The Conservatives promise to spend an extra £8bn a year on the health service by 2020 – but critics say they have not spelled out how they will pay for it.
Chancellor George Osborne has confirmed the commitment to close a funding gap identified by the head of NHS in England will be in the Tory manifesto next week.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens predicted last year that if health spending rose in line with inflation, growing demand for care from an ageing population would create a £30 billion funding gap by 2020.
Mr Stevens said efficiency savings could narrow the gap by £22bn – although some health experts say that is very optimistic.
Previously only the Liberal Democrats had pledged to spend the £8bn a year needed to close the rest of the gap by 2020. Labour said they would spend an extra £2.5bn a year on the NHS while Ukip have promised £3bn more a year.
Responding to criticism that the Conservatives had not spelled out how they would pay for the spending rise, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “If you don’t want to take the commitment David Cameron and George Osborne are making, look at their track record.
We’ve actually been able to put in real terms more than seven billion pounds of extra funding into the NHS on an annual basis. Jeremy Hunt
“If you look at the last five years we actually inherited an economy that was contracting, we’ve actually been able to put in real terms more than seven billion pounds of extra funding into the NHS on an annual basis so we’re saying we are absolutely confident that we can put about the same again.”
He went on: “Look at the evidence as to what has happened to the British economy. In the end a strong NHS needs a strong economy.
“If you are going to tear up the economic plan, then that is the biggest risk for funding to the NHS.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband said: “The bottom line is this – you can’t fund the NHS from an IOU, and the British people know it.
“The truth is that you can’t save the NHS if you don’t know where the money is coming from. You can only damage the NHS when you are planning colossal cuts in public spending, year on year on year, which is what Tories are planning.”
Liberal Democrat health minister Norman Lamb said: “The difficult part is saying how you will pay for it.
“The Liberal Democrats are the only party who have committed to giving the NHS the £8 billion it needs and have set out how we will pay for it.
“The Conservative ideological obsession with cutting the size of the state means they cannot afford this unfunded spending commitment.”
Ukip leader Nigel Farage said: “Mr Cameron’s spending plans are unfunded, but he’ll know this already.
“He knows he needs to make these promises, because he’s planning for an immigration bombshell in to this country over the next five years, and under his plans, our NHS will become an international health service.”