The chief executive of the NHS has warned that cancer and mental health care could deteriorate because ministers are not prepared to give the health service billions of extra funding in the forthcoming budget.
Simon Stevens said that the waiting list for hospital operations could hit 5 million, warned the service “has a funding problem” and that spending on the NHS is expected to “nosedive” over the next two years.
In an impassioned speech to NHS leaders, Stevens urged Theresa May to give the NHS in England at least £4bn more in 2018-19 – six times higher than currently envisaged – in the budget Philip Hammond will deliver on 22 November.
Stevens acknowledged that the coalition and Conservative governments since 2010 had given the NHS “modest” budget increases at a time when they were dealing with the fallout of the 2008 financial crisis. But he said Britain should seek to emulate the levels of healthcare investment in countries such as Germany, France and Sweden, which would lead to a £20bn-£30bn rise in the NHS’s budget.
“We have a care fragmentation problem and a funding problem,” Stevens said.
Directly contradicting claims made minutes earlier by the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the NHS boss added: “Some may say, ‘Aren’t we spending at the European average?’ Well, only if you think that bundling austerity-shrunken Greek and Portuguese health spending should help shape the benchmark for Britain.
“If instead you think that modern Britain should look more like Germany or France or Sweden then we are under-funding our health services by £20bn-£30bn a year.”
Stevens won praise from Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, at whose conference he was speaking. “We strongly welcome the directness, honesty and clarity of what #Simon Stevens has said today. We have been arguing for some time that the NHS can no longer deliver what it needs to on the funding available and it is important that Simon Stevens has said this for the first time clearly and publicly.
“He is right to warn that without extra funding there will be consequences for patients, who will have to wait longer and may not get the treatment they should have when they need it. We are all now clear about the importance of the decision that the government faces in the forthcoming budget.”
Stevens added: “The budget for next year is well short of what’s needed to look after our patients and their families at their time of need.”
Under current government plans the NHS budget is due to go up from £123.7bn this year to £124.4bn in 2018-19 – a rise of just 0.58%.
Stevens also suggested key targets guaranteeing how long patients have to wait for care may have to be abandoned unless the NHS is given significantly more than the £8bn ministers have pledged to put in by 2022, a move that could prove unpopular and controversial.
In an unprecedented plea to the prime minister and chancellor that may put his job at risk, Stevens urged them to start the “transition” to the NHS receiving the £350m a week extra that was pledged by leave campaigners on the side of their battlebus in last year’s EU referendum campaign. If that happened that would mean the NHS received an extra £18.2bn a year.
He displayed for his audience of hospital trust bosses the promise leave made then: “Let’s give our NHS the £350m the EU takes every week – Vote Leave, take control on 23 June.” And he cited an admission earlier this year by Dominic Cummings, a key leave campaign organiser, that the pro-Brexit camp may well not have won the vote if they had not deployed that argument.