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Stop pretending NHS is ‘awash with cash’, MPs tell health secretary

The Government should stop giving the ‘misleading’ impression that NHS is being given a £10bn cash boost, MPs have suggested.

In a session of the House of Commons Health Committee yesterday, its chair Dr Sarah Wollaston asked health secretary Jeremy Hunt whether he felt people were wrongly given the ‘misleading impression that the NHS is awash with cash’.

She said the committee’s own calculations, based on traditional accounting standards and the Spending Review period, meant the NHS investment was more like £4.5bn than the £10bn the Government is claiming to be adding to the annual NHS budget by 2020/21.

Mr Hunt responded that it was ‘absolutely right to point out that the increase is an increase to NHS frontline funding and not an increase to the Department of Health budget’, but added that the Government had ‘never pretended’ otherwise.

He added: ‘But it is what the NHS said they needed to kickstart the [NHS Five Year] Forward View and I think that is why it is significant.’

But in the same evidence session, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens told MPs that he was not being given the money he had requested with the Five Year Forward View plan published two years ago.

He said: ‘For year one and year five, yes I think you can say we were kind of in the zone, but for the next three years we didn’t get the funding that the NHS had requested… So as a result we have got a bigger hill to climb.’

Dr Wollaston pointed out that this was already leading to NHS rationing of services such as fertility and orthopaedic treatments ‘on a widespread scale’, but Mr Hunt said he did not agree with these decisions, which are being made at a local level.

Mr Hunt said he ‘completely understands’ that people working in hospitals recognise that they have never been busier, people working in GP surgeries and the social care sector the same’ because a £22bn saving was ‘never easy’.

But he added: ‘What I don’t accept is that in order to make those efficiency savings, you have to make changes that will impact negatively on patient care.’

He said that where the Government feels local commissioners are making ‘the wrong choices’ then ‘we step in’.

Jonathan Ashworth MP, Labour’s shadow health secretary, said: ‘We now know the truth: the Tories have failed to give the NHS the money it needs to protect patient care…

‘Theresa May needs to stop ignoring the warnings from NHS bosses and start taking action to address the cash crisis facing the health service.’