In a sign of Downing Street’s determination to occupy territory seen as the preserve of Labour, the prime minister will use his first major speech since his re-election to promise that the NHS will be safe in his hands for “every generation to come”.
The prime minister will say in a speech at a GP centre in the Midlands that the Tories will deliver on their manifesto commitment to provide an extra £8bn a year in funding to the NHS by the end of the parliament.
A GP access fund, which will ensure that 18 million patients will have access to a GP in the evenings and at weekends, will be expanded to ensure that more seven-day access will be available. This will also be provided in hospitals. The changes are due to apply across England by 2020.
The prime minister will highlight the “shocking fact” that mortality rates for patients who are admitted to hospital on a Sunday can be 16% higher than for those admitted on a weekday. He will say that the largest number of seriously ill patients are admitted to hospitals at weekends when they are least well equipped to handle them.
In his speech, Cameron will say: “There is nothing that embodies the spirit of One Nation coming together – nothing that working people depend on more – than the NHS. Our commitment to free healthcare for everyone – wherever you are and whenever you need it.
“That means getting the best care and making that care available for everyone – free – wherever they are and whenever they need it. So I believe that together – by sticking to the plan – we can become the first country in the world to deliver a truly seven-day NHS.
“We must do so to protect and preserve the values of the NHS that are so central to our national identity. To keep our people healthy, to look after them when they fall ill, to care for the elderly with dignity and to ensure that free healthcare is always there whenever people need it most. By sticking to the plan, we can and will achieve this together – seven-day NHS, safe in our hands for every generation to come.”
The prime minister will claim that staff will not be forced to work longer hours because a more flexible approach will be introduced so doctors and nurses will be on duty when they are most needed.
Downing Street is particularly keen to campaign on the issue of health because Cameron believes that Ed Miliband’s plan to “weaponise” the NHS in the general election campaign fell flat. The Tories point out that voters often rated the NHS as their most pressing concern and yet Labour, which warned of Conservative plans to privatise the NHS, suffered its worst defeat since 1987.
But the prime minister will come under pressure to explain how George Osborne will provide the extra £8bn a year pledged for the NHS by the end of this parliament. In one of his major announcements of the election campaign, the chancellor promised in a Guardian article to protect what he described as the “precious” NHS with a guarantee of an £8bn increase in spending.
The move is designed to help meet a £30bn per year funding gap by the end of the decade identified by Simon Stevens, the chief executive of NHS England. The Stevens plan calls for £22bn in efficiency savings. This requires an extra £8bn in governmental spending a year by 2020 over and above increases in line with inflation. This will come on top of the extra £2bn announced in the autumn statement.
But Osborne was unable to say exactly how he will provide the £8bn. He simply wrote: “We can make this commitment because we’ve got the track record and a plan to grow our economy.” The chancellor is expected to give the first details in a budget next month ahead of a spending review in the autumn.
The prime minister’s focus on the NHS comes after Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, said she would accelerate the schools shakeup started by her predecessor Michael Gove. The Queen’s speech, to be outlined next week, will include a bill to give the government greater powers to ensure that failing or “coasting” schools can be turned into academies free from local authority control.
The new powers will mean that regional commissioners will be able to appoint new leadership for a school – and set it on a path to becoming an academy – as soon it is judged to be failing. So called “coasting schools”, which are judged to be just above the level of failing, will be forced to work with specialist headteachers.
Morgan told the Andrew Marr Show: “What I am going to be revolutionary about is about making sure that every child has the chance to fulfil their potential. That means every child has an excellent school to attend with great teachers.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010