Leading health thinktanks have questioned where the money for seven day working will come from, following the health secretary’s ultimatum to doctors on the issue this morning.

Jeremy Hunt told delegates at the King’s Fund seven day working “may well” increase staffing spend and later told the House of Commons: “We think we can afford additional NHS staff, including new GPs, within the extra that the government is putting into the health service.”

Nigel Edwards

Nigel Edwards: ‘The biggest barrier to seven day working is finding the money to pay for it’

The government has committed to increasing the annual NHS budget by £8bn by 2020, which is to cover the shortfall identified in the Five Year Forward View, which commits the NHS to making £22bn in efficiency savings over this period to close the £30bn funding gap predicted if services continue as they are in this period.

But Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said in a statement after Mr Hunt’s speech: “Perhaps the biggest barrier to seven day working is finding the money to pay for it. The £8bn pledged by the government for the NHS by 2020 is only just enough to keep up with population change.

“Estimates suggest that seven day working will cost significant amounts of money, but it is still unclear where this will come from at a time when the NHS needs to find huge and unprecedented efficiency savings. A genuine seven-day service will also inevitably mean tough decisions about merging or closing much loved local wards.”

The chief executive of the King’s Fund, Chris Ham, said: “A seven day NHS is the right ambition but will be difficult to deliver. As the war of words with the British Medical Association indicates, significant challenges will need to be to overcome to ensure sufficient staff are available at weekends.

“There is also the question about how it will be paid for. The £8bn increase in the NHS budget the government has pledged by 2020 is the bare minimum needed to maintain standards of care and will not cover the additional costs associated with it.”