NHS stand-off with No. 10 over £12bn a year to clear backlog as publication of recovery plan gets delayed in row over ‘tough targets’
Government sources confirmed the planned publication yesterday of the long-awaited National Recovery Plan for the NHS had been delayed because of a row over the ‘tough targets’ demanded by the Prime Minister and Chancellor.
The plan is meant to set out how the health service will use a total of £39billion over the next three years to cut waiting lists and restore treatments after the pandemic.
Ministers are concerned that failure to bring the backlog under control by the next election will be politically toxic for the Conservatives.
There are also fears that delays could further push back the PM’s pledge to tackle the social care crisis.
One Whitehall source accused the NHS of ‘reneging’ on commitments made last year as part of the controversial deal to put up national insurance to raise £12billion a year for the health service.
‘The plan is not ambitious enough,’ the source said. ‘It is much more pessimistic about what can be achieved than the agreement struck last year.
‘We have agreed the money… but they have reneged on what they agreed to deliver in return and we have a duty to taxpayers to make sure we secure value for money.’
The PM and Chancellor yesterday pressed ahead with a hospital visit in Kent, which had been designed to launch the recovery plan.
But, with the Government still locked in negotiations with the NHS over the details, they were able to announce only a small section of it relating to waiting times for cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Speaking at Maidstone Hospital, the PM said that three-quarters of cancer diagnoses should be made within 28 days by 2028 – a target first set by Theresa May four years ago.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak speak to a member of staff during a visit to the Kent Oncology Centre at Maidstone Hospital on Monday
And he said that, from March of next year, ‘nobody’ should have to wait more than two months for a cancer treatment. Further announcements are expected this week.
A health source later said the PM had ‘got it wrong’ and that the latter target would only require the NHS to return to its pre-pandemic service levels.
A Whitehall source said NHS officials were still pressing for the target to be pushed back by a further six months as the PM and Chancellor travelled to make the announcement.
In the end, Mr Johnson ended the debate by simply announcing the target date.
The PM hinted at the row, saying ministers were putting ‘huge sums’ into the NHS and were determined to ensure it delivers in return.
‘Those are very tough targets,’ he said. ‘We’ve got to make sure that the NHS delivers them.’
The aim for getting the record six-million waiting list back to pre-pandemic levels is said to have slipped by more than a year from its previous date of May 2024 – taking it past the likely date of the next election.
The Prime Minister and Chancellor are locked in a stand-off with the NHS over plans to clear record waiting lists
And sources said the NHS was resisting putting any targets at all on reducing the number of people waiting more than a year for treatment.
NHS insiders denied they were using the Omicron crisis to strip out challenging goals from the document.
A health source said: ‘Despite the NHS continuing to deal with Omicron, the plan is more ambitious than it was in November.’
Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday appeared to side with the NHS in the row. He told BBC Radio 4’s World at One that ‘frankly the last thing the NHS needs right now is more targets’.
And Rachel Power, of the Patients’ Association, told the BBC: ‘Patients are the ones that are suffering, so we really need to get this plan out.’