Ninety MPs including several senior Tories have urged Theresa May to launch a cross-party convention on the future of the NHS and social care in England.
Sarah Wollaston, chair of the Commons health committee, organised a letter in conjunction with Liberal Democrat former care minister Norman Lamb and Labour former shadow care minister Liz Kendall, that has been sent to the prime minister and the chancellor, Philip Hammond.
The MPs say that the health system has been failing patients and call on Hammond to ensure any moves to lift the public sector pay cap for NHS workers is not funded by raiding existing health budgets.
The signatories, one-third of whom are Conservative MPs, have said only a non-partisan debate can deliver a “sustainable settlement”. They say the failure of normal party politics to secure the future of the system means a non-partisan approach is the only way to ensure action is taken, particularly given that the government does not command a majority.
“The need for action is greater now than ever,” say the MPs, who include about 30 former ministers. “We understand that fixing this is immensely challenging and involves difficult choices.
“We all recognise, though, that patients and those needing care are too often failed by a system under considerable strain. We believe that together we owe a duty of care to the people of this country to confront the serious challenges to the NHS and the social care system.”
The Tory signatories include former education secretary Nicky Morgan, former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell, ex-policy adviser to May, George Freeman, and party grandee Sir Nicholas Soames.
The Labour MPs who have signed include Kendall, Chuka Umunna, Hilary Benn, Frank Field and Caroline Flint. Liberal Democrats signatories include party leader Sir Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Tim Farron.
In a series of tweets Wollaston said:
In the letter, MPs argued that only a cross-party NHS and social care convention, where there could be a non-partisan debate, would ensure a long-term settlement.
This was echoed by Wollaston in further comments where she said the “simple reality of a hung parliament means that all our constituents will be failed if long-term plans for NHS and [social] care funding do not command cross-party support.”
She added: “It’s better to take a joint approach to planning from the outset and actually deliver.”
Although MPs recognised the immense challenge facing the government involved making difficult choices, they say “patients and those needing care are too often failed by a system under considerable strain”.
Lamb said: “Tribal politics has failed to provide a solution to the existential challenges facing the NHS and social care. We know that the current situation is unsustainable, and these pressures will only get worse as we contend with an ageing population and rising demand for care and treatment.
“This letter shows the strength of cross-party support for a new approach based on cooperation instead of political point-scoring. The fact that so many senior MPs and former cabinet ministers support this initiative is remarkable. Now the government must act on it.”
Kendall said: “Our population is ageing, more people need help and support and our care services desperately need more money to cope, yet any party that comes up with a significant proposal for funding social care risks their political opponents destroying them.
“We could carry on like this for yet another parliament, and yet another election, or we could face up to reality: we will only get lasting change if we secure a cross-party approach.”
The fall per head in NHS funding meant the health service would not be able to meet its routine waiting-time commitments, according to NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens.
Austerity combined with increasing demand for services had created a “mounting toll on patient care”, representatives from the Nuffield Trust, Health Foundation and King’s Fund said earlier this year. They said there was growing evidence that access to some treatments was being rationed and that quality of care in some services was being diluted.
Solving the problem would mean a “steadily increasing share of national income would need to be spent on providing these services, they said.
The UK spends 9.9% of GDP on the health budget – a considerably lower percentage than many other European nations.
Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, which represents various organisations in the healthcare system, said promises to reform funding were being “kicked down the road”.
He said: “The government promised reform before the election, then said there would be a green paper before Christmas. Now it has been put off until summer next year – and even then we are not being promised firm commitments.”
A government spokesperson said: “We have announced a cross-government green paper on care and support for older people with input from a group of independent experts. We recognise that there is broad agreement across parliament that reform for social care is a priority and look forward to hearing a range of views.”
It said MPs would be consulted on social care, ahead of the green paper policy statement next year. The government had already provided an additional £2bn to social care over the next three years, the spokesperson said, adding that the government was committed to making the sector sustainable.