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Tories 'will give NHS extra £8bn'

The Conservative Party will spend an extra £8 billion on the NHS if it wins the general election to fund a five year plan drawn up by its chief executive, Jeremy Hunt has promised.

The Health Secretary said the Government would fully fund the plan drawn up by NHS England boss Simon Stevens, which would see £2 billion being pumped into the health service every year until 2019/20.

The so-called "Stevens plan" will see a total of £30 billion put into the NHS, with £22 billion found through efficiency savings and £8 billion in extra spending.

Until now only the Liberal Democrats had pledged to find the money but Mr Hunt has signed the Tories up to the plan.

The Health Secretary also suggested that the Tories could find efficiency savings amounting to more than £22 billion, meaning it would have to spend less to meet the plan, adding that the details would be worked out in the summer.

Asked by the Sunday Times if the Tories would find the full £30bn, Mr Hunt said: "Yes. We've demonstrated that we're as good as our word.

"At the last election we were the only party that promised to protect the NHS budget. We didn't just protect it, we increased it.

"We said to Simon Stevens, 'How much do you need for your plan next year, the first year of your five-year plan?' He said '£1.7bn', and we actually found him £2bn.

"We're now doing the work as to what the efficiency savings are. The gap might be more than £8bn, it might be less.

"That will all be settled in the summer when we do the spending-round discussions. We will continue to spend more in real terms year in, year out."

Liberal Democrat campaign spokesman, Lord Paul Scriven, said the Conservatives had not credibly set out how they would pay for the Stevens plan.

The Lib Dems have committed to investing £1 billion in the NHS in real terms in 2016/17, paid for by restricting reliefs on capital gains tax and scrapping the employee "shares for rights" scheme introduced by the coalition.

The party said it would then increase health spending in line with economic growth after balancing the deficit in 2017/18, meaning the extra £8 billion will be achieved by 2020/21, taking into account the £1.7 billion already committed by the coalition.

Lord Scriven said: "The Tories have made no commitment for additional funding for the NHS. The Tory agenda for drastic cuts will put the burden of finding extra money on the NHS itself.

"Only the Liberal Democrats have committed to spending an extra £8 billion on the NHS and set out a credible plan of how to pay for it.

"George Osborne is dogmatically pursuing his cuts agenda, wanting to cut billions more than necessary. Public services like the NHS, schools, police and social care are under threat.

"The Tories cannot pretend that they're investing more in our NHS while also taking the axe to public spending. Our economic plan provides for the NHS, as well as being able to borrow £70 billion less than Labour and cut £50 billion less than the Tories."

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham said the "extreme" cuts planned by the Tories for the next three years would mean they cannot protect the NHS.

He reiterated Labour plans to plough £2.5 billion a year into the health service, using money raised from a mansion tax on homes worth £2 million and more.

Mr Burnham said: "David Cameron's extreme plans to cut more in the next three years than the last five years mean he can't protect the NHS. He's already got £10 billion of unfunded tax cuts ahead of the NHS in the queue.

"You only have to look at the last five years of NHS mismanagement to know that the NHS as we now it can't survive five more years of David Cameron. He's broken all his NHS promises, wasted billions on a reorganisation he said would never happen and left people waiting too long for cancer treatment and in A&E.

"Only Labour has a fully funded plan to restore the NHS with a £2.5 billion a year Time to Care Fund - based on a mansion tax that the Tories will never introduce - to recruit 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs."

Anita Charlesworth, chief economist of the Health Foundation charity, said there were still "significant challenges" to sustain the NHS even with the extra £8 billion.

She said: "The NHS faces a potential funding gap of £30 billion by 2020 as the pressures on the service continue to grow.

"The gap will be closed if public funding for health rises by 1.5% a year in real terms and the NHS achieves a rate of productivity growth of 2-3% a year.

"However, this is much higher than the recent rate of productivity growth and there are substantial challenges still to overcome to ensure the promised £8 billion will enable the NHS to sustain, let alone improve, the quality of care.

"This is why we are arguing for a transformation fund to allow new services to be introduced and existing services to be improved, as set out by our report More Than Money: Closing The NHS Quality Gap, published last year.

"The period between 2010/11 and 2020/21 will be the most financially austere decade in NHS history and spending pressures will continue beyond the next parliament.

"Pressures on the English NHS are projected to be £65 billion higher than current spend by 2030/31 (in 2014/15 prices), assuming that the English NHS continues its current rate of productivity growth of 1.5% a year.

"We ask of any political party, when considering their pledges on NHS funding, to take into account the pressures the NHS will face in the next parliament, as well the long-term scenario."

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