”

The Chancellor also claimed that public satisfaction with the NHS is at a 20-year high, again downplaying the scale of the looming problems.

Mr Stevens is likely to point out that he agreed that £10bn was needed on the proviso of other improvements, particularly in social care, which have not been delivered by the Government.

The rejection of his plea comes despite two-thirds of the British public urging the Chancellor to make the NHS his top priority for higher funds.

The Independent’s exclusive poll, carried out by BMG Research, found that 64 per cent of the public want billions more found for the NHS, amid closures of A&E units and walk-in centres and as waiting lists lengthen for routine operations.

The poll cemented health as easily the public’s number one concern, way ahead of education, social security, cutting the deficit – or housing, which is expected to be the Budget’s centrepiece.

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary said Mr Hammond’s stance showed him to be “out of touch” on NHS funding.

“It’s incredibly serious and, if I may say so, I’ve seen Philip Hammond doing interviews today, being dismissive of the calls for more money for the NHS.

“This is happening now, today, in the NHS and if he doesn’t realise that he’s completely out of touch. We are calling on the Chancellor to put aside an extra £6bn in this Budget coming up.”

Mr Hammond has also confirmed that he will find money to lift the public sector pay cap on Wednesday, after the Government accepted it is unsustainable.

“We’ve got to recognise that people in our public services feel under pressure from a long period of pay restraint,” he told The Sunday Times.

“The public services themselves have strained every muscle, every sinew to deliver within very tight resource envelopes. We’ve got to do what we can.”

However, the Chancellor is yet to say whether the NHS, and other services, will be forced to find the funds for higher pay from within their own budgets.

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