House of Commons health select committee member Dr James Davies told GPonline he believes chancellor Philip Hammond should allocate new capital funding to the NHS in this month’s autumn statement to support new care models being developed under sustainability and transformation plans (STPs).
Dr Davies was one of five committee members to sign a letter to Mr Hammond yesterday initiated by chairwoman and former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston. The MPs called on the chancellor to consider the case for new capital funding and whether the 2014 spending review settlement was sufficient.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth asked the UK Statistics Authority to hold an ‘urgent inquiry’ into the government’s claim that it is putting an extra £10bn into the NHS after the health committee’s letter repeated its accusation that the claim is misleading.
In an emergency debate in the Commons Mr Ashworth said Labour agreed with the health committee that ‘the government’s NHS spending claims were "inaccurate" and "false".’ Average health spending per person was set to fall, he said, while STPs could propose downgrading and closing services.
Conservative promises to give the NHS the money it needed were ‘in tatters’ said Mr Ashworth.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the health committee had ‘got its numbers wrong’. The NHS had been given the £10bn it asked for, he said.
In their letter, the health committee MPs said the government could not claim to have ‘fully funded’ the NHS Five Year Forward View ‘while the capital budget remains so constrained’ and is being ‘repeatedly plundered to shore up revenue spending’.
It asked the chancellor to consider increasing capital funding for the NHS in next month’s economic update and to re-examine revenue funding for the middle years of the five-year spending review period.
Dr Davies, a GP in north Wales, said the government should find more capital funding. ‘Some of the capital funds have been switched to revenue in recent times, so we have already lost what we had. If you look at trying to put the STPs into practice, there is going to need to be capital resources,' he said.
‘The government should be praised, whether it's £10bn or not,' he added, ‘it is still more than any other party was pledging at the election. But some of the extra money that has come in this year is due to plug some of the secondary care providers' debt. And there is concern that the capital funding for STP delivery is being depleted.
‘It's picking up on that and flying the flag, no matter how unpopular it might make me, just to say that although the NHS has been given a good deal in comparison to other departments, it has special circumstances in terms of the levels of demand it is being put under which means it needs to be given even more attention.’
Dr Davies said there was support among fellow Conservative MPs for the government to find more new funding for health and social care. ‘Clearly there is a limit to what can be funded, so it is a matter of prioritising,' he said. ‘But our key aim was to point out there are real problems and we shouldn't bury our heads in the sand, despite the fact we are putting a lot more money in.’
Meanwhile, the NHS Confederation backed the MPs’ letter. It’s chairman former Tory health secretary Stephen Dorrell said: ‘The NHS Confederation has long argued that it is misleading to suggest the NHS budget is being protected when the same is not true of social care and public health.’
The government, he said, ‘must be honest with the public about exactly how much it is spending on the NHS and social care. Only by providing this clarity can it ensure the system is sustainable for future generations.’
King’s Fund director of policy Richard Murray said: ‘While it is correct that NHS spending will rise over the next few years, these are low increases by historic standards. Given our ageing population, they will not be enough for the NHS to continue to meet demand for services and deliver current standards of care. The government will either need to find more money for the NHS in 2018/19 and 2019/2020, when funding will barely increase in real terms, or else be honest about what the consequences of not doing this are likely to be.
‘We welcome the members of the health committee highlighting the importance of increasing funding for social care after years of budget cuts. As the CQC has recently said, the social care market is approaching a tipping point and there are real fears about whether the market will continue to be sustainable.’