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NHS Funding Pressures

Volume 594: debated on Tuesday 10 March 2015

5. What recent representations he has received on fiscal steps to address funding pressures in the NHS. (907961)

The Government have protected the health budget in real terms throughout the current Parliament. Of course a strong national health service needs a strong economy, and the Government plan to deliver that strong economy, along with a fairer society. The NHS budget has already increased by £12.7 billion during this Parliament, and in the autumn statement we announced an additional £2 billion for front-line NHS services. That money is intended to meet demand pressures in the next financial year, and also to help to start the process of transformation that was outlined in the “Five Year Forward View”, which is probably the most important representation that I have received on NHS funding in the last year or so.

Hospitals have struggled to cope with the pressures during the winter. Labour has made a fully funded commitment to provide the extra doctors, nurses, home care workers and midwives who are needed through a “time to care” fund. Analysis of Conservative party spending plans shows that more than 260,000 elderly people risk losing their social care packages during the next Parliament. Is it not time for the Government to commit themselves to taxing hedge funds and tobacco companies in order to raise the extra resources that our NHS so desperately needs?

Let me gently say to the hon. Gentleman that he ought to be a wee bit cautious about believing too many of his Front Benchers’ spending plans. They say that they want to deal with the deficit but have set out no plans to do so, and they have made multiple spending commitments without any sense of how those commitments will accord with their fiscal strategy.

The hon. Gentleman is, of course, right to suggest that going too far and reducing the deficit reduction by more than is necessary in the next Parliament would have a damaging effect on public services. I would say that his party has got it wrong and the Conservative party has got it wrong, but the Liberal Democrats have got it right.

23. Despite the economic chaos that was inherited by the coalition Government, spending on the NHS in England has been protected and increased. Does that not compare very favourably with the position in Wales, where a Labour Government have slashed NHS spending by 8%? Should we not judge these people by their deeds rather than their words? (907979)

My hon. Friend has made a very fair point. Comparing the NHS performance of different Administrations is an important activity, in which I am sure he will engage very fruitfully over the next few weeks. Let me add that if we are to judge a Labour Government by their actions, we should look at the mess that the Labour party made of the economy when it was last in power. If we found ourselves with problems of that kind again, money for our NHS would be one of the resources that would suffer.

As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), the pressures on the NHS are already putting care services in crisis. Why has the Chief Secretary colluded in Tory plans to shrink public investment and take an additional £70 billion from public services in the next Parliament, thus posing an even bigger risk to health and social care? He has dodged the question in the past; will he give us a straight answer now? Why did he sign off those Tory plans in the autumn statement?

The hon. Gentleman would do better to begin any question about the NHS with an acknowledgement of his own party’s failures I have made it clear that the figures published by the Office for Budget Responsibility represent a neutral assumption. I think the hon. Gentleman’s party would borrow too much and the Conservatives would cut too much, and that what we need is a balanced approach in the middle.

I do not know whether the Chief Secretary knows what he is doing. The letter from the OBR’s Robert Chote explicitly says—I have it in front of me—that the forecast for that £23 billion of surplus in 2019-20 was

“signed off by the ‘quad’”,

of which I think the Chief Secretary is a member. Is Robert Chote wrong, or did the Chief Secretary not realise what he was signing up to? Will he at least assure us that, if that was a mistake or he did not spot it in the past, he will be opposing a repeat of those Tory plans in next week’s Budget Red Book?

Matters relating to the Budget will be revealed by the Chancellor in his Budget statement next Wednesday and not before, as I am sure you would expect, Mr Speaker. I have listened to the hon. Gentleman today, as I listened to him on the “Today” programme yesterday, and there was not a single answer about how Labour would balance the books, and not a single answer about how Labour would invest in public services. I heard yesterday about Labour’s zero-based review, which seems to mean zero savings, zero ideas, zero economic credibility.

Health services in Chester and west Cheshire are facing increased pressures because of thousands of people fleeing from the Welsh NHS and seeking treatment in England. Will my right hon. Friend guarantee to provide more money for hospitals on the English side of the border, to protect them from the failure of the Labour party in Wales?

Clearly, there are issues in the NHS in Wales, but I would caution my hon. Friend about the tone of his question, because health workers in England and in Wales are working as hard as they can to provide the best treatment they can for people on either side of the border. Of course there are failures in terms of funding in Wales and issues that need to be dealt with, but everyone on this side of the House should unite in respect and admiration for our nurses and doctors and the work they do to keep us healthy in this country.