Peter Hoskin

Lansley refines his approach on NHS spending

Lansley refines his approach on NHS spending
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Sit down, take a deep breath and steady yourself: we've had a change of approach from the Tories on NHS spending.  No, they're not promising cuts.  But they are promising, for the first time, a much slower rate of real-terms spending increases.  Andrew Lansley has said that he can only guarantee "small increases" in the health budget, adding a simple point that we haven't heard too many times from his corner:

“We have trebled the amount taxpayers spend on the NHS but we have not seen a real return ... We are determined to turn this situation around. The NHS, just like any other organisation in this recession, needs to focus on getting more for less. If Labour’s time in charge has taught us anything, it is that simply spending more money will not necessarily lead to improvements.”

Ok, I still think that real-terms health spending increases, of any size, may be too much for the next government to bear as they deal with Brown's debt crisis.  But this refinement of the Tory message is certainly a step in the right direction.  For too long, the overwhelming emphasis has been on more and more health spending; which makes it more difficult for the Tories to eventually retreat from this position, should they need to, and also undermines their claim that they'll take "tough decisions" to get the deficit down.   

The Tory leadership may feel it would be too embarrassing to completely drop the commitment to real-terms health spending increases before the election.  They may even think that they'll never have cause to.  But at least they're now sounding a lot more realistic about the situation.