UK Politics

Labour rules out 'massive' NHS spending increases

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Media caption Ed Miliband has told the BBC that he believes we "need a different way forward for our economy".

Ed Miliband has said "massive increases" in spending on the NHS "won't be available" if his party wins the next general election.

He told the BBC that healthcare would always be a priority but refused to say whether he would pledge to spend more overall than the coalition government.

Labour is to set up an independent commission to investigate how best to integrate health and social care.

It says that without this there will be a £29bn gap in funding by 2020.

Mr Miliband's comments follow former Prime Minister Tony Blair's warning to avoid promising ever more public spending.

This month, Mr Blair urged against "tacking left on tax and spending" amid a debate on Labour plans before the next election.

The independent commission will be led by former Department of Health specialist Sir John Oldham.

'Rising need for care'

Launching it in Chorley, Lancashire, Mr Miliband said the NHS faced "the biggest challenge in its history". He cited figures from the Nuffield Trust that suggest growing care needs will leave a shortfall of up to £29bn a year unless services can be delivered more efficiently.

"The toughest financial pressures for 50 years are colliding with our rising need for care as society gets older and we see more people with chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes and dementia," Mr Miliband said.

"The NHS will always be a priority for expenditure under a Labour government, but we must make every pound we spend go further at a time when our NHS faces the risk of being overwhelmed by a crisis in funding because of care needs by the end of this decade."

Labour has said it will seek to "protect" NHS funding if re-elected while acknowledging that increasing budgets is unlikely in the current economic climate.

The coalition government has ring-fenced the NHS from spending cuts elsewhere and criticised Labour for not being prepared to match its commitment to a real-terms increase in funding every year.

However, the NHS is also having to find £20bn in efficiency savings between 2011 and 2015.

Mr Miliband said services should be organised "around the needs of patients, rather than patients around the needs of services. That means teams of doctors, nurses, social workers and therapists all working together."

Care should be arranged by one person, which would end "the frustration of families being passed around between different organisations and having to repeat the same information over and over again", he said.

He added: "It means a greater focus on preventing people getting ill and more care being provided directly in people's homes so they avoid unnecessary hospital visits."

Mr Miliband attacked coalition health reforms, saying that "attempts to integrate care are being harmed by David Cameron's push to turn the NHS into a full-blown market".

'No policy to privatise'

The government's NHS shake-up in England came into force on 1 April with GP-led groups put in charge of a large chunk of the care budget.

Health Minister Dan Poulter said: "The government is putting doctors and nurses at the forefront of delivering more integrated and community-based care, and thousands of patients across the country, particularly the frail elderly, are already benefiting from these changes, and will continue to do so.

"There is absolutely no government policy to privatise NHS services. Our NHS will stay free for everyone, and it's right that patients should get the best care available, regardless of who provides it, giving patients more choice of where and how they are treated."

The government has also called for closer working between the NHS and the social care sector as part of its health service reforms and changes to care for the elderly, which will bring a £75,000 cap on lifetime care costs being introduced after 2017.

At present, up to 40,000 people every year are forced into selling their homes because they face unlimited care bills.

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