George Osborne’s former chief of staff has admitted the Conservatives’ squeeze on NHS spending was “unsustainable”.
Rupert Harrison, who served as the ex-Chancellor’s right-hand man between 2010 and 2015, took to Twitter to call Theresa May’s £394-million-a-week funding plan for the NHS “a return to normality”.
On Sunday, the Prime Minister announced a £20 billion boost to the NHS budget by 2023/24.
But responding to a question from the Daily Mail’s Jason Groves about whether the hike would have taken place “on this scale” if Britain had decided against leaving the EU, Harrison wrote:
“Yes definitely - long period of restrain had to come to an end as was becoming unsustainable - this is a return to normality.”
Referring to the Treasury in a second tweet, he added: “They knew it was unsustainable but probably thought they could get away with top-ups for a while longer. Much better to have a longer term plan.”
Since the Conservatives returned to power in 2010, the NHS has received an annual budget increase of just over 1% - much lower than the 3.7% yearly average growth the service has experienced since it was founded in 1948.
May’s proposed plan involves a real terms annual boost of 3.4% between 2019/2020 and 2023/24, with the Prime Minister calling the NHS “the government’s number one financial responsibility”.
Speaking on Monday, NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens welcomed the funding, calling it a “clear gear change”.
But shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Harrison’s comments showed the funding boost was an attempt by the government “to make up for years of cuts and squeeze which have pushed the NHS to the brink”.
Last week, his Tory counterpart Jeremy Hunt admitted government cuts to the social care system “had a profound impact on the NHS”.
At a speech at the Royal Free Hospital in London on Monday, May was asked whether it was a mistake to allow the squeeze on NHS resources to go on for so long.
Defending her party’s strategy, the PM said: “We have been putting more money into the NHS every year as a government.
“In 2010, that was despite the fact we were having to take some really tough decisions about public spending in order to deal with the deficit, in order to deal with the financial situation we had been left by the previous government. But we prioritised the NHS at that stage and continued to put money into it.”
May said that, when considering the “increasing pressures” on the health service, the government now needs to ensure the NHS is not “living year by year” when it comes to its budget.
She added that it would allow the health service to reform and transform the service it offers patients.
But the GMB union accused the Prime Minister of trying to push a “make-it-up-as-you-go-along gimmick” after “years of neglect”.
“Theresa May is all over the place on NHS funding,” said national officer Rachel Harrison.
“This desperate gesture won’t bring NHS funding anywhere near where should have been without years of Conservative cuts that have starved the health service.”
The former organiser added: “The NHS doesn’t need this kind of late night petrol station guilt gifting – it needs real long-term funding and a proper strategy.”
Echoing the GMB’s criticism, Ashworth said people are “waiting longer and in pain because of Tory cuts to the NHS”.
“The Prime Minister couldn’t say today when this will improve and waiting lists will come down,” he added.
“She also confirmed that social care, capital spending and public health will not see any increase as a result of today’s announcement.”
Labour would raise taxes for big business and the top 5% in order to top up NHS spending growth to around the 5% per year needed, Ashworth added.
Meanwhile Labour’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell said it was “disgraceful” that the government couldn’t “guarantee that it wont be the poorest who end up footing the bill for new NHS money”.
“The Conservatives forced those at the bottom to pay for the bankers’ crisis with crushing austerity,” he said, calling on the party reveal further details about their plan. “Now they won’t rule out making them pay to fix the crisis in the NHS that Government cuts have caused.”
The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggested that if the government did not increase taxes, cuts to day-to-day spending and social security could be implemented in order to fund the budget increase.