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Government giving false impression about NHS spending - Health Committee chief

Published 31/10/2016

Sarah Wollaston, chairwoman of the Commons Health Committee, is calling for an urgent cash injection to stave off a crisis in social care.
Sarah Wollaston, chairwoman of the Commons Health Committee, is calling for an urgent cash injection to stave off a crisis in social care.

NHS per capita spending will actually fall in 2018/19, the Tory head of the Commons Health Committee has warned as she accused the Government of giving a "false impression" about increasing funding.

Sarah Wollaston has written to Chancellor Philip Hammond criticising the Government's stance and the presentation that NHS England was "awash with cash".

Dr Wollaston warned a "false impression" was being given that the NHS was being boosted by £10 billion over the five years of its spending review, when the real figure was £4.5 billion.

"It's only technically correct if you're looking at spending on NHS England, and you add an extra year to the spending review, and you also take account of the switch from other budgets that we would normally think of as health spending.

"You can only arrive at the £10 billion by shifting money from public health budgets, and health education and training, and also by changing the date at which you calculate real-terms increases.

"Yes, you can see how they arrived at the figure, but the real figure, we feel, should be quoted at £4.5 billion, which is considerably less," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Dr Wollaston said NHS England head Simon Stevens had warned the Health Committee of increased constraints in the middle years of the spending review period, as she said that he did not get the funding levels he asked for.

"Certainly for 18/19 we'll be seeing a per capita fall in funding for the NHS at a time when our demographics, the increase in older people, (will see) a 21% increase in the number of people over 65, for example," she said.

In the hard-hitting letter to Mr Hammond, the Health Committee chairwoman warned the adult social care sector was approaching a "tipping point" - with potentially serious implications across the NHS.

She also warned the Chancellor that unless the Government was able to put capital investment in the NHS on a sustainable footing, the service would struggle to meet the long-term demands of caring for an ageing population.

Her warning was echoed by NHS Providers, which said there was now a "big risk" that trusts would be unable to maintain current levels of service.

A Government spokesman insisted the £10 billion figure was accurate and that it was "wrong to suggest otherwise".

Dr Wollaston flatly rejected suggestions the NHS could learn from the example of the cuts which Mr Hammond and Theresa May were able to drive through when they were at the Ministry of Defence and the Home Office respectively.

She said the most immediate problem was with adult social care, where the entire funding precept raised by local authorities through council tax had been swallowed up meeting the demands of the living wage.

With the Care Quality Commission warning the sector was approaching a tipping point, Dr Wollaston said that unless there was urgent action, the knock-on effects of increased A&E attendances and longer hospital stays could undermine the whole NHS five-year plan.

"Numerous sources testify to the impact of the real-terms cuts to social care, not only to the vulnerable people who rely on care, but also on NHS services," she wrote.

"There is an emerging consensus across the NHS that any additional money which might be available in the Autumn Statement should be directed first towards social care. We agree."

NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson welcomed Dr Wollaston's "clear-sighted analysis", saying: "The gap between what the NHS is being asked to deliver and the funding it has available is too big and is growing rapidly."

A Government spokesman said: "The Government has backed the NHS's own plan for the future with a £10 billion real-terms increase in its funding a year by 2020/2021, helping to ease the pressures on hospitals, GPs and mental health services.

"We have also allowed local government to increase social care spending by the end of Parliament, with access to up to £3.5 billion of new support."

The chairman of campaign group Vote Leave Watch, Chuka Umunna, said: "More than ever before, it is clear that the health service is in desperate need of the extra £350 million per week funding boost, promised by Leave campaigners now in the Cabinet, during the EU referendum.

"The Autumn Statement later this month will give the Government the chance to commit to this vital funding. If they do not, it will be clear that Vote Leave ministers like Boris Johnson misled the public throughout the referendum campaign."

Prime Minister Theresa May's official spokeswoman said: "We have been clear from the outset that we wanted to make sure that we continue to invest in the NHS, that this would be an increase in real-terms funding of £10 billion by 2021.

"It's the funding that NHS leaders told us they needed and we have delivered on it. If you look at the figures, in 2014 the budget was £98 billion and in 2021 it will be £119 billion."

The spokeswoman added: "We recognise that the NHS is under pressure and that is why we need to focus on how we can continue to support the NHS to provide a great quality of service and care.

"That includes investing in the funding, it includes looking at things like how you can best prioritise GP access, cancer care and looking at what mental health treatment there is."

Liberal Democrat health spokesman Norman Lamb said: "The Health Select Committee are right to call out the Government on false claims about their investment in the NHS. Services are desperately in need of the money they were promised.

"But this also ignores the bigger question of how we ensure health and care are sustainable in the long term, as demand for services continues to rise.

"I have called for the establishment of an independent, cross-party commission to reform the funding settlement across health and care and the Liberal Democrats have set up an expert panel who will advise on how the additional funding the NHS really needs can be delivered, including whether a dedicated health and care tax should be introduced to help guarantee the future of the NHS and vital care services."

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