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NHS Funding Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:37 pm on 27th January 2020.

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Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health 5:37 pm, 27th January 2020

This is not a serious funding Bill; it is an underfunding Bill. It is a political gimmick of a Bill. The Secretary of State hoped that the Bill would signal the Tories’ commitment to the NHS, but it actually reveals their lack of commitment to the NHS. I remind the Secretary of State that the last Labour Government, who I did indeed work for, did not need a piece of legislation to increase NHS funding by record levels—6% extra a year. We just got on and delivered record investment in the NHS in spending review after spending review. That record investment delivered the lowest waiting times, the highest satisfaction ratings, and 44,000 more doctors and 89,000 more nurses. He is unable to match that record.

This Bill essentially caps NHS funding—[Hon. Members: “No it doesn’t.”] It certainly does because, as the Secretary of State outlined, the amounts in the Bill are in cash terms, not real terms, which is what the previous Secretary of State presented to the House in summer 2018. The amounts in the Bill are in cash terms, and when my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood asked the Secretary of State whether the NHS will get the real-terms increases that the previous Secretary of State outlined should inflation run at unforeseen levels, he could not give that commitment.

The Secretary of State could not give my hon. Friend the cast-iron commitment needed by the NHS chief executives on the ground because this Bill outlines only the cash figures. If inflation runs at a higher level than expected, the NHS will not get the extra money that the Secretary of State boasts about from the Dispatch Box unless we have that commitment. As Patrick Grady said, the money resolution has been tightly drawn to restrict hon. Members from tabling amendments to give the NHS the levels of funding it needs. This Bill is a political stunt.

The Bill attempts to enshrine revenue spending in law, but the test will be whether the uplift outlined by the Secretary of State, albeit in cash terms, is sufficient to deliver on the promise made by the Prime Minister at the Dispatch Box two weeks ago:

“We will get those waiting lists down.”—[Official Report, 15 January 2020;
Vol. 669, c. 1015.]

That means reversing the significant deterioration in care under this Government over a decade of decline.

This Bill fails the Prime Minister’s test, because the level of health expenditure that the Secretary of State is asking the House to put into law will not drive down waiting lists or drive up A&E performance to the levels our constituents deserve. The level of expenditure that the Secretary of State presents as an act of great munificence are not sufficient to enable the NHS to deliver the aspirations of its long-term plan. What he says is not what NHS Providers, the British Medical Association, the Health Foundation, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, a whole host of think-tanks and staff representatives are saying about the Bill.