Boris Johnson insists £1.8bn pledged for NHS hospitals is new money

Statement comes after claims most of it was already in health trusts’ reserves

Boris Johnson has insisted that the promised £1.8bn of extra funding for NHS hospitals is new money despite suggestions that most of it is already held in reserve by health trusts.

On a visit to Pilgrim hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire, one of 20 English hospitals earmarked to receive £850m for infrastructure upgrades and new facilities, Johnson told reporters the entire pledge was additional funding. “Don’t forget that this is £1.8 billion of new money. It wasn’t there 10 days ago,” he said.

Apart from the £850m, the rest of the money will be spent on other NHS capital projects in England, while Scotland will receive £180m, Wales £110m and Northern Ireland £60m, in line with the standard formula for giving equivalent funding to the devolved administrations.

A number of the 20 projects are in predominantly pro-leave areas, including three at hospitals in Norfolk, the Pilgrim hospital in Lincolnshire, and others in Cornwall and Stoke-on-Trent.

But Labour claimed some of the remaining £1bn was money which already existed and had simply not been spent.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said: “Boris Johnson has misled the public and our NHS staff. You cannot trust a word he says and his claims are unravelling.”

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, the membership organisation for NHS trusts, said health thinktanks that argued the money was not new were partly right. Some of the funding would come from increased capital spending limits and was “genuine, new, extra, money”, he said.

“At the same time, the health thinktanks are correct that some of the extra 2019-20 capital expenditure enabled by this announcement will be funded through cash surpluses currently sitting on provider balance sheets. That spending can legitimately be described as money that trusts already had, but were told they couldn’t spend and are now able to spend.”

After visiting the hospital with the health secretary, Matt Hancock, Johnson promoted his plans to improve NHS services, seen as a key battleground in an autumn election many observers believe seems likely.

“I’ve made it my mission to ensure that people across the country do get to see their GP in time, do get through A&E in a reasonable time, and that’s why it’s vital to invest now,” Johnson said.

“I said, I think 10 days ago, on the steps of Downing Street, that we would be upgrading 20 hospitals – 20 new hospital upgrades around the country – and this is it.”

Labour has also argued that the funding, new or not, is insufficient to make up for earlier cuts.

Asked about the £1.8bn during a visit to the flood-threatened town of Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire, Jeremy Corbyn said: “It goes nowhere near paying for all the cuts that have been made over the past nine years in our NHS. There is a number of hospitals that have been selected for some improvement, many other hospitals have been left out of it.”

Speaking earlier on Monday, Hancock insisted the extra money would be spent even in the event of a no-deal Brexit in October.

“Our proposals for Brexit are that we should get a deal, that is the prime objective,” he told ITV’s Good Morning Britain. “Of course, we’ve got to prepare for leaving without a deal if the EU doesn’t make any movement.

“But this money, these new investments, will happen whatever the Brexit scenario. Because whatever happens on Brexit we need the NHS to be strong long into the future.”

Describing the NHS as the “top domestic priority” for Johnson’s government, Hancock said he could guarantee there would be none of the feared shortages of medicines in the event of no deal.

“What I can guarantee to you is that we have full plans in place to deliver the unhindered supply of medicines to make sure the NHS runs as effectively as it does today through any Brexit scenario,” he said.


Peter Walker and Andrew Sparrow

The GuardianTramp

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