Theresa May says taxes will rise to fund £384m-a-week NHS spending boost
Theresa May has confirmed that taxes are likely to go up to fund a major boost to NHS spending in time for the health service's 70th birthday.
A new ten-year funding plan unveiled by the Prime Minister will see average spending rises of 3.4% for the cash-strapped NHS over the next five years.
But despite ministers claiming a "Brexit dividend" for the health service, it has emerged that a substantial chunk of the £384m-a-week cash boost will have to come from a surge in taxes and spending.
The Prime Minister this morning paved the way for a rise in taxpayer contributions, telling LBC radio: "It is right, I think, that we say to people that because the NHS is so important to us that we do look at asking for the country to contribute more, but in a fair and balanced way.
"So yes, we take the advantage that we've got of the money we're no longer sending to the European Union, but also in putting the amount of money we want to put into the NHS for the future, I think we do have to look at contributing more."
The plan unveiled by Mrs May today will see the health service get an extra £20bn a year by 2023.
But with the UK's net contribution to the EU standing at around £9bn-a-year, it is expected that the remaining £11bn will come from tax rises and borrowing.
During the Brexit referendum campaign, the Leave side promised that diverting the UK's contribution to the EU would see a £350m-a-week boost for the NHS.
Mrs May insisted that the plan agreed by ministers would eventually go further than that controversial pledge in cash terms.
"Now of course people may remember seeing a figure on the side of a bus - £350m pounds extra a week for the NHS in cash," she told LBC.
"Actually, what we're doing, what I'm announcing means that in 2023/24, there will be around £600m a week in cash more, going into the NHS."
But top Tory MP Sarah Wollaston challenged claims the cash represented a "Brexit dividend" for the health service.
The Health Select Committee chair said: "Don’t even begin to swallow any rubbish that this will be some Brexit bonanza. In reality the tax rises & borrowing will need to be higher as a result."
MAY RELYING ON 'HYPOTHETICAL BREXIT CASH'
The new deal for the NHS was struck after tense talks between Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, NHS boss Simon Stevens and Chancellor Philip Hammond that only wrapped up at 5.30pm on Friday.
Mr Hunt and Mr Stevens had been pushing for a 4% a year increase, while the Treasury had been looking to hold the figure down at 3%.
The compromise of 3.4% a year is just shy of the historical rises of 3.7% a year that the NHS has enjoyed over its 70-year existence.
But it is a significant step up from the 1.4% a year average increases the service has had to make do with since 2010.
The Health Secretary hailed the deal as a major boost for hard-pressed NHS staff, and hinted in a Sunday Times interview that he would now be pushing for a rethink on social care funding.
“There’s a total understanding across the Government that the health and social care systems are interdependent and that to make this settlement work we also need a long-term plan for the social care system as the next step," Mr Hunt said.
But Labour warned that the extra cash would not go far enough after "eight years of Tory cuts".
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "Labour would have invested nearly £9bn extra this year in the NHS and social care, while asking the wealthiest and big corporations to pay their fair share of tax.
"Theresa May could have announced this but chose not to. She won't stand up to vested interests and is instead asking patients to rely on a hypothetical Brexit dividend."
Niall Dickson of the NHS Confederation - which represents health service organisations - also questioned whether the extra money would go far enough.
"The truth is that in spite of this welcome extra investment we will face hard choices and we need an honest debate about what the NHS can and cannot do," he said.
"One danger is that it simply goes to prop up the existing system, which will certainly not be able to cope - even with this injection."
Trade union Unison, whose members include NHS staff, meanwhile said the boost was not "the long-term funding package health workers will have been hoping for".