DAVID Cameron is laying down the gauntlet to Labour by pledging to pump at least an extra £8 billion a year into the NHS by 2020.
The Prime Minister said he would protect the “amazing” health service by funding in full the five-year reform plan put forward by its chief executive Simon Stevens.
As someone who’s been supported by the NHS at the most difficult time in my life, I’m utterly committed to ensuring it is there for everyone when they need it tooDavid Cameron
The commitment means that over-75s will be guaranteed same-day access to GPs, patients will be able to see doctors out of regular office hours and the NHS will provide a full range of services seven days a week, according to Mr Cameron.
The move, on a key election battleground, comes after a week of bitter skirmishing that saw the Tories question Ed Miliband’s character - reminding voters that he “stabbed his brother in the back” to win the Labour leadership.
Mr Cameron has insisted his party is merely raising legitimate concerns over issues such as the renewal of Trident and a potential tie-up with the SNP.
However, Mr Miliband argued that the personal attacks showed the Conservatives were “desperate”, and polls have suggested Labour may have gained ground slightly.
The blueprint unveiled by Mr Stevens last October predicted that if health spending rose only in line with inflation, growing demand for care would leave NHS England with a £30 billion funding gap by 2020.
The chief executive said around £22 billion of that could be met through efficiencies - but the rest would have to come from government coffers.
The Liberal Democrats have committed to finding the extra money, and Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt previously gave a strong indication that the Tories would also meet the demand.
Confirming the move, Mr Cameron said his track record over the last five years showed he could be trusted to protect the NHS, with annual spending up to £7.3 billion in real terms. But he did not spell out exactly where the extra money up to 2020 will come from.
Referring to the care of his severely disabled son Ivan - who died in 2009 - the premier added: “As someone who’s been supported by the NHS at the most difficult time in my life, I’m utterly committed to ensuring it is there for everyone when they need it too.
“That’s why I’m backing the NHS’s own plan with the cash required to ensure it can continue to deliver an amazing service to patients and their families in the future.”
Writing in The Guardian, Chancellor George Osborne said: “We back the NHS’s plan, but there’s no point having a plan without the funding to deliver it, so today we commit to deliver what the NHS needs.
“I can confirm that in the Conservative manifesto next week we will commit to a minimum real terms increase in NHS funding of £8 billion in the next five years.
“Decisions about spending go to the heart of our politics because they reflect our values.
“We in the Conservative Party are in no doubt about our approach: the NHS is something precious, we value it for the security it provides to everyone in our country, and we will always give it the resources it needs.”
Labour’s Chris Leslie, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said no-one would believe a word of Mr Osborne’s article.
He added: “The Tories have tried to announce this five times before, but they still can’t say where the money would come from. And they haven’t been able to say how they will pay for any of their panicky promises over the last 24 hours.
“George Osborne’s plan to double the pace of spending cuts next year means he cannot credibly claim to protect the NHS.
“Other countries which have tried to make cuts on this scale have ended up cutting their health services. That’s why he wasn’t able to announce any extra NHS funding in his Budget last month.
“And the Tories have £10 billion of unfunded tax promises which they also can’t say how they will pay for and are ahead of the NHS in the queue.
“Only Labour has a fully-funded plan to raise an extra £2.5 billion a year to recruit 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs and 3,000 more midwives - paid for by a mansion tax on properties over £2 million, closing tax loopholes and a levy on the tobacco companies.
“As Ed Balls has said, Labour will do whatever it takes to save our NHS. But after their broken promises of the last five years, nobody will trust the Tories with our NHS ever again.”
• Sturgeon vows to give people their NHS back Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb accused the Tories of “trying to pull the wool over the British public’s eyes”.
He added: “It’s easy to say you want to support the NHS, the difficult part is saying how you will pay for it.
“As Nick Clegg said, the NHS doesn’t need warm words, it needs hard cash.
“The Liberal Democrats are the only party who have committed to giving the NHS the £8 billion it needs and have set out how we will pay for it.
“The Conservative ideological obsession with cutting the size of the state means they cannot afford this unfunded spending commitment.
“Tory spending plans will not help the NHS but rather destroy vital public service and decimate basic entitlements.”
SNP leader, First Minister and former Scottish Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said: “The SNP is the only party to put forward funded plans for the NHS across the whole of the UK, meeting the £8 billion challenge in England and providing a total increase of £2 billion for Scotland’s NHS.
“Without genuine additional funding these Tory plans will see cuts to services like social care, police and local government - all of which are vital in keeping the pressure off the NHS.
“This is a clear illustration of why Tory austerity must end if we are to properly protect our public services. We must protect and invest in our NHS but funding that investment through cuts to social care, policing or other public spending will only increase the pressure on the health service.
“Meanwhile Labour’s failure to commit to match our NHS spending plans for Scotland is another reason why voters are backing a strong team of SNP MPs to protect Scotland’s health service.”
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