LONDON - Boris Johnson plans to spend hundreds of millions of pounds on hospitals and health care technology, as the U.K.’s new prime minister seeks to deliver on his own most contentious political promise.
Back in the 2016 referendum, Johnson’s pro-Brexit campaign emblazoned a slogan on the side of its bus that pledged extra cash for Britain’s state-run National Health Service if the country voted to leave the European Union. It was attacked as misleading at the time and the argument has dogged Johnson ever since.
Now he is prime minister and intends to make good his three year-old words, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The expenditure is set to be announced next week in one of the new administration’s first major non-Brexit policies, said the person, who asked not to be named as the plan is not yet public.
The announcement forms part of a health care spending “blitz” championed by Dominic Cummings, the backroom official who masterminded Johnson’s 2016 Brexit campaign and is now one of the prime minister’s top aides, the person said.
Johnson’s NHS announcement is likely to be seen as a further signal that he is preparing for a potential election campaign with populist pledges. The opposition Labour Party is traditionally stronger on health care and is trying to paint Johnson as someone who can’t be trusted with the NHS. The extra cash is the latest in a series of high profile spending commitments from Johnson, following pledges to recruit more police officers and to build new rail links.
The NHS spending announcement, provisionally planned for next week, will be three-pronged, according to the person, who declined to be named discussing policy that’s yet to be announced. The elements of the package are:
Money for new hospital upgrades. Johnson has already pledged to provide “urgent funding” for 20 hospitals.
Fixing the backlog of previous capital spending pledges that have yet to be delivered by streamlining the approval system within government
Extra cash for artificial intelligence, genomics and other new technology that can make the U.K.’s health care system more efficient
In total, the spending is likely to amount to hundreds of millions of pounds of new cash, according to the person. Once the acceleration of delivery on old promises is factored in, the sum of the entire package is likely to be in the billions, they said.
In 2016, Johnson’s pro-Brexit campaign pledged to spend money that would have gone to Brussels on free health care. The slogan on the side of the red bus Johnson used to tour the country declared: “We send the EU 350 million pounds a week. Let’s fund our NHS instead.”
Johnson was criticized during the referendum campaign for the pledge on the side of the bus, which a Parliamentary panel dismissed at the time as “highly misleading.” Nevertheless, Vote Leave stuck to its message, helping secure a 52 percent-48 percent victory for the Brexit camp.