Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has indicated the Conservatives would meet the NHS’s funding requirements, but declined to specifically say they would increase spending by the £8bn sum identified by national officials.
Senior figures said following the publication of the NHS Five Year Forward View in the autumn that, even if they made the greatest productivity impovements they thought possible, the NHS would be £8bn short of the funding it needs by 2021. They said closing the remaining gap would require real terms growth in NHS funding worth 1.5 per cent a year over the course of the next parliament.
Mr Hunt was asked about NHS funding in a Sunday Times interview. He appeared to indicate his party, if it formed a new government, would meet the NHS’s funding requirements.
However he also said these “might be [for] more than £8bn, it might be less”.
Mr Hunt said: “At the last election we were the only party that promised to protect the NHS budget. We didn’t just protect it, we increased it.
“We said to Simon Stevens, ‘How much do you need for your plan next year, the first year of your five year plan?’ He said ‘£1.7bn’, and we actually found him £2bn.
“We’re now doing the work as to what the efficiency savings are. The gap might be more than £8bn, it might be less.
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“That will all be settled in the summer when we do the spending-round discussions. We will continue to spend more in real terms year in, year out.”
A Labour spokesman dismissed Mr Hunt’s comments, saying they did not amount to a proper commitment to increase spending as required, and were not funded.
Meanwhile, on Saturday David Cameron said in a speech that a Tory government would work to substantially extend weekend working in NHS services. It would “see hospitals across England offering consultant level services at the weekend, as well as during the week”, according to a statement.
NHS England on Friday announced details of the allocation of £350m for developing GP services in 2015-16, some of which is focused on extended opening and access.
The Conservative Party’s statement said current government action would mean that “by the end of 2015-16, around 18 million patients will have access to [out of normal hours] GPs”, and that “we will extend it to all patients by 2020”.