Peter Hoskin

Lansley takes one step forward and two steps back on spending

Lansley takes one step forward and two steps back on spending
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Although Andrew Lansley's "10 percent" gaffe may have worked out alright in the end, I can't help but think he's pushing his luck with his latest comments:

Andrew Lansley has called on the Government to come clean about their spending plans after it was revealed that the NHS has been asked to plan for efficiency savings of £15-20 billion against its 2010-11 budget.

The Department of Health has refused to confirm whether these savings will be available for reinvestment in the NHS - if they are not, it will equate to a real terms annual cut to the NHS budget of 2.3 per cent.

Andrew, the Shadow Health Secretary, said, “NHS staff and patients have an urgent need to know whether Labour will match the Conservative commitment to real terms increases in NHS spending after 2011.”

“If Labour will not match our commitment, then these ‘efficiency savings’ are hypocritical and code for ‘cuts’.”

Andrew stressed, “We are determined to drive greater efficiency in the NHS and we welcome any genuine savings but these will be reinvested in the NHS as we increase health spending year by year.  At the moment it sounds disturbingly like Labour are planning to cut the NHS budget.” In one respect, this represents a slight step forward for Lansley.  He does stress that the Tories would make efficiency savings - implying that there is waste to be cut in the NHS (and how!).  And his general point does hint at the cuts that Labour have hidden away in the Budget, and which Brown would rather the public didn't see.

But, at the same time, it also feels like two steps back.  The Tories have come out on top in the recent spending debate by stressing how cuts will be necessary to deal with the debt crisis.  But - although he's sticking with an official Tory commitment on health spending - almost everything Lansley says goes against this central message.  Too often, good health policy is equated, Brown style, with more and more spending.  Should a Tory government ever wish to cut health spending, Lansley's previous statements could make it far more embarrassing than it need be.