Tories 'Leaned On' NHS Boss To Devise £8bn Figure That Became Manifesto Pledge

Ex-Lib Dem minister David Laws says "blackhole" is half true figure

20/03/2016 12:13 | Updated 20 March 2016
PA/PA Wire

The boss of the NHS was “leant on” by David Cameron and George Osborne to underplay the NHS financial crisis and devise a different figure that was the centrepiece of the Tory election campaign.

Former Lib Dem Minister David Laws has claimed NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens was “strong-armed” after he produced an official report stating the health service needed a massive £16 billion extra a year by 2020.

Laws has said the response from Downing Street was “you must be kidding”, and Stevens was told to “get that figure down”.

Instead, an extra £8 billion was recommended - which was one of the key promises in the Conservative Party’s election-winning manifesto.

Labour called for an "urgent" response to the suggestions top Tories attempted to "massage the figures". NHS England denied it was "leant on".

BBC
Former Lib Dem Minister David Laws on The Andrew Marr Show this morning

The former MP made the claim in a book being serialised in the Mail on Sunday, and he repeated the claims on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show this morning, adding that the cuts that are really needed are “undeliverable” without more cash.

He explained the estimate in October 2014 from the widely-respected NHS boss was that the service needed £30 billion - and around half could be found in “efficiency savings”.

Laws told Marr: “The problems seems to be that when he took that figure to the Conservatives and No 10 they said ‘you must be kidding there’s no way the Chancellor and the Prime Minister will sign up to that figure. You’d better get that figure down if you want us to take this seriously.

“‘You’d better increase the efficiency savings - and he did that and therefore reduced the demand to £8 billion.’

“We now therefore as a consequence have the NHS needing to make in this Parliament three times the rate of efficiency savings that it’s made of the last 20, 30 years.

“I think that is undeliverable and I think those assumptions need to be urgently reviewed otherwise we’ll see the standards of the NHS gradually decline.”

Asked by Marr whether he was saying Simons was “strong-armed”, Laws replied:  “I am saying that.”

He added: “I’m not criticising Simon, I think he was lent on.”

Owen Humphreys/PA Archive
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens

Asked by the Mail on Sunday why the Lib Dems had not raised the issue before now, Laws said: “Nick Clegg and I only discovered the fiddle months after Stevens’ report was published.

“We were told Stevens asked for at least £15 billion but was leaned on to cut it to £8 billion.

“By then, it would have looked odd for the Lib Dems to promise more than the NHS said they wanted or start a huge public row.”

BBC
Election 'con' as reported in the Mail on Sunday 

A spokesperson for NHS England said: "The NHS Five Year Forward View in October 2014 clearly and independently said that the NHS would need in the range of £8-21bn real terms annual growth by 2020, depending on levels of efficiency, capital investment and transformational funding. 

"We stand by this analysis and were not 'leant on'. David Laws was not part of these discussions, and has no first hand knowledge of them.

"Simon Stevens has been more publicly outspoken in arguing the NHS' corner than any previous serving NHS chief executive - including publicly in the run up to the November 2015 Spending Review - and he will continue to do exactly that.

"The NHS is going hammer and tongs to meet growing demand, offer new treatments, and remove remaining inefficiencies. If in the years and decades ahead we want a well functioning NHS, it's obvious and inescapable that the nation will have to use economic growth to fund health care more generously. That's an argument we will forcibly make.

"However the pace of that funding growth, and how to balance competing demands - including for social care, disability benefits, or schools - are inevitably and rightly judgments for elected governments."

No 10 declined to comment last night.

Heidi Alexander, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said: “These are damning revelations which if true suggest David Cameron and George Osborne refused to give the NHS the extra money it needs and instead put pressure on independent officials to massage the figures.

“The NHS is facing the biggest financial crisis in a generation. However, rather than being straight with the public, it appears Number 10 strong armed the NHS chief executive and demanded hospitals were signed up to efficiency savings that would put patient care at risk.

“The idea that the NHS can save £22bn over the next four years is pure fantasy land.

“We know that David Cameron and George Osborne have been the driving force behind cuts to disability benefits and it seems they are up to the same trick with the NHS too. They need to urgently respond to these accusations and start being honest with the public about the black hole in NHS finances.”

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