George Osborne should pump up to £1.5bn extra into the NHS, his Liberal Democrat coalition colleagues have said ahead of next month’s autumn statement.
The chancellor will set out his plans on 3 December and Nick Clegg’s party has called for extra money for the health service next year to be the main priority.
“The NHS needs significantly more money to help trusts adapt to the changing needs of our population and it can’t afford to wait”
Health minister and Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb said delaying a decision to invest more money in 2015-16 until after the general election would “betray” patients.
It follows a warning from the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, that an extra £8bn a year could be needed by 2020.
Negotiations about the content of the chancellor’s statement are set to continue over the coming weeks between the “quad” of Mr Osborne and prime minister David Cameron representing the Tories and Liberal Democrats Mr Clegg and Danny Alexander, who is chief secretary to the Treasury.
In a clear sign that the NHS will be a key battle ground in next year’s general election, Mr Lamb said: “Liberal Democrats want to create opportunity for everyone by building a stronger economy and a fairer society. That means properly funding our NHS for the future, and providing better care, both for physical and mental health.
“But this needs to start straight away,” he said. “Too often politicians take the easy way out and delay big spending decisions in the hope they become someone else’s problem.
“Doing that would betray patients,” said Mr Lamb. “The NHS needs significantly more money to help trusts adapt to the changing needs of our population and it can’t afford to wait.
“That’s why securing extra money for the NHS must be a high priority for the whole government in next month’s autumn statement. And we want at least an extra billion pounds put in every year in the next parliament too,” he added.
“A significant amount of that needs to go on improving mental health services, especially for children and young people,” he said. “For too long mental health has been seen as a second class issue in the NHS and the Liberal Democrats are determined that changes.”
Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham accused the Lib Dems of “breathtaking hypocrisy”.
He said: “You can’t trust a word the Lib Dems say. If the NHS is facing a crash then it is as a result of their and the Tories’ policies.”