Dr Louise Irvine, candidate for South West Surrey standing against Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, tells us why we cannot trust the Conservative Party’s latest NHS pledge:
1 – It’s too woolly
The Tory chancellor George Osborne has pledged “a minimum real-terms increase in NHS funding of £8bn in the next five years”. NHS England CEO Simon Stevens has asked for an increase in funding of £8bn per year by 2020. Given that the National Audit Office had to call out the Tories on claims of ‘real terms growth’ previously, it’s not unfair to suspect the Tories of being deliberately woolly with their wording.
2 – It’s unfunded
This morning Jeremy Hunt told the Today Programme the NHS will be funded by “economic confidence”. This would be laughable if it weren’t so serious. The Tories want us to look at their record and trust them. This from the party that promised no more top-down reorganisations – and then launched a top-down reorganisation so big it could be seen from ‘outer space’ (words of ex NHS boss David Nicholson). They are unable to tell us where the £12bn welfare spending axe will fall, and now they can’t tell us where the £8bn NHS money will come from either.
3 – It’s unpredictable
The Tories have thus resorted to their mantra: “a strong NHS relies on a strong economy”. So if they fail to deliver a strong economy, where does that leave the NHS? If continuing Tory cuts and austerity measures lead us into so-called “stagflation”, will we just have to cope with a weak economy and a weak NHS?
4 – It’s not enough
Even if the Tories manage to provide £8bn per year by 2020, it won’t be enough. To meet a predicted NHS funding gap of £30bn, the Simon Stevens plan relies on a further £22bn of efficiency savings. That’s 2-3% of the NHS budget saved each year, and is just not feasible.
Firstly, the NHS has already been cut to the bone with the previous £20bn round of savings. Emergency services, general practice and mental health are at breaking point, targets are being missed for routine operations and cancer treatment, thousands of hospital beds axes and scores of A&E departments, maternity units, walk-in centres and ambulance stations have been closed down.
Secondly ability of the NHS to make efficiency savings is “substantially below” previous estimates, averaging at just 0.4% a year over this parliament. This means the scale of efficiency savings needed is genuinely not possible.
5 – It’s spin
First there was that pledge of “no top-down reorganisation of the NHS”. Later, the Tories made claims of protecting and increasing NHS funding. This is pure spin. In real terms, once you take into account inflation, our increasing and ageing population, the cost of new drugs, and lifestyle factors, the Tories have actually cut NHS funding. Plus there are massive knock-on effects on the NHS from savage social care cuts due to the Tory axing of local authority funding. The Tories tell us they’ve increased doctors and nurses but there’s actually been a fall in real terms when you take into account the population increase.