The Liberal Democrats have set out plans to plug the NHS funding gap in England by ploughing the proceeds of economic growth into public services.
Chancellor George Osborne has pledged an extra £2 billion for the NHS in 2015-16. Labour has promised £2.5bn above that.
The Lib Dem pledge is in response to a five-year plan – called the NHS Forward View – which highlighted that an annual £30bn shortfall in NHS funding would open up in the next Parliament.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, who drew up the proposals, said services were under pressure and “genuine new investment” was needed.
It said a programme of changes – including GPs offering hospital facilities – would help to plug a large part of the funding gap, but warned the NHS would still need above-inflation rises of 1.5% over the coming years.
That works out at an extra £8bn a year above inflation by 2020.
Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg said: “We are setting out a plan about how we can meet that funding gap that has been independently identified as necessary to make sure that our NHS is protected, cherished and supported now and long into the future.”
The plan is based on the economy recovering in line with current projections made by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, and would go alongside continued efficiencies and reforms in the NHS.
The additional funding will focus on two key priorities for the Liberal Democrats – mental health, and prevention.
Under the proposals, the extra £2bn for the NHS in 2015-16 announced by Mr Osborne in his Autumn Statement would be repeated every year in the next Parliament.
An additional £1bn a year from 2016-17 would come from a cap on the pensions tax relief for the very wealthiest, a dividend tax squeeze on those earning more than £150,000 and by axing the Conservatives’ “shares for rights” scheme.
The bulk of extra funding would come from the Lib Dems’ pledge to increase public spending in line with economic growth, after eliminating the structural deficit in 2017-18.
Clegg told reporters: “The big, big difference between ourselves and Labour and the Conservatives is that we have said that once we have dealt with the structural deficit, once we have dealt with it in 2017-18, we will link the amount of money going into public services – including the NHS – to the growth of the economy.”
This demonstrates the Lib Dem firm commitment to increased funding of Sevenoaks and other local hospitals over coming years.