Tories trying to "fund NHS on IOU"
Labour has accused the Conservatives of trying to "fund the NHS on an IOU" after Chancellor George Osborne pledged to increase spending by £8 billion by 2020.
Mr Osborne made no proposals for tax rises or spending cuts elsewhere to fund the additional health spending, but Prime Minister David Cameron insisted that the policy would be affordable because of the "strong economy" built by the coalition and Conservative pledges to foster growth following the May 7 General Election.
The £8 billion extra cash would meet the amount which NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has said is needed - alongside £22 billion of efficiency savings - to fill a £30 billion funding gap by the end of the decade. Liberal Democrats have already pledged to meet the £8 billion figure, finding some of the money by changes to various tax breaks and reliefs.
Speaking during a visit to a hospital in his Oxfordshire constituency, Mr Cameron said: "I want an NHS that continues to expand and improve and provide great care, that continues to save lives. It has always been there for me and my family and I want it there for everyone's families."
"That's why we are making this decision today, to fund this plan in full, and we are able to do that because we have a strong economy and because we have taken the long-term decisions necessary to put the NHS first."
But Ed Miliband said that voters would not believe what Labour said were "fantasy figures" from the Conservatives.
Launching Labour's health manifesto in Guiseley,West Yorkshire, Mr Miliband said: "The bottom line is this - you can't fund the NHS from an IOU, and the British people know it."
He cited Mr Cameron's own words to the House of Commons in January, when the Prime Minister said: "T he real risk to the NHS is the risk of unfunded spending commitments bringing chaos to our economy, which would wreck our NHS."
And Mr Miliband said: "The truth is that you can't save the NHS if you don't know where the money is coming from. You can only damage the NHS when you are planning colossal cuts in public spending, year on year on year, which is what Tories are planning."
Labour has committed to £2.5 billion of health spending on top of the budgets provided by the coalition Government, to pay for additional doctors, nurses and other health workers after the election. The party has set out how it intends to pay for the money from taxes on expensive properties and tobacco companies and a crackdown on tax avoidance.
Mr Miliband unveiled the promise of a new right to a dedicated midwife before and after childbirth, which he said would offer the sort of "personalised one-to-one care" seen in TV hit Call The Midwife.
But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Labour would put the future of the NHS "at risk" because it would not match the Conservatives' funding commitments or their long-term economic plan.
"After an incompetent and chaotic response from Labour today about how they would fund the NHS, it's now clear that Ed Miliband will not match our commitment to provide the NHS with the funding it needs - resources that we will deliver through a stronger economy," said Mr Hunt.
"Ed Miliband has no plan to grow our economy - that's why he will put the future of our NHS at risk, just as Labour have done in Wales."
The Tories, who have seen the polls shift marginally towards their main rivals over recent days amid criticism of a negative campaign, also sought to woo the over-75s with a new promise that they will be guaranteed same-day access to GPs.
Mr Osborne said the party's manifesto would "commit to a minimum real-terms increase in NHS funding of £8 billion in the next five years".
"Decisions about spending go to the heart of our politics because they reflect our values. We in the Conservative Party are in no doubt about our approach: the NHS is something precious, we value it for the security it provides to everyone in our country, and we will always give it the resources it needs," he told The Guardian.
In a major report last October, Mr Stevens 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 meet through efficiencies - but the rest would have to come from government coffers, something he insisted was "perfectly feasible as the economy improves".
Lib Dem health spokesman Norman Lamb said only his party had spelt out how they could fund the additional spending, and said Conservatives plans to eliminate the deficit without tax rises would make it impossible for it to deliver Mr Osborne's pledge.
"The Conservative ideological obsession with cutting the size of the state means they cannot afford this unfunded spending commitment," said Mr Lamb.
"Tory spending plans will not help the NHS but rather destroy vital public service and decimate basic entitlements."
Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: "Mr Cameron's spending plans are unfunded, but he'll know this already.
"He knows he needs to make these promises, because he's planning for an immigration bombshell in to this country over the next five years, and under his plans, our NHS will become an international health service."
The Conservative Party later claimed that Labour's Liz Kendall confirmed her party would not commit the £8 billion required during a radio interview.
Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme whether the Tories had shot Labour's fox and whether the party was going to have to match the commitment, she replied no, before being interrupted.
The shadow health minister then asked how the chancellor planned to fund the £8 billion a year increase, insisting the pledge was "not worth the paper it is written on".
She added: "We are the only party that has committed additional funding to the NHS that is properly sourced.
"We are a serious party that is serious about being in government."
She also criticised the Tories' "fantasy promises" and claimed they were "panicking".
Ms Kendall was asked several times during the interview whether her own party would match the £8 billion figure, but would not commit to it explicitly.
She said she was "certainly not" going to make a promise that was "fantasy funding" before g oing on to add that her party would do "whatever it takes".
Answering questions following his speech, Mr Miliband was pressed to say whether he could commit Labour to matching the £8 billion figure, but declined to do so.
"We will always do what is necessary for the NHS. We will never let the NHS down," said the Labour leader.
Asked if he was still planning to outspend the Conservatives on the NHS, Mr Miliband replied: "We are definitely making a much more significant commitment than them.
"The NHS needs real money now, not phony promises later."
Mr Miliband said the Tories had "racked up" unfunded spending commitments over the course of the campaign.
He added: "What the Conservatives are trying to say today is 'trust us - we don't have a clue where the money is coming from, we can't tell you where a penny of it is from, but trust us'.
"It might have worked five years ago, it ain't going to work today."