General election: Does Boris Johnson's NHS spending claim stand up to scrutiny?

13 November 2019, 17:57 | Updated: 13 November 2019, 19:12

It's the biggest investment in the health service in a generation – that's what Boris Johnson says.

The PM is determined to position the Conservatives as the party of the NHS - traditionally seen as a strong area for Labour.

But is his claim about Tory spending true?

Under their plans, Britain will be spending £148.5bn on the NHS in England by the financial year 2023/24, up by £33.9bn compared with 2018/19.

That does appear to be the biggest increase in NHS spending in cash terms according to figures collated by Full Fact, the independent fact-checking group.

But in real terms - adjusting for inflation - it's a different story. That points to a rise of £20.5bn.

It's still significant, and represents a boost for the NHS after years of austerity.

But it's less than the real terms increase of £24bn under the last Labour government from 2004/5 to 2009/10, according to Full Fact figures.

So on those terms it will be the biggest increase since after the coalition took power and began a programme of austerity to bring down public spending.

But how do the Tories' plans compare with previous spending on the NHS.

Figures from Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the respected economic think tank, dating back to the foundation of the health service in the 1940s - point to substantial increases in health spending, even in real terms, before these tailed off during austerity.

Those figures, covering the whole of the UK and including all of health spending - some of it not on the day-to-day work of the NHS, are a little different from the plans for NHS England funding discussed earlier.

They reveal the different rate of budget increases under governments of different stripes, averaging out at 3.6% annually.

That figure climbed to 6% over the period of Labour government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown from 1997 to 2010.

That slipped back sharply in the austerity years from 2010 to 1.3% - the weakest increase in health spending for any comparable government since the NHS was formed.

So how do the main parties' policies compare now?

The IFS has run the numbers on current plans as espoused by the Conservatives and predicts average growth of 2.9% a year.

That's stronger than during austerity but weaker than the long-run average of 3.6%.

It's worth noting that this figure is an extrapolation of figures for England to the whole of the UK and cover projected spending for health and social care.

So it's possible that the increase could be a bit higher if more money is pledged in the Tories' manifesto.

For Labour, the comparable figure is 4.3% - though the Tories say that Jeremy Corbyn's plans to cut the working week from five days to four will eat into that budget.

So the Tory plan is not the biggest planned spending increase in a generation.

It's not even the biggest in this election.

Previously on Campaign Check: Does flood defence spending unfairly favour the South East?

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