Theresa May has signalled she the Government will back the first ever long-term funding plan for the NHS.
In a victory for Health and Social Care Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the Prime Minister has said she recognises “serious cost and demand pressures” on the health service and that a “multi-year” plan was on the cards.
Hunt said on Sunday that he backed a ten-year funding plan for the NHS and indicated tax rises could be used to pay for it.
May told the Commons Liaison Committee on Tuesday that the Government would draw up a blueprint that allows the NHS “to plan for the future” ahead of the 2019 spending review.
It comes as the NHS prepares to celebrate its 70th anniversary in July and after repeated demands from NHS England, medics and the Labour Party for more cash for the service.
May told MPs: “What I want to do is develop a long-term plan for the NHS and then ensure that that is properly resourced.
“By definition we have already committed to putting more money into the NHS over the coming years so, yes, more money will be going in.”
May said the Government needed to get away from annual top-ups of the health service budget.
She added: “I want that to be done in conjunction with leaders of the NHS, with clinicians and health experts and the Government will provide a multi-year funding settlement in support of the plan, consistent with our fiscal rules and balanced approach but ensuring the NHS can cope with the rising demand ahead of the spending review.”
The PM told the committee “we can’t afford to wait until next Easter”.
“I think in this 70th anniversary year of the NHS’s foundation we need an answer on this.”
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has welcomed the news.
He said: “The Prime Minister’s announcement of a funded long term plan for the NHS this year is very welcome, timely and significant.
He said: “Charting a multi-year path for modern efficient and sensibly funded health and social care could mean huge gains for cancer patients, mental health services and support for frail older people, as well as the several million nurses, doctors and other care staff who devote their lives to looking after us.”
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashwoth said the plan must not mask an overall funding squeeze.
He said: “Years of starving the NHS of the funds it needs resulted in the worst winter crisis on record, the ongoing drastic shortage of healthcare staff and the abandoning of minimum legal standards of care which patients are entitled to.
“Labour has repeatedly called for a long term investment plan for the NHS. Unlike the Tories, Labour would fund the NHS by an extra £5 billion this year, end privatisation and secure the sustainable future of social care.
“Now the Prime Minister must put her money where her mouth is. Will the Tories follow Labour’s lead or will it just be more financial squeezes and cuts?”
A 1p rise in income tax could raise around £5 billion to help fund the health and care system.
Hunt, however, said that instating a dedicated health and social care tax was “premature”.
May added at the hearing that she hopes “no-one doubts my personal commitment” to the NHS.
“I rely on the NHS every day as a diabetic,” she added. “I’m eternally grateful to the NHS.”
She added: “Funding isn’t the only answer. I think there are some other important elements we need to look at.”
The PM said there needed to be accountability for “every pound that is spent”.
“There is another element, which is about looking at how we can all take more responsibility for our health so that the pressures on the NHS are reduced.”
Nigel Edwards, chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, said May’s announcement was “long overdue” but warned it would we “may end up back at square one in a few years” if it was not properly executed.
“The NHS faces a huge underlying financial gap that is set to grow every year unless we can move beyond the current system of one-off bungs and bailouts,” he said.
″Any funding increases for the NHS are very likely to have strings attached. So it will be important to ensure that anything the NHS is asked to do in exchange for additional funds is appropriate and achievable.”
Prof Anita Charlesworth, the director of economics and research at the Health Foundation, said taxes would have to rise to raise the money needed.
“A commitment to long-term stable funding for the NHS is a really important development. A 10-year settlement will span a general election and, if it is to hold, there will need to be cross-party support,” she said.
“All independent analysis suggests that the NHS and care system need increases of about 4% a year above inflation. Funding increases at that level can’t be found from within the government’s current spending envelope and would be a big increase in borrowing so must mean that taxes are going to have to rise.”