After MPs questioned the extent of government investment in the NHS, the Labour party has requested the UK Statistics Authority to investigate the situation.
Theresa May has pledged £10 billion for the NHS by the end of the decade.
But there is increasing evidence suggesting that this figure is erroneous, with credible analysts instead suggesting that investment of under £5 billion will in fact result from current government policy.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, has written to the watchdog requesting its intervention.
Previously, several members of the Commons health select committee had challenged the claims of May.
“I would be grateful if you would conduct an urgent inquiry into the government’s NHS spending plans and the accuracy of recent statements made by the prime minister and ministers, in particular claims that the NHS budget will increase in real terms by £10bn between 2014-15 and 2020-21,” Ashworth wrote in a letter to the authority’s chair, Sir Andrew Dilnot.
While Labour is attempting to undermine the claims of the government, it may be that Brexit business takes priority in the coming weeks, after the decision of the High Court regarding Article 50.
But Ashworth told Hunt in the chamber that “the only way the government’s figures could be further discredited is if the secretary of state slapped them on the side of a bus and got the foreign secretary to drive it,” referring to the oft-quoted £350 million Brexit claim.
Nonetheless, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt maintains that there are government plans to invest £10 billion as planned, with the Five Year Forward View in mind.
“What they [NHS England] asked for was money to implement the forward view. They asked for £8bn over five years, in fact they got £10bn over six years, or £9bn over five years. Whichever one you take, it’s either £31bn or £2bn more than the minimum they said was needed,” Hunt commented in the commons.
But Stephen Dorrell, the former Conservative health secretary who now chairs the NHS Confederation, said: “It is misleading to suggest the NHS budget is being protected when the same is not true of social care and public health.”
Commenting on the claims, Richard Murray, the director of policy at the King’s Fund, was sceptical about the government funding promises.
“While it is correct that NHS spending will rise over the next few years, these are low increases by historic standards. Given our ageing population, they will not be enough for the NHS to continue to meet demand for services and deliver current standards of care. The government will either need to find more money for the NHS in 2018-19 and 2019-20, when funding will barely increase in real terms, or else be honest about what the consequences of not doing this are likely to be.”
The argument is likely to rumble on for the foreseeable future, with Simon Stevens having already stated that he believes the NHS will not receive adequate funding.