NHS funding is likely to increase by at least 3 per cent beyond 2008, the health secretary has hinted.

Speaking in a webchat on the Number 10 site last week, Patricia Hewitt said that although the current unprecedented levels of growth would come to an end in April 2008, beyond that point the 'NHS budget will continue to grow faster than the economy as a whole'.

Chancellor Gordon Brown's pre-budget report published in December predicted economic growth of 2.75 per cent next year, rising to 3 per cent in 2008-09.

Ms Hewitt told web users: 'We have put record investment into the NHS over several years, to make up for the shocking underfunding of the previous two decades and by April 2008, after another year of record growth we will have pretty much caught up with European averages, as we said we would. We will not need to continue the same unprecedented growth, but the NHS budget will continue to grow faster than the economy.'

The health secretary answered 20 questions from over 600 posted, on topics ranging from general practice to morale, restructuring, dentists and choose and book.

The session was part of a number of policy review webchats, which will be followed by forums in which 100 members of the public scrutinise each area of the policy review.