The Leave campaign’s claims of giving the NHS £350m a week were quickly dispelled after they won the referendum. Now, it appears that even the PM Theresa May’s claims of raising spending on the NHS in England by £10bn over the next five years, were false.

A letter to the Chancellor Philip Hammond, signed by five MPs, points out that the Prime Minister’s statement of giving an extra £10bn to the NHS is untrue.

The five MPs that make up the Health Committee are: 

the Chair of the Health Committee, Conservative Dr Sarah Wollaston

the Conservative Dr James Davies

Labour MP and former health minister, Ben Bradshaw 

Labour MP Emma Reynolds

Scottish National Party MP and NHS breast cancer specialist, Dr Philippa Whitford 

The letter urges the government to be honest about its claims to putting £10bn into the annual budget of the NHS and clarify that the health service is suffering from underfunding. This might cause closure of hospital units and rationing of treatment very soon. 

The five MPs wrote: “The continued use of the figure of £10bn for the additional health spending up to 2020-21 is not only incorrect but risks giving a false impression that the NHS is awash with cash.” 

They added: “This figure is often combined with a claim that the government ‘has given the NHS what it asked for’. Again, this claim does not stand up to scrutiny as NHS England spending cannot be seen in isolation from other areas of health spending.”

The five MPs warned that underfunding will be dangerous for the health service, especially when “public expectations of the health service, and the continued rise in demand for its care produced by an increasing and ageing population, mean that measures which could be taken in some government departments are not acceptable in the NHS … including rationing of care and cuts in service provision.” 

They warn that NHS services won’t be able to meet the needs of the public.

May’s claims in the Manchester Evening News:

In a newspaper interview on 17 Oct., May claimed that the government was giving NHS England boss Simon Stevens more money than he asked for when he was negotiating with ministers. She is quoted saying in the Manchester Evening News: “Simon Stevens was asked to come forward with a five-year plan for the NHS. He said that it needed £8bn extra; the government has not just given him £8bn extra, we’ve given him £10bn extra. As I say, we have given the NHS more than the extra money they said they wanted for their five-year plan.”

Government’s response:

The government rejected the claims of the five MPs and stood by its own statement of increasing the NHS funding by 2020-21. A government spokesperson said: “The government has backed the NHS’s own plan for the future with a £10bn real terms increase in its annual funding by 2020-21, helping to ease the pressure on hospitals, GPs and mental health services. It is wrong to suggest otherwise.”

What is the truth behind the claims then? 

The Health Committee said the figure was closer to £4.5bn and asked for more funding in November’s Autumn Statement.

The £10bn figure sounds generous, but it is not correct because it doesn’t take into account inflation or the following facts:

£2bn of the £10bn figure is “old money.”

The money applies only to NHS England’s budget.

£3.5bn will be obtained from cuts to health services outside of NHS England’s budget (medical education and training paid by Health Education England, and public health grant to local authorities).

But, is this “£10bn” even enough?

The chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, launched the NHS Five Year Forward View in October 2014. He demanded £8bn; the bare minimum the health service needed to keep providing good quality care and improving its operations. But the £8bn was a small amount compared to the £30 billion a year by 2020/21 that the NHS needs to sustain a comprehensive high-quality service. 

The whole fiasco seems to point to one thing. The problem isn’t the lack of money; the UK should be able to afford to fund its healthcare system. The problem is the government itself and what it chooses to spend money on. Is the government’s priority to use public funding—basically what your taxes will pay—to secure the welfare of its citizens? Or will the NHS end up as a mutated form of America’s Medicaid for the poor? The question that politicians should be asking then is whether the UK can afford to lose the benefits of its NHS.