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Jeremy Hunt promises Tories will pay ‘whatever is needed’ for the NHS

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that a Conservative Government would provide ‘whatever’ needed to carry out the changes recommended in NHS England’s Five Year Forward View.

The promise, which appeared to sign a blank cheque to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, comes as the Labour Party has ramped up its election battle by blaming the Coalition Government’s record on the NHS since 2010.

The Forward View document predicted at least an £8bn shortfall in the NHS budget by 2020 but, speaking today on the BBC’s The World at One programme, Mr Hunt said the Tories would ‘find that’ or more, if needed.

He said: ‘What we’ve said, and I want to be very clear about this, is that we will back the NHS’s own plan in full. So we agree with the NHS when they say that if they can make £22bn of efficiency savings, the NHS would need £8bn.

‘But they also said in that plan, very clearly, that they might need less than £8bn if they can make more efficiency savings, or they might need more than £8bn if they can’t make those efficiency savings.

‘We will give whatever they need. It might be more than £8bn, it might be less, but the point is you can only have this discussion if you have a strong and growing economy.’

On the same radio show, Mr Hunt said the key changes he wanted to see by 2020 were in GP practices.

He said: ‘If I’m Health Secretary on 8 May, over the next five years I would like to see a transformation in the services we offer outside hospitals, particularly through GP surgeries. More GPs, easier appointments, more proactive care of people with the most complex needs.

‘If you have a mum or a granddad who has very complex needs, perhaps they’re in the early stages of dementia or a diabetic, what you need is GPs who have the time and the ability to look after them in a proactive way. That is the real change that we want to see.’

NHS England’s plan, released in October last year, said the next five years would see it spend a ‘much higher’ propotion of spend on GP services, and ‘vanguard’ sites are already being piloted with GP practices expanding services to offer ‘step-down’ beds, homecare, counselling, dentistry and district nursing.

Mr Hunt’s comments come as a Health Foundation report released today, suggesting that the NHS will overspend by £626m in 2014/15 alone. It cited cost pressures, including a 27% increase in spending on temporary staff, as the key driver behind the problem.

Earlier, a row broke out over Labour Party claims that the Coalition Government had made it harder to see a GP by making the extended hours DES less profitable to practices leading to lower take up.