Health secretary Andy Burnham has been accused of failing to match the Tories’ commitment to a real-terms increase in the NHS budget every year in the next parliament.
Under Labour, funding for NHS frontline services will rise every year to 2013.
But shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley said he would go further, and pointed to local health authorities that were currently contemplating “10 per cent or more cuts” in staffing levels.
During Commons question time, he told health minister Mike O’Brien: “We on this side are committed to a real-terms increase in the NHS budget each year in the next parliament. Is that a commitment that you can match?”
Mr O’Brien said funding for primary care trusts would rise by 5.5 per cent in 2009-10 and 5.5 per cent in 2010-11, with rises “locked in” until 2013.
“In addition, the NHS is looking for savings of £15-20 billion, which will be reinvested in NHS budgets,” he said.
Mr Lansley replied: “The House will note that you have merely said what ministers have said before, which is flat real-terms (increases) in 2011-12 and 2012-13. You can’t match the commitment that I made.
“But how can you reconcile your answer with plans from strategic health authorities across the country that are including 10 per cent or more cuts in staffing in hospitals?”
Mr O’Brien said “as far as we are concerned”, PCT budgets would be guaranteed in real terms.
“We are going to see an increase in those budgets and we are also in a position where we have seen substantial increases in staffing.”