Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham has admitted that Labour has not yet solved the issue of health service funding, after NHS England challenged the next government to commit to year on year real terms annual funding growth of more than 1.5 per cent.
In an interview with HSJ Mr Burnham said the NHS needed “capital investment” to drive service change, but added he had not yet worked out how the funding would be released.
The shadow health secretary admitted: “I haven’t yet identified how I would find that. I hear the call the report is making. I cannot say that we’ve identified a big chunk of money to provide for it. But the point is taken. ”
Mr Burnham said there was still underused capacity in the primary and community care estate, particularly in newer community health centres and clinics, and that “there is scope for some creative thinking about those assets, how they might be returned to the NHS and used by local NHS organisations to aid integration in a way they’re not currently being used.”
Those assets could be used as the “neutral ground” to build integrated care, he said, and that in many cases unlocking those and using them effectively would have the same impact as capital investment.
Labour has said it will protect the NHS budget in real terms and generate an additional £2.5bn via a tax on high value property and on tobacco company profits. Mr Burnham indicated the extra funding could be greater.
Mr Burnham told HSJ: “You could argue that depending on what decisions are made around those levels of tax, that [the additional funding] wouldn’t be fixed in time at that cash limited amount.
“The commitment for the moment is £2.5bn, but I would certainly be making the case that those thresholds at which the tax is collected needs to reflect real terms growth.”
Mr Burnham said Labour’s commitment to full integration of health and social care would take the service to the “more ambitious end” of the efficiency projections set out in the five year forward view.
“I’m not going to say we’ve boxed it all off, but I do think our plans both for integration and extra funding go a long way to closing the funding gap identified by the NHS.”
On the new organisational forms proposed in the forward view, Mr Burnham said his preference was for hospital trusts to evolve into integrated care organisations – a model similar to the “primary and acute care systems” set out by NHS England.
However, he did not rule out the possibility of GPs coming together to set up integrated community based care providers – such as the “multispecialty community providers” described in document. These are likely to be privately owned by GP partners, but Mr Burnham said he was open minded about the suggestion, although “we would have to see what governance and ownership models were proposed”.
Mr Burnham argued that the forward view would not bring about reforms as quickly or as extensively as he would like, but welcomed it overall as a “big endorsement of our vision”, which “provides the basis for a new consensus on the NHS”.
He also noted the “significant” absence of any mention of competition. “The onus is now on the government to say how much of this do they endorse,” he said.
Forward view: Unprecedented call for NHS funding growth
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Burnham: 'I hear the call' for more cash