By Martin Kelly
Current funding levels for the NHS cannot be guaranteed beyond the next UK general election, a Conservative minister has warned.
UK Home Secretary, Theresa May made the admission when being interviewed on ITV Borders TV.
Asked if public funding for the NHS would continue to increase if the Conservatives won the next UK general election, Ms May replied:
“The NHS in Scotland is a fully devolved matter and what happens in the United Kingdom is a sum of money is allocated nominally for Scotland to make decisions about its health service.”
The Conservative minister claimed funding for the NHS had been increasing. However pressed on whether the funding levels would continue after the 2015 general election, Ms May replied:
“Well, nobody can ever absolutely guarantee what happens after an election.”
The admission from the Tory MP has been seized on by Scottish Health Minister Alex Neil who said it raised fresh fears for the Scottish NHS.
Mr Neil said: “This is a hugely important admission by Teresa May, which tells the real story about the danger the Tories and Westminster system are putting our health service in.
“It’s more compelling evidence that they are already sharpening the knives to slash NHS spending in England through the privatisation process, and that would damage the funding of our health service north of the border if we voted No – which is a big reason why we have to vote Yes.
“The austerity, privatisation and patient charging agenda which Teresa May and her Tory colleagues are enthusiastically promoting has a direct impact on how much money we in Scotland have to spend on our NHS.”
The subject of the NHS has become a dominant theme of the independence referendum with the Yes campaign highlighting what it says is the danger to funding of the creeping privatisation agenda south of the border.
The issue has seen the Labour party issue contrasting messages in Scotland to those in England and Wales.
Speaking in July Labour’s Shadow Health Minister Andy Burnham said: “If we allow the continued advance of the market into the NHS it will eventually destroy everything that’s precious about it.”
Addressing the Welsh Assembly on 17 June, Labour’s Health Minister in Wales Mark Drakeford said: “The fundamental issue…is the impact on public services in Wales of the cuts being made by [the Conservative-led] administration in Westminster, and passed down to Wales. That is what the fundamental problem is here: we have a Westminster Government that believes in shrinking the state, which believes in doing less through the public realm, and passes less money down to us in order to be able to do it.”
Concerns for the Scottish NHS have been raised by Trade union Unison, which in a statement said: “Devolution means they can’t run down and privatise our NHS directly, the way they are doing in England. But what they can do is starve it of resources. They are cutting back on the money provided to the Scottish Government and this puts the health budget under pressure.”
However the Labour party in Scotland has insisted the Scottish NHS is safe under devolution with its health spokesman Neil Findlay arguing that cuts were “not going to happen” and that concerns were simply a “big lie”.
Alex Neil added: “Our Scottish NHS is the jewel in the crown of our public services, but Teresa May’s comments reinforce the danger it is in if Scotland votes No on September 18. That is why we need the financial control of independence, as well as the policy control of devolution.
“Only a vote for Yes and independence will guarantee a world class and publicly funded Scottish health service, protected from Westminster austerity and privatisation in England.”