The Liberal Democrats are the only party to have committed to the full £8bn investment required to help plug a projected funding gap in the NHS by 2020, care minister Norman Lamb has claimed.
Speaking recently at an event, he said meeting the future funding requirements of NHS England was key to many of the improvements required to help nurses.
The figure was stated by national NHS leaders in the autumn as the increase required in annual spending on the service by 2020, if it can also make large efficiency savings.
Mr Lamb also said he had a “total commitment” to achieving “genuine equality for mental health” within the NHS, pointing to the current “bias” in the health service’s payment system which results in more money for physical health.
The Liberal Democrat minister was speaking at an election hustings debate, hosted last month by the Royal College of Nursing at its headquarters in London.
Mr Lamb said if the Liberal Democrats came into power they would set up a non-partisan commission supported by all parties to stop the NHS from being treated as a “political football’” and address how to sustain the service.
He also said he wanted to see “joined up” care provision based around the needs of patients, with more of a focus on prevention in the future and increasing numbers of patients treated in their homes.
The care minister promised he would establish a department for health and care in London, with local health and social care budgets pooled by 2018 to move towards a single budget overall.
Workforce planning would also be a key issue, he said, committing to set up a fundamental review of nursing establishment - including those in the care sector which he said has a “massive shortfall”.
Nurses and other NHS staff should also be given more control over the way services are provided to both make them feel more valued and improve standards of care, said Mr Lamb, adding he wanted to see everyday staff such as nurses on the board of each foundation trust.
On the issue of the current government proposal to bring in cuts to anti social hours payments, Mr Lamb said “we should not be attacking that”.
He agreed that nurses should in the future continue to receive these payments as they do now even if the NHS were reformed to become a “seven day” service, because “you have to realise you have to pay people properly”.
The RCN’s election hustings event was also attended by Labour shadow health secretary Andy Burnham and Conservative health minister Dr Dan Poulter.
The three politicians debated with each other, facing a series of questions on nursing and NHS policy from the audience and the event’s chair, RCN head of campaigns and external affairs Jane Hughes.
More recently, health secretary Jeremy Hunt has hinted that a future Conservative government would meet NHS England’s £8bn spending requirement, without stating it explicitly.
In a Sunday Times interview, the health secretary: “We’re now doing the work as to what the efficiency savings are. The gap might be more than £8bn, it might be less,” said Mr Hunt.
“That will all be settled in the summer when we do the spending-round discussions. We will continue to spend more in real terms year in, year out,” he added.