None of the main political parties is committing enough money to save the NHS, a leading health think tank has warned.
Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have all pledged extra money to health in their manifestos, but each pledge is lower than the smallest potential amount the NHS will need in five years, an analysis by the Nuffield Trust has found.
But even Labour’s commitment, the highest of the three, would not make the NHS “close its funding gap, cope with increased demand and sustain high quality care”, the trust warned.
Report author Prof John Appleby, Nuffield Trust chief economist and director of research, said: “What our new analysis shows is that in fact none of the parties’ promises matches even the lowest projections of what funding should be.
“Spending as a proportion of GDP looks set to fall slightly whichever party forms the next government, unless additional funds can be found.”
The Nuffield Trust’s briefing, released on Monday, sets out four scenarios for NHS spending in the next five years.
The cheapest scenario would see NHS England needing a budget of £137 billion by 2022/23 - £13 billion more spending than this year and higher than what each of the three parties has pledged.
The most expensive projection by the think tank, which took population increases, patient demand and medical advances into account, foresaw the NHS needing £155 billion by then.
The Nuffield Trust noted that, before the election was called, the Government planned to increase NHS spending to £126 billion by May 2020, which would have “significantly constrained the health service’s ability to provide the care patients expect”.
The Nuffield Trust’s verdict on NHS funding pledge:
Liberal Democrats: A combined pledge to supplement existing annual spending plans by £6 billion for both health and social care across England, Wales and Northern Ireland - a total of £132.2 billion for the NHS in England by 2022/23.
Labour: Supplement existing annual plans by £8 billion across the Parliament bringing health spending to £135.3 billion by 2022/23.
The Conservatives: A minimum £8 billion increase in real terms over spending this year - which the manifesto doesn’t detail - could bring total NHS spending in England to £131.7 billion by 2022/23.
Report author and Nuffield Trust senior policy analyst Sally Gainsbury said: “How much we spend on the NHS is a choice that always involves a cost of some sort.
“We can choose to put more money into the health service, whether that is raised through higher taxes, more borrowing or changing other government spending priorities.
“But equally, not spending more also implies a cost, in terms of longer waits and deteriorating quality of care for patients, and failing to keep up with the latest drugs and medical treatments that may become available in other countrie.”
All three of the main parties have claimed their funding commitments will be enough for the NHS.
The Tory manifesto says it will “give the NHS the resources it needs” while Labour boasts its investment will give people “modern, well-resourced services they need for the 21st century” and the Lib Dems say increasing income tax by a penny is their way of “saving the NHS”.