Health secretary Jeremy Hunt failed to indicate what level of expenditure his party would spend on the NHS in future, as he took to the stage at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on Tuesday (30 September).
Addressing delegates at the party's conference, Mr Hunt said the issue of NHS funding concerned more than finding an extra billion ‘here or there’, and said the NHS needs a strong economy.
But despite making a link between the economy and healthcare spending, the health secretary “gave no indication of the level of expenditure on the NHS in the future” the NHS Confederation’s chief executive, Rob Webster said. "The level of funding is a political choice."
“Without clarity on this, we will not make the significant changes that are required in care delivery. We need politicians, the public and the NHS to have an honest, informed debate about funding for health and care services in the country, for now and the future," he said.
The health secretary’s speech comes a week after Labour leader Ed Miliband pledged an extra £2.5 billion a year investment in the NHS.
Mr Hunt also spoke of the need to derive the most value from the NHS budget, to cut waste and to spread innovation. This can come from the independent sector, he said, and called on the Labour Party to “stop scaremongering about privatisation that is not happening”.
“Mr Hunt is right to point out that independent providers can play a valuable role in delivering NHS-funded services for patients," said Mr Webster. "As long as NHS values – safe, high quality, and free at the point of need – are upheld, patients rarely mind whether their care is delivered by an NHS organisation, a charity, or an independent sector provider."
Mr Hunt’s speech echoed announcements made the Prime Minister earlier today on seven-day access to GPs by 2020, a named GP for every NHS patient, and a commitment to training and retaining an extra 5000 GPs, should the party win next year’s general election.
He added that by April 2015, every patient in England will be able to access their own medical record online.
The health secretary used his speech to commend the NHS for performing well despite huge challenges, citing cancer treatment, tackling dementia, waiting times and treatment figures, and the British response to Ebola as areas to be particularly proud of.
He described dealing with the Francis report and his personal vow “to return a culture of compassionate care to every corner of the NHS”. He strongly attacked the last Labour government for overseeing failings in care, claiming that “for Labour, good headlines matter more than poor care for patients”. Such failings had been stopped by the current Government, he said.
“Mr Hunt's focus on compassion and care for everyone, and continuity of care for those who need it is consistent with what we are seeking to achieve in the NHS in the future," remarked Mr Webster. "Extended general practice and named doctors will only be part of the required changes though. The NHS – from primary care to urgent care, and from community services to leading teaching hospitals – is facing an unprecedented squeeze, and social care has seen real reductions. It is more important than ever that we stop doing ‘more of the same’".
Ahead of political party conference season, the NHS COnfederation and 20 other leading health and care organisations outlined a vision for a future health and care system – The 2015 Challenge Manifesto – calling on political parties of all colours to commit to producing election manifestos that recognise and address the real challenges facing the NHS.
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Find out more about the NHS Confederation's pre-election work.