Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has told HSJ the better care fund should be ‘accelerated and extended’, helping the social care sector to benefit from increased spending promised for the NHS.

  • Jeremy Hunt says “accelerated and extended” better care fund will help social care system benefit from Conservative pledge to make £8bn real terms investment in the NHS
  • Health secretary says promised £8bn will not be dependent on economic growth, and repeats rejections that the promise is “unfunded”
  • Mr Hunt also tells HSJ he is confident Department of Health did not blow its budget in 2014-15, and says government has “done our bit” in terms of extra NHS funding for 2015-16

In an interview today, Mr Hunt also stressed that his party’s promise of an extra £8bn for the NHS was not dependent on continued economic growth, and reiterated the Conservative Party’s insistence that the pledge was “fully funded”.

His comments came after yesterday’s publication of the Conservative manifesto, which included a commitment to real terms growth in NHS spending of at least £8bn by 2020, on top of the increase already committed for 2015-16. This is designed to close the funding gap identified by the NHS Five Year Forward View.

Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt rejected claims the Conservatives’ pledge was unfunded

The manifesto also pledged to “integrate health and social care, through our better care fund”. The better care fund took full effect at the beginning of 2015-16, creating pooled health and social care budgets under the joint oversight of councils and clinical commissioning groups via the transfer of more than £1.9bn of NHS funding.

The Conservative manifesto did not commit to protect social care services, despite the forward view stating that the NHS could only deliver very high productivity increases if these services were maintained.

Mr Hunt said: “We do need to tackle the deficit. So that means you can’t protect every single government department. We made our priorities clear about protecting the NHS.”

He acknowledged the party had “not been able to protect the social care system” and said “eliminating the deficit” could lead to increased spending on it in future.

However, the health secretary added: “What I would say to the social care system is, ‘Are you, or are you not, better with an extra £8bn going into the NHS when we now have mechanisms like the better care fund where the benefits of NHS funding are shared across the health and social care system in a way that never happened before?’

“This announcement of the extra £8bn is very significant for the social care system as well as the health system.”

Asked whether this meant the extra spending on the NHS would lead to the better care fund being extended, Mr Hunt said: “I think it will be extended and accelerated because for all intents and purposes we are now saying that we want to fund a fully merged health and social care system.

“Social care is an incredibly important part of what happens with the NHS and I think we are looking at the health and social care systems and this extra funding will make a very big difference.”

Mr Hunt declined to give any detail on how the £8bn increases might be phased over the next Parliament, or whether they were likely to be held back until 2018, when the Conservatives say the national deficit will be eliminated.

That decision, he said, should be made in a spending round by the incoming government. But he added that the government’s autumn statement commitment of an extra £2bn for 2015-16 was a “clue to our thinking”.

He told HSJ the £8bn commitment did not depend on continued economic growth, and would be honoured, even if Britain went back into recession.

“It is a firm manifesto commitment – it is not dependent on external factors,” he said. “We are committing to do this because the NHS needs this, because it is the only sensible show in town when it comes to containing NHS costs. The price of not doing it is potentially £30bn if we continue doing things as they have always been done.”

Mr Hunt rejected claims that the Conservatives’ pledge was unfunded. “If we wanted to spend £8bn on the NHS extra next year, or from 5 April this year, then we would indeed need to say which tax rises or spending cuts are going to fund it. But we’re not. We’re saying we’re going to spend £8bn a year extra on the NHS by the end of the Parliament, when it is legitimate to fund it through the proceeds of economic growth, which we’re confident of delivering.”

And he claimed the party’s total planned real terms rise for the NHS was actually £10bn, as the £8bn pledge was in addition to £2bn extra spending for 2015-16 committed in the autumn statement.

The £2bn announced in the autumn statement was comprised of around £1.25bn added to the DH budget, and £700m reallocated from centrally held DH and NHS England budgets to NHS commissioners.

The health secretary said he was “very confident” that the Department of Health did not overspend its resource limit in 2014-15, which saw severe pressure on NHS finances.

Asked if he was confident that the health service’s allocation for the current financial year was sufficient, Mr Hunt said the additional money provided in the autumn statement was in line with the sum NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens had requested. He said: “We have followed Simon Stevens’ advice and he has made it clear that he thinks that is sufficient, he thinks that is what the NHS needed and we’ve delivered that. We’ve done our bit as a government in terms of extra funding.”

Exclusive: Social care will benefit from £8bn NHS boost, says Hunt