Cameron has broken ‘cast-iron’ pledge to protect the NHS, official figures show

Statistics analysed by the House of Commons Library show health service spending fell in real terms in the coalition’s first year

David Cameron is accused of breaking his health service spending commitments

David Cameron’s cast-iron pledge to insulate the NHS from cuts has been broken, official figures revealed for the first time yesterday.

The statistics – showing that spending fell in real terms during the coalition government’s first year – will fuel controversy over whether the Prime Minister has been honest with the public about the NHS.

Labour accused Mr Cameron of “betrayal” for claiming to protect the NHS while overseeing a fall in health spending.

The official analysis from the House of Commons Library – which is independent of political parties – shows that in real terms, when inflation is taken into account, NHS spending fell by £800m in 2010-11.

The Prime Minister, whose party manifesto at the last election pledged to “increase health spending every year”, has gone out of his way to say the coalition government would protect frontline health cash.

In June Mr Cameron launched five NHS “guarantees you can hold me to and that I will be personally accountable for” – including “not to cut spending on the NHS, but to increase it”.

Yet Labour has claimed that the Treasury’s own figures reveal a cut in real terms in NHS spending from £102.8bn in 2009-10 to £102bn. Mr Cameron and the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, reject the claims, based on the Treasury’s July 2011 Public Expenditure Statistical Analyses (PESA).

The shadow Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, asked the Commons library to analyse the data and received the following information: “NHS total expenditure [fell] from £102.8bn in 2009-10 to £102.0bn in 2010-11 (in 2010-11 prices, rounded to nearest £0.1bn) – a real terms fall of 0.7 per cent.”

Mr Burnham said that another ministerial claim – that the PESA figures had not been adjusted according to the GDP deflator – rang hollow since the Treasury document made clear they were adjusted.

Mr Burnham has called on Simon Burns, the health services minister, to correct a statement to the Commons last week in which he said: “We gave a commitment in our election manifesto to provide a real-terms increase in funding in every year of the Parliament while we are in government – the lifetime of this Parliament. We have honoured that, and we will continue to do so in subsequent years.”

Mr Burnham told The Independent on Sunday: “It is official: David Cameron cut the NHS budget in his first year as Prime Minister despite promising he wouldn’t.

“He has inflicted the first real-terms cut in NHS spending for 14 years – the last being in the final year of the Major government.

“David Cameron stands at the dispatch box week after week claiming to have increased NHS spending. His hollow rhetoric will grate with NHS staff facing the reality of redundancies and patients who are being told they must wait longer for treatment. He is hopelessly out of touch.

“Cameron ruthlessly used the NHS to detoxify the Tory brand. But, one by one, he is breaking all the promises he made. He promised no top-down reorganisation, but launched the biggest since 1948.

“He promised a moratorium on hospital changes but is closing A&E and maternity departments up and down the land. He promised not to cut the NHS, but has done just that in his first year in office.”

The Treasury is likely to defend the statistics by claiming that the 2010-11 spending was an inheritance from the previous Labour government, and the Government was merely sticking to the previous administration’s spending plans. But even this defence would undermine the repeated coalition promises on NHS spending. In addition, the Labour government’s last Budget showed NHS spending at £106.6bn in 2010-11, more than the £102bn spent by the coalition.

Mr Cameron has made strenuous efforts over several years to change the perception that the Tory party is anti-NHS. In his conference speech of 2006, he said he could sum up his top priorities in three letters: “NHS.”

One of the most memorable poster campaigns of the 2010 election was Mr Cameron’s image – which Labour claimed had been airbrushed – next to the statement: “We can’t go on like this. I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS.” And in the continuing row over the coalition’s Health and Social Care Bill, ministers have insisted that NHS spending would be protected.

Mr Cameron, at Prime Minister’s Questions 10 days ago, said: “The official Labour position is that increasing spending on the health service in real terms is ‘irresponsible’. We think it irresponsible not to increase spending.” Yet with widespread cuts to public services announced by George Osborne a year ago last week, there are suspicions that health spending has been quietly trimmed.

Christina McAnea, head of the healthcare team at Unison, said: “We have a reality gap between what the Government is saying about cuts and what patients and staff in hospitals are experiencing on the ground. Hospitals have already closed, waiting lists are getting longer and jobs are being cut. We have warned time and time again that the Government’s agenda has been to cut spending in the NHS.”

The Independent 

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