Health select committee chair asks chancellor to consider extra funding for NHS

The Conservative chairwoman of the House of Commons health committee, former GP Dr Sarah Wollaston, has called on the chancellor to consider new funding for the NHS in his autumn statement.

Health committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston
Health committee chair Dr Sarah Wollaston

Dr Wollaston asked Philip Hammond 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 in a letter co-signed by committee members from opposition parties. 

The intervention will increase the pressure on the new government to address NHS funding in England in Mr Hammond’s first major spending speech. The move by Dr Wollaston follows comments earlier this month by NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens who told the health committee it would be ‘more challenging’ than expected to keep services running because the NHS was being given less money than it needed between 2017 and 2020.

Mr Stevens said the NHS had only been given the money it asked for in two out the five years of the spending review period.

Financial pressure

In their letter to the chancellor Dr Wollaston, fellow Conservative GP Dr James Davies, Labour MPs Emma Reynolds and Ben Bradshaw and the SNP’s Dr Philippa Whitford said they were concerned that the extent of the financial pressures on the NHS and social care were not being sufficiently recognised by the government.

The MPs asked the chancellor to address the crisis in social care provision, which they said was ‘impacting so severely’ on vulnerable people.

The committee members refuted the government’s claim that it has given an extra £10bn to the NHS and said the continued repetition of this figure gave the ‘false impression that the NHS is awash with cash’.

That figure, they pointed out, could only be reached by adding an additional year to the spending review period, while a substantial amount of it was being taken from health spending outside of the NHS ringfence, meaning that overall funding is set to rise by just £4.5bn over the period.

Given the ‘u-shaped’ trajectory of funding increases, the committee members said they feared the short-term financial pressures on the NHS ‘will become overwhelming’.  

The letter added that 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’.

Social care funding

The King’s Fund said the MPs were right to highlight the ‘huge financial pressures’ the NHS was under, particularly later in the parliament when ‘funding will barely increase in real terms’.

The thinktank’s director of policy Richard Murray said the most urgent priority for the government should be to increase social care funding.

He added: ‘It is no longer credible to argue that the NHS can continue to meet demand for services and deliver current standards of care at the same time as staying within its budget.

‘The members of the committee are right to point out that spending on health is increasing by much less than the government has claimed, and that important areas of health spending are being cut to increase NHS England’s budget.’

A government spokesman said: 'The government has backed the NHS’s own plan for the future with a £10bn real-terms increase in its annual funding by 2020/21, helping to ease the pressures on hospitals, GPs, and mental health services. It is wrong to suggest otherwise.

'As the chief executive of NHS England said last year, the case for the NHS has been heard and actively supported.

'We have also allowed local government to increase social care spending in the years to 2020, with access to up to £3.5bn of new support by then.'

Photo: JH Lancy

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