Boris Johnson has made his latest public spending pledge as prime minister, promising a one-off cash injection of £1.8 billion for NHS hospitals in England.
He said he was “determined to deliver” the controversial commitments made during Vote Leave's Brexit referendum campaign and increase investment in the health service.
Johnson's opponents, however, have said the amount falls short of what is required to make up for “years of Tory cuts”.
Writing in the Sunday Times, the prime minister said almost £1 billion of the promised £1.8 billion would be made immediately available for new equipment purchases and upgrades to 20 hospitals across England.
He praised the “astonishing achievements” of the NHS, but acknowledged the considerable challenges the service is facing, such as staffing constraints, patient care delays and cancellations.
“Which is why I am so determined to deliver now on the promises of that 2016 referendum campaign: not just to honour the will of the people, but to increase the cash available for this amazing national institution,” he added.
One of the key statements made by Vote Leave during the Brexit referendum campaign was that Britain pays the EU £350 million a week, and that money would be better spent on the NHS. Analysis by the BBC concluded that the claim was misleading.
Johnson also said it is thanks to the UK's “strong economic performance” that the government is able to provide funding “to buy vital new kit and confirm new upgrades for 20 hospitals across the country”.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats, however, have questioned whether the amount promised is enough to deliver real improvements in key areas such as staffing and patient care.
Is it enough?
According to shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth, the £1.8 billion pledged by the prime minister falls “significantly short of what's needed to provide quality, safe care to patients after years of Tory cuts”.
“Tory ministers have repeatedly cut capital investment budgets in recent years. These smash-and-grab raids have meant over £4 billion slashed and seen the NHS repair bill spiral to £6 billion, putting patient safety seriously at risk,” he added.
Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Baroness Jolly put Johnson's plans in the context of the current Brexit situation, saying the spending pledge “would not be worth the paper it's written on” if Britain leaves the EU on October 31st without a deal.
Health think tank the Nuffield Trust also raised questions about how big an impact the £1.8 billion injection is likely to have. It called the amount “a fraction of what it would cost to really upgrade 20 hospitals” and a “down payment on the staggering £6 billion needed to clear the backlog” of NHS maintenance.
However, Nuffield Trust chief executive Nigel Edwards also said it was encouraging to see funding being put towards equipment and repairs, to help prevent NHS hospitals “deteriorating even further”.
One of the biggest questions facing the prime minister at the moment is whether the public purse and the British economy as a whole, amid ongoing uncertainty and concern about the risk of a no-deal Brexit, can deliver the investment required to keep the NHS and other vital institutions afloat.
The Bank of England last week lowered its forecasts for UK economic growth over the next two years, even on the assumption the country leaves the EU with a deal. It cut this year's projection from 1.5 per cent to 1.3 per cent, while the 2020 outlook was revised down from 1.6 per cent to 1.3 per cent.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, the central bank warned that growth is likely to be much slower, while the pound would also be at risk of further declines on currency markets.
UK stock markets are also being affected by uncertainty not only at home, but overseas as well, with trade tensions between the US and China showing no signs of easing anytime soon. Both the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 dropped to eight-week lows on Monday.
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