Analysis by two leading health policy think tanks concludes that none of the three main parties have pledged enough new money for the NHS in England.
The Nuffield Trust warned that the NHS faced a ‘further five years of austerity, whoever forms the next government’. The Health Foundation, meanwhile, said none of the parties had found a way to provide the NHS with the funding it needs.
All three main parties in England have promised to increase NHS funding. The Conservatives have pledged a minimum real-terms increase of £8bn 2022/23 compared with 2017/18, bringing NHS funding to around £132bn. Labour’s promise of £30bn extra revenue spending over five years amounts to £12bn extra by 2022/23 compared with today, bringing funding up to around £135.3bn. The Liberal Democrats' plans would mean £9bn more by 2022/23, increasing NHS funding to £132.2bn.
Both Labour and Tory plans would see an immediate cash injection, followed by annual increases.
While all three parties’ plans would mean additional funding compared with current plans, which would see NHS funding reach £128bn by 2022/23, the Nuffield Trust they all failed to meet the minimum requirement for NHS funding to keep up with forecast economic of £137bn.
NHS funding as a share of GDP is set to fall under all three parties, from 7.3% today to 7% under the Tories, 7.2% under Labour and 7.1% under the Liberal Democrats. The Nuffield Trust said that in order to keep up with growth, NHS funding should reach 7.3% by 2022/23, or 7.5% to meet the rate of increase in NHS costs and demand.
The Health Foundation said that the NHS funding gap in 2022/23 would be £22bn under the Tories, £17bn under Labour and £19bn under the Liberal Democrats.
Labour and the Tories have also pledged an extra £10bn capital infrastructure funding including primary care premises. Labour has promised to increase GP funding.
NHS funding gap
Nuffield chief economist professor John Appleby said: ‘None of the parties’ promises matches even the lowest projections of what funding should be. Spending as a proportion of GDP looks set to fall slightly whichever party forms the next government, unless additional funds can be found.’
Health Foundation director of research and economics Anita Charlesworth said: ‘While there are sizeable differences in the amounts the parties are promising, none will match the average spending increases over the NHS’ history or rising pressures on the system.’
‘These pressures are estimated to be around 4% a year above inflation, even taking into account productivity savings of around 2% a year. At best, the additional money pledged by the parties would meet around half of the funding pressures. Whatever the outcome of June’s general election the NHS will get more cash but the need for substantial efficiency savings will not go away.’
She added: ‘Whoever wins the general election, the promised additional spending for the NHS will still mean that this is the decade (2009/10 to 2020/21) with the lowest rate of funding growth in the health service’s history.
‘None of the political parties have found a source of funding to provide the NHS with spending increases on the scale needed. There is an unavoidable, but hugely difficult, set of choices to be made if the health service is to be sustained.’