In this week’s Spectator James Forsyth interviews new Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt about how he will continue Andrew Lansley’s legacy on NHS reform. He says his ‘burning mission’ is to ‘demonstrate that we have as much to offer the NHS as Labour ever did’. But while Hunt is keen to praise the work of his predecessor, he takes a strikingly different line on the health budget. James writes:

Another striking difference between them is their views on the future of the NHS budget. When The Spectator interviewed Andrew Lansley at Christmas, he was clear that he believed that the health budget would have to carry on rising in real terms until, well, kingdom come — and that the next spending round and Tory manifesto would have to commit to that. Hunt is not prepared to guarantee this. ‘I don’t think it’s possible to make a prediction because there is so much uncertainty in the economic outlook and no one knows what is going to happen with the eurozone.’

When I push him on this apparent break with his predecessor, Hunt panics a little, and emphasises ‘how passionately committed David Cameron is to protecting the NHS budget for the very reasons that Andrew laid out’. He says: ‘I completely support that and I think that that would certainly be my instinct and David Cameron’s instinct coming to the next election.’ However, Hunt admits: ‘We would also have to have a look at the economic situation. It is something that is very, very difficult to predict.’ One thing at least, is easy to predict: given the centrality of the NHS to British politics and the Tory modernisation project, Hunt and the Chancellor will have to make their position clear pretty soon.

Hunt also suggests a cut-price version of the Dilnot recommendations on social care, which the Coalition remains committed to. He says:

‘There are other versions that might not be quite so expensive. As we come to the next spending round, which we are going to have before the next election, we are looking very hard to see if there is any way at all that we could deliver on the core principles of Dilnot.’

He also describes how being hauled over the coals on his relationship with the Murdoch dynasty was like ‘being accused of a murder that you hadn’t committed’. You can read the full interview in tomorrow’s Spectator, and online from tomorrow morning. Click here to subscribe.

Tags: Conservatives, Jeremy Hunt, NHS, UK politics