General election: Labour pledges £26bn NHS rescue plan amid warnings of ‘year round crisis’

Lizzy Buchan
The funding is spread across several different projects: PA

The NHS will receive a £26bn funding boost over four years under new plans from Labour, as the party seeks to outgun the Tories on health spending.

As the election campaign enters its second week, John McDonnell and Jonathan Ashworth will unveil the party’s “NHS rescue plan”, with a 4.3 per cent annual funding increase for health spending to boost care, address staff shortages and rebuild crumbling facilities.

Labour will warn that a decade of cuts has plunged the NHS into “year round crisis” and promise to increase the health budget to £178bn by 2023-24 – a real terms increase of £26bn – funded by plans to reverse corporation tax cuts and hike up taxes for the wealthiest in society.

If elected, the party would also boost the NHS England resource budget to £154.9bn over the next parliament, increase capital budgets by £15bn, and invest £1bn per year for training and £1bn to fund an expansion of public health services.

The announcement comes as Boris Johnson seeks to make the NHS a key plank of the Tory election offer – traditionally regarded as an area where Labour is more trusted by voters.

In a speech at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, Mr McDonnell will say: “The world-class health service we all need and depend on needs proper funding.

“Labour’s policies to tax the richest in society and invest for the future through our Social Transformation Fund mean we will be able to improve millions of lives.

“And ending privatisation means that money can be spent on healthcare rather than dividends for Boris Johnson’s friends in the private healthcare industry.”

Mr Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, will warn that the NHS is braced for one of the worst winters on record, leaving the health service “crying out for a financial rescue plan to deliver real change for patients”.

“A decade of Tory underfunding and cuts has driven our NHS into year round crisis,” he will say.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, condemned the plans as proof Labour “aren’t fit to be in government”, after claiming the figures actually represented a cut to NHS funding compared to the £20bn pledged by Theresa May for the health service over five years.

However his analysis was based on the idea that Labour implement a four-day working week on entering government at a cost of £6.1bn a year – despite the fact this policy has not been approved by senior Labour figures.

Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards said this funding would mean the NHS could “breathe a sigh of relief”, adding: “A 4 per cent increase a year will make a big difference compared to the 1.4 per cent average the NHS has grown used to in recent years.

“It is enough to get most waiting times back on track over time, but tough decisions will still have to be made.”

Mr Edwards said money is not the be-all and end-all, pointing out that extreme staff shortages are the greatest problem facing the NHS.

But Luciana Berger, Liberal Democrat health spokesperson, accused Labour of ignoring the threat of Brexit to the NHS.

She said: “Brexit has already cost the economy as much as £66bn. If Corbyn had not tacitly supported Brexit, Labour could have funded their NHS plan more than two times over.”

Elsewhere, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson will vow to create a £500m ring-fenced fund for youth services as part of efforts to end the knife crime “epidemic”.

Ms Swinson said: “For 25 years, Conservative and Labour governments have been competing to seem tough on crime, without doing enough to actually prevent crime.

Liberal Democrats will build a brighter future for young people by investing £500m a year in youth services and taking a public health approach to youth violence.”

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