Defiant NHS chief Simon Stevens rejects Theresa May’s health service funding claim

Posted On: 
11th January 2017

The head of NHS England has publicly contradicted Theresa May’s claim that the Government is providing the health service with more funding than it requires.

Simon Stevens before MP on the Public Accounts Committee this afternoon
Credit: 
Parliament TV

Simon Stevens argued it would be “stretching it” to say the NHS has received more cash than it asked for and said hospitals are facing “substantial pressures”.

In explosive remarks, Mr Stevens also suggested ministers were misleading the public over claims that extra money had been earmarked for the health service.

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His comments, to the Public Accounts Committee, came after it was reported that Mrs May's aides believe he has been insufficiently enthusiastic and responsive amid the mounting crisis on NHS wards.

The Prime Minister on Sunday claimed the Government has met and exceeded demands for funding outlined in NHS England's five-year forward view.

But Mr Stevens said that the health service would have received £10bn in pledged funding by 2020, but spread across six years, rather than five as claimed by the Conservatives.

Mr Stevens said: "I don't think that's the same as saying we're getting more than we asked for over five years, because it was a five-year forward view not a six-year forward view.

"And over and above that, we obviously had a spending review negotiation in the meantime and that has set the NHS budget for the next three years...

"Like probably every part of the public service we got less than we asked for in that process. So I think it would be stretching it to say the NHS has got more than it asked for."

When pressed by committee chair Meg Hillier whether there is a "clear gap" between what the NHS is taking in versus what it needs, he replied: "There are clearly very substantial pressures, and I don't think it helps anybody to try and pretend that there aren't.

"But that's not a new phenomenon to some extent. It is a phenomenon that is intensifying."

He added: "I do believe there are some very genuine choices to be made across the NHS and there is a circle to be squared. I think that's right."

'BLOWN APART'

Mrs May told Sky News on Sunday that there are "significant pressures" on the NHS, before adding: "We asked the NHS a while back to set out what it needed over the next five years in terms of its plan for the future and the funding it would need.

"They did that, we gave them that funding, in fact we gave them more funding than they required, so funding is now at record levels for the NHS, more money has been going in."

Labour said Mr Stevens had "blown apart" the Conservatives' pronouncements on NHS spending. 

TORY FUNDING CLAIMS 

The Health Select Committee last year said the Government’s claim that it was spending an extra £10bn on the NHS this parliament was "incorrect".

MPs said the figure gave a “false impression that the NHS is awash with cash”, when some of the money was being transferred from other health spending.

The cross-party group - led by committee chair and Tory MP Dr Sarah Wollaston - said, the true increase between 2015-16 and 2020-2021 is £4.5bn if inflation is accounted for.

Mr Stevens said he felt the committee had “forensically dissected” the claim “very effectively”, before restating his assertion that real terms spending per person on the NHS is due to go down by 2018/19.

"To some extent I think this debate about 2020 this, 2020 that misses the point actually - which is that in the here and now, there are very real pressures,” he said.

"Over the next three years funding is going to be highly constrained and in 2018/19, as I previously said in October, real terms NHS spending per person in England is going to go down, 10 years after Lehman Brothers and austerity began.

"We all understand why that is but let's not pretend that's not placing huge pressure on the service."

When asked whether the £10bn claim was “misleading”, he replied: "If you're clear about what you mean when you say 'each of these numbers', then it's not misleading.

"If you conflate or gloss them together, then that would indeed not do what the Health Select Committee recommended."

Earlier NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson told MPs the health service has reached the point where it can "no longer deliver everything that has been asked” of it, as he called for a funding boost.

He said: “We cannot carry on pretending that we can do everything on the financial envelope that we have. It's just not possible.”

‘BUCK STOPS WITH MAY’

The Times reported this morning that Mrs May’s aides believe the Mr Stevens has been insufficiently enthusiastic and responsive to the crisis in the NHS.

Number 10 was also said to have taken issue with “political” interventions from Mr Stevens, after he proposed abandoning free bus passes for pensioners as one means of raising cash for social care - a proposal he reiterated today.

When asked whether the social care system was keeping up with demand, Mr Stevens responded: "No." He also revealed he had been "running a little campaign" against cuts to social care.

Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said the Prime Minister should not be portioning blame about the current issues facing the health service elsewhere.

“I think it is really, really unfair for Theresa May to be blaming Simon Stevens,” he told Sky News.

“The buck stops with Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt. On Monday Jeremy Hunt appeared to be blaming the public for turning up at A&E departments. Today they appear to be blaming this poor guy, Simon Stevens. No doubt tomorrow they will be blaming the weather.

“Look, they’ve got to take responsibility”.

Chair of the Health Select Committee Sarah Wollaston also defended Mr Stevens against criticism, tweeting overnight:

The Prime Minister's official spokeswoman insisted Mrs May's claims on NHS funding had been accurate.

"The figures speak for themselves," she said. "They will see an increase in real terms funding of £10 billion.

"The Government has been clear that there are pressures on the NHS, driven by the increasing demands we are seeing, driven by the increasing size of our ageing population. Thet's why we provided the funding they said they needed."