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MP accuses NHS England boss Simon Stevens of giving 'woolly' answers

Published 21/07/2015

Simon Stevens was giving evidence to the House of Commons Health Committee
Simon Stevens was giving evidence to the House of Commons Health Committee

NHS England boss Simon Stevens has been accused of giving "woolly" answers to MPs about how the health service will achieve £22 billion of efficiency savings.

Mr Stevens was giving evidence to the House of Commons Health Committee on a range of topics affecting the NHS, telling the panel that the "single most important thing we've got to do" is turn around spending on agency staffing, which cost £3.3 billion last year.

But after being asked for details on improving the NHS's finances, Labour MP Emily Thornberry told him: "I haven't really met a health professional that entirely believes that we can have £22 billion of efficiency savings, and some of them have been cheeky enough to say they really don't think that you believe it either.

"It would reassure us I suppose if you were able to come to this committee and perhaps be a little bit more specific. T o not be able to come to us without even a ball park kind of breakdown of where the figures are - it's kind of a bit, if you don't mind me saying, a bit woolly."

Referring to NHS England's five-year plan which was published in October, Ms Thornberry added: "To come to us nearly a near later and not be able to give us any more specific details about this is very disappointing."

Asked about p roposed £200 million cuts to local authorities' public health budgets, Mr Stevens told MPs: "I don't think we want more of that kind of approach going forward."

He said a "more assertive posture" was needed on tobacco, alcohol, junk food and sugary drinks.

Mr Stevens told MPs a quarter of the efficiency savings would come through investing in primary care services and community health services to stop higher rates of emergency admissions to hospitals.

A further quarter would be through reducing prices the health service is charged for things, as set out in Lord Carter's review last month, and which said up to £5 billion a year could be saved.

Mr Stevens said increasing productivity of trusts would also achieve savings.

The NHS chief executive also referred to another report, released last week on NHS leadership, which described a "chronic shortage of good leaders".

That report was carried out by former Marks and Spencer boss Lord Rose, with Mr Stevens taking a swipe at the role by telling MPs that the "complexity" of managing the health service "more than rivals that of selling underwear".

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