MAY’S £20BN NHS GAMBLE
PM pledges stunning £380m a week for ailing Health Service She bets public will be willing to face tax hikes for better care
THERESA MAY today announces an extraordinary £20 billion-a-year boost for the National Health Service.
In her boldest move since calling the last General Election, the Prime Minister vows to beat Boris Johnson’s infamous pledge to invest a £350 million-a-week ‘Brexit dividend’ in the Health Service.
The announcement, timed to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the NHS next month, comes as Mrs May faces intense pressure on her leadership ahead of a pivotal Commons vote on Wednesday. Her allies hope the four per cent rise will give her vital breathing space as Tory whips struggle to contain a party rebellion which could force the Government to give the Commons a veto over the Brexit process and weaken Mrs May’s authority.
In an article for today’s Mail on Sunday, the Prime Minister promises an extra £20 billion in real terms by the 2023-24 financial year – or £384 million a week. During the 2016 referendum, the Vote Leave bus used by Mr Johnson and his fellow Brexiteers declared: ‘We send
the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead.’ The contentious claim is believed to have been a significant factor in the campaign’s victory.
Last night a senior Tory source said t he spending pledge showed Mrs May was signalling the end of the Government’s decade-long austerity drive. But she risks angering many on the Right of her party by admitting that voters will also need ‘to contribute more’ to the NHS.
Out of the extra £20 billion a year for the NHS, no more than £9 billion is expected to come from money we will no longer pay to Brussels. The remaining £11 billion, which will have to come from tax rises or extra borrowing, is the equivalent of adding about 3p on the basic rate of income tax.
I n her article, Mrs May declares that ‘nothing matters more to the British people than our NHS’ and that she is ‘deter- mined to take action to secure it for generations to come’.
She also emphasises her own experience of the NHS after the shock of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2012.
She writes: ‘In that moment, the NHS was there for me, just as it has been for millions of others over seven decades.
‘It helps me every step of the way. With the NHS on my side, I can manage my condition, live a normal life and get on with my job.’
Mrs May said that by 2023 inflation and growth are forecast to take the cash boost to more than £600 million extra a week. It is the first significant spending boost by the Government since the 2008 financial crisis led to budget cuts and the freeze in public sector wages.
Earlier this year Chancellor Philip Hammond declared there was ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ on public finances.
Raising taxes to fund healthcare is a sensitive issue for Mrs May, whose 2017 Election campaign started to implode after the Tory manifesto proposed a ‘dementia tax’ to meet social care costs.
Mrs May hopes to assuage criticism from spending hawks by also announcing that she is forcing NHS chiefs to draw up a ten- year ‘ efficiency plan’ designed to prevent waste.
And a No 10 source insisted last night that ‘the purse strings are not about to be relaxed’ for other departments, adding: ‘The NHS is a special case.’
In her article, Mrs May – paying rare tribute to former Chancellor George Osborne – says: ‘This plan is affordable because of the difficult but necessary decisions taken by George Osborne and Philip Hammond to get the country’s finances back in order – and the sacrifices made by the British people.’
No 10 denies that any deal has been cut with Mr Johnson and his fellow Brexiteers in return for them to be more ‘flexible’ in Cabinet discussions over Brexit negotiations with Brussels, such as the UK agreeing to remain aligned with certain rules after we leave the EU.
The NHS announcement also represents a political triumph for ambitious Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has been pushing for greater funding, and a blow for Mr Hammond, who has privately objected on the grounds that it could jeopardise the Tories’ reputation for financial prudence.
The extra money will be used to recruit extra doctors and nurses, greater investment in cancer care and support for mental health services.
It will also be seen as an attempt by Mrs May to steal political ground from Labour.
No 10’s thinking has been influenced by polls showing that nearly 90 per cent of adults believe the NHS faces a severe financial crisis, and more than six in ten people back tax hikes to avert it.
The cash injection would boost the NHS budget from £116 billion a year currently to the post-inflation equivalent of £136 billion by 2023.