David Cameron pledges £8 billion a year of extra funding for NHS by 2020
David Cameron is laying down the gauntlet to Labour by pledging to pump at least an extra £8 billion a year into the NHS by 2020.
The Prime Minister said he would protect the "amazing" health service by funding in full the five-year reform plan put forward by its chief executive Simon Stevens.
The commitment means that over-75s will be guaranteed same-day access to GPs, patients will be able to see doctors out of regular office hours and the NHS will provide a full range of services seven days a week, according to Mr Cameron.
The move, on a key election battleground, comes after a week of bitter skirmishing that saw the Tories question Ed Miliband's character - reminding voters that he "stabbed his brother in the back" to win the Labour leadership.
Mr Cameron has insisted his party is merely raising legitimate concerns over issues such as the renewal of Trident and a potential tie-up with the SNP.
However, Mr Miliband argued that the personal attacks showed the Conservatives were "desperate", and polls have suggested Labour may have gained ground slightly.
The blueprint unveiled by Mr Stevens last October predicted that if health spending rose only in line with inflation, growing demand for care would leave NHS England with a £30 billion funding gap by 2020.
The chief executive said around £22 billion of that could be met through efficiencies - but the rest would have to come from government coffers.
The blueprint received a warm reception from politicians, but up to now only the Liberal Democrats had committed to finding the extra money.
Mr Cameron said his track record over the last five years showed he could be trusted to protect the NHS, with annual spending up £7.3 billion in real terms. But he did not spell out exactly where the extra money up to 2020 will come from.
Referring to the care of his severely disabled son Ivan - who died in 2009 - the premier added: "As someone who's been supported by the NHS at the most difficult time in my life, I'm utterly committed to ensuring it is there for everyone when they need it too.
"That's why I'm backing the NHS's own plan with the cash required to ensure it can continue to deliver an amazing service to patients and their families in the future."
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "The NHS has set out its vision for how we best improve the health service for patients and today we are backing that plan with the money it needs - but we can only have a strong NHS if we have a strong economy.
"We need to do much more to ensure our vulnerable elderly can be treated in the community.
"That is why we are building on our decision to bring back named GPs for the over 75s, by ensuring that as a part of this they are guaranteed a same day GP service when they need it.
"This means family doctors can focus on giving elderly people the care they need and prevent unnecessary trips to hospital."
Belfast Telegraph Digital