NHS England’s chief executive will call on the Government to use the Budget to honour Vote Leave’s pledge to give more money to the health service.
In a strikingly political intervention, Simon Stevens is not expected to call for the full £350m a week – or £18.2bn a year – to be passed to the NHS, but will suggest failure to provide significantly more money would betray those who voted Leave with the NHS in mind.
In a speech to the NHS Providers conference in Birmingham, Mr Stevens will appear in front of an image of the Vote Leave bus that carried the slogan: “We give £350m a year to Brussels… let’s fund our NHS instead.”
“The NHS wasn’t on the ballot paper, but it was on the battle bus. Vote Leave for a better funded health service – £350m a week,” he will say.
“Rather than our criticising these clear Brexit funding commitments to NHS patients – promises entered into by cabinet ministers and by MPs – the public want to see them honoured.
“By the end of the NHS’ next financial year – March 2019 – the United Kingdom will have left the European Union.
“Trust in democratic politics will not be strengthened if anyone now tries to argue: ‘You voted Brexit, partly for a better funded health service. But precisely because of Brexit, you now can’t have one.'”
Mr Stevens will quote the campaign director of Vote Leave, Dominic Cummins, who earlier this year wrote that the £350m promise was the single most important factor in the referendum result.
He will also say that a properly funded NHS could help heal the divisions exposed by the referendum. “A modern NHS is itself part of the practical answer to the deep social concerns that gave rise to Brexit,” he will say.
The £350m figure was hugely controversial during the referendum campaign.
It was based on Vote Leave’s calculation of the amount of money Britain sends to Brussels each week, but the UK Statistical Authority challenged the figure and prominent Brexiteers, including International Trade Secretary Sir Liam Fox and then-UKIP leader Nigel Farage, distanced themselves from the pledge following victory.
In September Boris Johnson revived it, writing that “it would be a fine thing, as a lot of us has have said, if a lot of that [£350m] went on the NHS”.
Mr Stevens’ intervention comes as negotiations over the Budget intensify.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been in talks with Chancellor Philip Hammond for weeks and has sounded optimistic notes about the prospects of new money to cover a promised pay-rise for staff.
The NHS also faces a significant funding gap, with leading think tanks warning that it needs at least £4bn extra next year to avoid patients suffering, and £30bn over five years to keep up with soaring demand.
The Conservative election manifesto promised £8bn extra over five years, and NHS leaders are expecting to hear details of how that will be distributed in the Budget on 22 November.
In a joint briefing the King’s Fund, the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation say the spending must be front-loaded, with at least £4bn next year to prevent the service falling further behind key targets and patient care standards.
The NHS is currently experiencing the tightest funding squeeze in its history, and next year is due to receive an increase of just 0.7%, which will lead to a fall in funding per-person.
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