Rishi Sunak warns Cabinet: ‘NHS must provide value for money’

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Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer - Stefan Rousseau/PA
Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer - Stefan Rousseau/PA

The Chancellor spearheaded warnings at Cabinet this week that extra cash being poured into the NHS must achieve value for money by boosting its performance.

Rishi Sunak highlighted that an extra £5.5 billion has been channelled to the health service for the second half of this financial year, while a manifesto-busting tax increase from next April will see an additional £12 billion injected next year.

He is understood to have told colleagues that the benefits of the extra spending need to be felt by people whose pay packets will be dented to fund it.

The Chancellor’s intervention around the Cabinet table sparked frank contributions from Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, Steve Barclay, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the House of Commons, the Spectator revealed.

The three other frontbenchers are understood to have echoed Mr Sunak’s sentiments, agreeing that the Government must be accountable for delivering better health outcomes after awarding the significant funding uplift to the health service.

Mr Barclay was said to have flagged his past experience as a Treasury minister, remarking how difficult it had been to extract financial data from the NHS to scrutinise its spending, including areas of under-spend.

Pressure on the Health Secretary

Mr Kwarteng was said to have recalled his own experience of such issues while working as parliamentary private secretary to Philip Hammond, the former chancellor.

The debate served to heap pressure on Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, to expedite reform of the health service, which has been a key priority since he took over the brief in June.

One government source told The Telegraph: “Around the Cabinet there was certain agreement that you can’t keep throwing money at the NHS without expecting better service.

“It’s about outcomes, not just raw cash. That’s true of all public services. The recent issue with GP appointments has thrown this into sharper political light.”

Recent data showed that more than a third of patients were still not being seen in person by GPs.

The insider added: “You can’t measure NHS performance by cash. There has to be much more focus on getting results, otherwise the public will lose trust.”

A second government insider confirmed that multiple frontbenchers used the Cabinet meeting to demand better “patient outcomes and value for money” and a focus on “outputs rather than inputs”.

White paper on reforms

The candid exchange among the Prime Minister’s top team came after Mr Javid gave a presentation on the social care system reforms, which were unveiled on Wednesday in a white paper.

On Wednesday night, a Whitehall source said Mr Javid was working hard on “broader reforms and tackling backlogs”, as 5.8 million people languish on NHS waiting lists.

The Government is seeking to ensure a system that “works for patients and works for taxpayers” following “record investment” in the health service, the insider said.

The Health Secretary told NHS leaders at a conference last month that reforming the health service was a “priority”.

“We face a choice,” he said. “Do we use this moment to put the NHS on the strongest possible footing for the future? Or simply return to what was there before the pandemic?”

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