The government is 'manipulating' the NHS funding allocation formula to 'shore up' votes in areas loyal to Labour, the Conservatives have claimed.

"We don't think the funding formula recognises the true burden of disease. It has been manipulated," said shadow health minister Mark Simmonds. "Some would say that's to reflect deprivation, but a cynic would say [it's] to shore up their vote in the urban heartlands."

Mr Simmonds told HSJ: "The current government has put greater and greater emphasis on socio- economic deprivation indicators to transfer resources from what is euphemistically called 'rural areas' to urban areas. But for diseases such as cancer there is a much greater correlation with age. The funding formula needs to more accurately reflect the burden of disease."

Budget ringfences

He said a Conservative government would recognise the socio-economic determinants of poor health by ringfencing the public health budget. But he would not give specific details of how much deprived areas could expect.

Mr Simmonds' comments come as the debate over the degree to which the allocation formula should be used to tackle health inequalities escalates, with the publication in HSJ today of a letter signed by 10 primary care trust chief executives representing the eight largest cities outside London.

The chief executives use their letter to urge the government to switch the principle underlying the formula from that of equal access to healthcare to an aspiration to equalise health status across England.

The Department of Health is due to publish the outcome of its review of the funding formula later this month.