The prime minister has announce in his speech at the Conservative Party conference that he would “protect the NHS budget and continue to invest more” in the next parliament.
In his speech in Birmingham, David Cameron said his party “came in [to government in 2010] and we protected the NHS budget”.
“The next Conservative government will protect the NHS budget and continue to invest more,” he announced.
The statement means a Conservative government would maintain growth of at least the pace of inflation, delivering at least flat funding in real terms, but is not currently committing to greater increases, according to several newspaper reports citing senior Conservative sources.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt, speaking on Monday and Tuesday at the conference, indicated the government could not afford greater than inflation spending increases for the NHS. HSJ understands debate is still ongoing among senior Tory figures about whether a small amount of additional funding could be found.
Mr Cameron used his speech to heavily criticise Labour’s record on the health service, citing the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust scandal.
“It was the Labour party who gave us the scandal of Mid Staffs,” he said.
He accused the opposition of saying “the old rubbish about the Conservatives and the NHS” and “spreading complete and utter lies” at its conference last week.
He said Labour “will never understand, and we will never forget, that you can only have a strong NHS if you have a strong economy”.
Mr Cameron said the government’s NHS achievements were “only possible because we managed the budget”, giving the example of the cancer drugs fund.
“More people are hearing those magic words – ‘all clear’,” he added.
The prime minister said “for me, this is personal,” emphasising his experience with the health service before the death of his son Ivan.
“I am someone who has relied on the NHS, whose family knows more than most how important it is, who knows what it’s like to go to hospital night after night with a child in your arms, knowing that when you get there, you have people who will care for that child and love that child like their own,” he said.
“How dare they suggest I would ever put that at risk for other people’s children,” he said, to a standing ovation from the audience.
The Foundation Trust Network, responding to the announcement, said: “The FTN welcomes the prime minister’s pledge to preserve the NHS ring fence throughout the next parliament… However, the harsh and uncomfortable reality is that neither this nor the pledge made by Labour last week goes very far in closing the financial gap facing the NHS.
“Demand for NHS care is rising by 4 per cent a year; in the first three months of this financial year, for example, hospital emergency admissions were up by 4 per cent and the most urgent ambulance journeys by 7 per cent. Under both pledges, the NHS’s income would lag a long way behind the demands being placed upon it and the service would have had 10 continuous years of its lowest ever income growth.”