Theresa May has decided to give the beleaguered NHS a “significant increase” in its budget to coincide with the service’s 70th birthday in July, the health secretary Jeremy Hunt has revealed.
The prime minister intends to ramp up spending in order to show that the Conservatives can be trusted to run the NHS and because it needs extra cash to tackle chronic understaffing, cope with the ageing population and improve care, Hunt said.
May will fulfil her pledge of a “long-term plan” for NHS funding by ditching the austerity-era 1% annual rises it has received since 2010, the health and social care secretary told the Guardian in an exclusive interview.
“She is unbelievably committed. You should not underestimate how committed she is to the NHS. So she is absolutely 100% behind getting this right,” Hunt said.
“I’ve been making the NHS’s case that we need significant and sustainable funding increases to meet the demographic challenges we face, and the prime minister completely appreciates that.
“Now the economy is back on its feet and growing much more healthily we’re able to have a discussion for the first time about [a] significant increase in resources, and that presents enormous opportunity for the country in terms of the type of NHS that our children and grandchildren will experience,” Hunt added.
In an interview to mark him becoming the longest-serving health secretary in history, Hunt also:
• Admitted that he is unlikely to be able to fulfil his pledge, first made in 2015, to boost the number of GPs in England by 5,000 by 2020.
• Said “patient safety in the NHS is still deeply flawed”, despite his five-year crusade to make it the world’s safest healthcare system. He said too many staff remained “terrified” to speak out about mistakes in case they get disciplined or sacked, despite his efforts to protect whistleblowers.
• Accepted that Britain’s decision to leave the EU had contributed to the NHS’s widespread staff shortages.
Hunt spoke amid an ongoing cabinet battle over how big a boost to NHS spending May will be able to unveil in the run-up to the 70th anniversary, on 5 July, of its creation in 1948. He has been urging the PM to make it as close as possible to the 4% annual increases the NHS enjoyed before the coalition came to power in 2010. But the Treasury believes that anything above 2%-2.5% is unaffordable.