Why are the media allowing themselves and the public to be hoodwinked by the Tory pledge to fund the NHS?
In his Five Year Forward View, the chief executive of the NHS Simon Stevens says the NHS faces a £30billion spending gap by 2020 and even with efficiency savings of £22billion (we say these are unfeasible and reckless, but that's another story you can read about here), that leaves an £8billion shortfall PER YEAR by 2020. If spending must increase each year to reach an extra £8billion a year by 2020 that is a cumulative amount of £20 billion over five years.
Read the Conservatives' election manifesto. [p 38], and it's crystal clear that they are pledging the £8billion over the course of the next Parliament and not annually by 2020. That is only £8billion cumulatively - far less than the £8billion per year by 2020 that Stevens said was the very minimum needed to adequately fund the NHS.
First the manifesto sets out what the Tories have achieved in this parliament:
"We are set to increase health spending by more than £7billion above and beyond inflation in the five years since 2010."
So that's clarification of what they say they've spent over the course of the full five years of this parliament, not per year. The manifesto goes on to say:
"We will implement the NHS's own plan to improve health care even further - the Five Year Forward View. Because of our long-term economic plan, we are able to commit to increasing NHS spending in England in real terms by a minimum of £8 billion over the next five years. Combined with the efficiencies that the NHS Forward View sets out, this will provide the funding necessary to implement this plan in full".
It couldn't be clearer that the £8billion pledge is over the course of five years, not per year.
This is also what George Osborne wrote in an article in the Guardian ahead of the Tory manifesto launch:
"I can confirm that in the Conservative manifesto next week we will commit to a minimum real terms increase in NHS funding of £8billion in the next five years."
And this is precisely what David Cameron repeated on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday. When asked how he would fund the £8billion pledge, the Prime Minister said it would be easy to find £8billion in the next parliament as the Tories had found £7billion in this parliament:
"Well Andrew let me explain something and please just give me a second to do it. In the last parliament we had to reduce public spending by a hundred billion, we also cut taxes by ten billion and we increased spending on the NHS by seven billion. In this parliament we are being less ambitious, we only have to take another thirty billion pounds of savings that is much less than the hundred billion, we need eight billion for the NHS, a tiny bit more than the seven billion".
It could not be clearer that Cameron was talking about a cumulative total of £8billion over five years and not an annual amount rising to £8billion a year by 2020. The only cabinet minister to have been asked point blank about whether the £8billion is per year by 2020 or in total is Jeremy Hunt - after some frantic tweeting by the NHA Party ahead of his interview on the Today programme:
The NHA Party@NHAparty
Pls @MishalHusainBBC ask Hunt if committing to NHS funding of £8bn PER year by 2020 as Stevens asks. Osborne writes '£8bn in next 5 yrs'.
Jeremy Hunt's response was 'yes' but he then went to give an answer that bore no relation to the question asked. Listen here for yourself, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nxxby, [40 seconds in].
In the same interview the Health Secretary made the totally misleading and incorrect claim that the Tories have spent an extra £7billion PER YEAR on the NHS.http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nxxby, [02:30 in].
A claim he repeated on BBC Breakfast Time, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election-2015-32260220, [01:34 in]
This is shocking that the Health Secretary has no clue about the current NHS spending figures. He thinks the Tories have spent an extra £7billion per year. Even Cameron and Osborne are talking about £7billion in total. How can anyone possibly trust the Health Secretary when he gives a one word 'yes' response to Mishal Husain's question about the Tory's £8billion spending pledge?
It's also shocking that both the Prime Minister and Chancellor are getting away with misleading voters that they are pledging to meet the spending needs of the NHS when they are in fact only pledging £8billion over five years - and even that has no sound financial basis, but is built on the shifting sands of the intangible concept of 'economic confidence'. It's time for the mainstream media to wake up and listen to what the Tories are really saying - and report it accurately to the public.
Follow Dr Louise Irvine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/drmarielouise