It’s nearly a year since the Conservatives won the 2019 general election and returned to power with an 80-seat majority. Reflecting on the anniversary, party chair Amanda Milling wrote in the Express this week:
“We promised to invest more in our NHS and we have – in March we passed the NHS Funding Act, delivering a record £34 billion per year by the end of the Parliament in additional funding for the NHS.”
That “£34bn a year” pledge was a common refrain before polling day last year. (As health policy is devolved, it only applies to England).
But as the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies calculated at the time, once you account for inflation, the commitment works out closer to £23.5bn.
It’s not entirely clear that this is a “record” five-year settlement either – again, due to the effects of inflation. As a House of Commons Library briefing released in January 2019 confirms, the last Labour government increased total health spending by £24bn in real terms between 2004-5 and 2009-10 (though there are some caveats to the comparison).
There’s a further catch: while Ms Milling’s article was about Boris Johnson’s first year since winning the election, the money she refers to was actually pledged by his predecessor Theresa May in 2018. (The target will be met in 2023-24).
This isn’t the only dodgy health stat from the election to still be doing the rounds.
The Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs at last month’s spending review that despite the financial gloom the country faces, the government would:
“Fund the biggest hospital building programme in a generation – building 40 new hospitals”
It’s another Conservative manifesto pledge that got the party into trouble at the time: when they made the promise, the government had only given the go-ahead for six projects – with more to come later.
Fast forward to October 2020, and there’s rather more detail. A Department of Health press release names the 40 schemes it’s backing.
But now there’s a new problem. Though Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock are quoted in the October publication welcoming the “40 new hospitals”, the same document reveals that 18 of the projects given the green light will simply rebuild existing facilities. A further four will see replacement hospitals built on the same site.
Of course, up-to-date facilities are beneficial to staff and patients. But if you thought that ministers’ claims about “40 new hospitals” mean England will have 40 more hospitals than it currently does by 2030, you’d be wrong. Without this crucial context, we think the claim is misleading.