Public would back tax rise for NHS if money is not wasted, says Hunt

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The public would be willing to pay higher taxes to fund the NHS provided they can see the money is not being wasted, the Health Secretary has said.

Jeremy Hunt spoke at the launch of a report that warned that taxation may need to rise to historically high levels in order to give the health service the money it needs to cope with an ageing population.

A new analysis of what the NHS needs to cope with future demand shows that UK spending on healthcare will have to rise by an average 3.3% a year over the next 15 years just to maintain NHS provision at current levels.

But in order to get the health service back on track with currently missed targets, to modernise and meet the needs of an ageing population, funding increases of 4% a year would be required over the next 15 years, according to a report by the Health Foundation and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, in association with the NHS Confederation.

He added: “Poll after poll shows that they do recognise that through the tax system we will end up having to contribute more and there is a willingness to do that, providing they can see the money going to the NHS and providing they can see that it is not being wasted.

“From the Chancellor’s point of view he well understands that, he has a responsibility to make sure that the funding for all public services is within what the country can afford and of course that is important because the NHS depends on a strong economy more than other health systems because the vast majority of our funding comes directly from tax coffers.”

The Prime Minister Theresa May is also passionate about the NHS, Mr Hunt added, and understood the need for a “multi-year settlement” of finances.

Health spending by UK government 1997-2017 (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

But there is no more room to make cuts in other areas, such as defence or housing, the authors said.

“The implication is clear: in the medium term, if we want even to maintain health and social care provision at current levels, taxes will have to rise,” the authors wrote.

The document says that relying solely on taxation to pay for a “modernised NHS” would increase the UK tax burden as a share of GDP to “historically high levels”.

Funding these projected increases in health spending through the tax system would require taxes to rise by between 1.6 and 2.6% of GDP – the equivalent of between £1,200 and £2,000 per household, the experts said.

The analysis found that by 2033/34, there would be 4.4 million more people in the UK aged 65 and over.

Meanwhile, the number of people with complex long-term conditions is also set to soar.

The analysis comes as the Government mulls over its long-term plan for the NHS, promised by Theresa May earlier this year.

UK public spending on health, per head (PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

“If we are to have a health and social care system which meets our needs and aspirations, we will have to pay a lot more for it over the next 15 years.

“This time we won’t be able to rely on cutting spending elsewhere – we will have to pay more in tax.

“But it is a choice: higher taxes and a health and social care system which meets our expectations and improves over time, or taxes at current levels and a more constrained health service delivering less than we have become accustomed to.”

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