David Cameron has been accused of ‘leaning on’ the chief executive of the NHS to pretend the service needed less money than it did.
Former Liberal Democrat minister David Laws claimed that NHS boss Simon Stevens had told Downing Street that the Health Service needed a cash boost of £15billion by 2020 to stay afloat.
But after being told 18 months ago there was ‘no way’ the Treasury would commit that amount of money, Mr Stevens reduced his demand to £8billion, according to Mr Laws.
Former Liberal Democrat minister David Laws claimed that NHS boss Simon Stevens (pictured) was leant on by David Cameron
Mr Cameron later told the electorate that he was funding the NHS cash demand – even though its chief had originally wanted twice as much.
Last night NHS England denied the claims, saying there was no question that the NHS chief executive had been ‘leant on’.
Mr Laws, a former minister in the Cabinet Office, told BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show that Mr Stevens had said the NHS needed an extra £30billion by 2020, with half coming from the Treasury and the rest coming from efficiency savings.
He was told that this was impossible, and that £22billion would need to come from efficiencies.
‘At the end of 2014 it was clear that there were huge pressures on the NHS budget,’ he said.
‘In government our major focus was on getting more money for the NHS in the last year of the coalition in 2015.
‘Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS, then decided to go off and do his own piece of work looking at how much the NHS needed over the next five years – in this parliament basically.
‘He came up with a figure of about £30billion that I think was about right and he reckoned that half of that could be made in efficiency savings and that he needed the other £15billion from the Treasury.’
Mr Laws, an ex-minister in the Cabinet Office, made the controversial claims on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show
He added: ‘The problem seems to be that when he then took that figure to the Conservatives in Number 10, they said “you must be kidding, there is no way the Chancellor and the Prime Minister will sign up to that figure, you better get that figure down if you want it to be taken seriously, you better increase the efficiency savings”.
‘He did that, reduced therefore the demand to £8billion.
‘We now therefore as a consequence have the NHS needing to make in this parliament three times the rate of efficiency savings that it has made over the last 20, 30 years.
‘I think that’s undeliverable and I think those assumptions need to urgently be reviewed otherwise we are going to see the NHS gradually decline in terms of its standards over the parliament.’
PM Cameron, pictured, was accused of leaning on Stevens to pretend the health service needed less money than it did
Mr Laws was then asked if Mr Stevens had been ‘strong armed’ by the government into pursuing the ‘fantasy figure’ of £8billion which was widely touted by the Conservatives ahead of the 2015 general election.
‘I am saying that and frankly Simon did not a bad job for the NHS by changing the terms of the debate in late 2014 by getting eventually all of the political parties to commit to this extra £8 billion,’ he said.
‘But I think he had to make compromises and as a consequence it put into the public domain the sense that £8billion is what the NHS needs. Actually it needs more than that if service standards are to be maintained.’
The Lib Dem added: ‘I’m not criticising Simon. I think he was leant on.’
Last night a spokeswoman for NHS England rejected the claims.
‘The NHS Five Year Forward View in October 2014 clearly and independently said that the NHS would need in the range of £8 to 21billion real terms annual growth by 2020, depending on levels of efficiency, capital investment and transformational funding.
After making the claims, Laws said he was ‘not criticising’ Stevens, but thought that he’d been treated unfairly
‘We stand by this analysis and were not “leant on”. David Laws was not part of these discussions, and has no first hand knowledge of them.
‘Simon Stevens has been more publicly outspoken in arguing the NHS’s corner than any previous serving NHS chief executive – including publicly in the run up to the November 2015 Spending Review – and he will continue to do exactly that.
‘The NHS is going hammer and tongs to meet growing demand, offer new treatments, and remove remaining inefficiencies.’
Heidi Alexander, Labour’s health spokeswoman, said: ‘These are damning revelations which, if true, suggest David Cameron and George Osborne refused to give the NHS the extra money it needs and instead put pressure on independent officials to massage the figures.
‘Rather than being straight with the public, it appears Number 10 strong-armed the NHS chief executive and demanded hospitals were signed up to efficiency savings that would put patient care at risk.’