Simon Stevens has called for a “careful and disciplined approach” to the introduction of “seven day services” and other improvements to NHS services in coming years, speaking alongside the prime minister.

In a speech delivered alongside David Cameron, who was today setting out his vision for a “seven day” NHS, the chief executive of NHS England said that “careful and disciplined phasing” would be needed in trying to realise the ambition to expand services.

Simon Stevens

Simon Stevens said there were ‘big quality and efficiency differences’ between different parts of the NHS

Mr Stevens said: “We’ve said at least £8bn a year in real terms [will be required in increased NHS funding] by the end of the decade. But precisely how much, and with what phasing, will partly depend on how radical and how successful we are on prevention, on care redesign, and on our broader efficiency programme.”

In a reference to the government’s promises of service improvements, including extended weekend and evening working, he said: “And we’ll need careful and disciplined phasing of our ambition to expand services – be it improved cancer care, mental health, primary care, seven day services – all of which we want to do.”

While Mr Cameron has commited to increasing NHS funding by at least £8bn in real terms, above 2015-16 levels, the government has not said how much will be delivered in any specific year, nor said how it will fund the growth. It has said there will be no extra funding to pay for “seven day services”. A government budget will be published on 8 July and a spending review later in the year.

Mr Stevens, speaking alongside Mr Cameron at a practice run by the Vitality Partnership in Birmingham, said that with a growing and ageing population “we’re going to need more funding, year by year, not just in 2020”.

He said that in two weeks he would spell out the details on how the £22bn efficiency challenge is expected to be achieved.

He also pointed out that the Economist Intelligence Unit had recently concluded the NHS was “an incredibly lean and efficient health service compared with just about every other industrialised country”.

The health service is entering “probably the most challenging period in its 67 year history”, Mr Stevens said.

He added: “We’ll certainly step up and play our part – but the NHS can’t do it alone. Because the NHS isn’t just a care and repair service, it’s a social movement. We’re going to need active support from patients, the public, and politicians of all parties. Support that we’re optimistic about getting.”

Mr Stevens said there were “big quality and efficiency differences” between different parts of the health service.

He added: “We have unused land and buildings. We have inefficient procurement practices. We can work better with the voluntary sector, with local government, and with other employers. And as the largest employer in Europe the NHS itself can still do better at training and employing our skilled and dedicated frontline staff – including immediate action to convert agency staffing into permanent nursing jobs.”