Health minister Dan Poulter has rejected warnings from a leading think tank that the NHS could experience a funding crisis before the 2015 general election.

The junior health minister dismissed the conclusion of last week’s Nuffield Trust report, Into the Red, saying think tanks had been mistaken about similar issues in the past.

Dr Poulter told HSJ: “I don’t [agree with the Nuffield Trust report], no.”

He added the Nuffield Trust had “from time to time” come out with reports that had been proven wrong.

He continued:  “I am sure that we are in a very robust place for healthcare in terms of future funding and that is something that we should be pleased with rather than trying to look for a crisis which has not materialised. I have no reason to suspect that there is anything to worry about given our evidence and track record on frontline care.  

“We have a good track record of the NHS delivering efficiency savings. That is something that I am confident will continue.”

The Nuffield Trust report had concluded the NHS was “poorly placed to deal with continuing austerity and could experience a funding crisis before the 2015 general election”.

It said the NHS provider sector was at least £100m in the red in 2013-14 with 66 trusts finishing the year in deficit, compared with a £383m surplus in the previous financial year and 45 trusts posting deficits.

Daniel Poulter

Dan Poulter said some people were ‘trying to look for a crisis which has not materialised’

Dr Poulter was speaking to HSJ from the Local Government Association annual conference, where he addressed delegates on new plans for a major extension of personalised budgets across health and care.

Five million people could have combined personal health and care budgets by 2018, according to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens. Pilots are to begin in April 2015.

Dr Poulter said the principle of personalised budgets had worked well in social care and offered “many extended benefits” for patients, especially those with long term conditions.

He said NHS England would “not be micromanaged” but progress would need to be made in an “evolutionary way… looking at individual people’s needs and desires”.

Dr Poulter presented a LGA session alongside Ronald Duncan, chair of cloudBuy, a company that provides online services to help holders of personalised social care budgets buy their care.

Mr Duncan said providing 5 million personal health and care budgets would be “technically quite doable”.

“If the NHS was going to do 5 million personal budgets on its own, it would struggle to get all the providers signed up around the country. But joined up with the local authorities, it suddenly becomes quite an achievable number,” he said.  

“Pooling money between health and local authorities [via the better care fund] makes it a lot easier.”