Former Liberal Democrat minister David Laws says that Downing Street "lent on" an NHS England chief to make him reduce the amount of funding the health service would need. Laws said that NHS chief executive Simon Stevens was told by No. 10 that his request for £15bn ($21.71bn) would be "discredited".

Instead Stevens was told to find cash in "efficiency savings" bringing the request down to £8bn in 2014 ahead of the general election in 2015. Laws said that Stevens had voiced that the NHS would need £30bn by 2020 and that he could make half of that up with the savings but needed a further £15bn from the Treasury.

PM refused to fund NHS

According to Laws Stevens had carried out research on how much cash was needed, but despite his study his request was met with a blunt refusal by Prime Minister David Cameron and the Chancellor George Osborne. The former member for Yeovil said that an independent review of NHS funding needs to take place to ascertain how much money the NHS needs.

The result, says Laws, has now convinced the public that the NHS could find three times more efficiency savings by 2020 than it had in the since the creation of the NHS. The new revelations are outlined in Mr Laws's memoirs, Coalition: The Inside Story Of The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government.

The 50-year-old told the Marr programme on 20 March: "At the end of 2014 it was clear that there were huge pressures on the NHS budget. In government, our major focus was on getting more money for the NHS in the last year of the coalition in 2015.

"Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS, then decided to go off and do his own piece of work looking at how much the NHS needed over the next five years – in this parliament basically. He came up with a figure of about £30bn that I think was about right and he reckoned that half of that could be made in efficiency savings and that he needed the other £15bn from the Treasury.

"The problem seems to be that when he then took that figure to the Conservatives in Number 10, they said 'you must be kidding, there is no way the Chancellor and the Prime Minister will sign up to that figure, you better get that figure down if you want it to be taken seriously, you better increase the efficiency savings'.

"He did that, reduced therefore the demand to £8bn. We now therefore as a consequence have the NHS needing to make in this parliament three times the rate of efficiency savings that it has made over the last 20, 30 years. I'm not criticising Simon. I think he was leant on."

A spokeswoman for NHS England rejected the idea that anyone had been "lent on". She said: "The NHS Five Year Forward View in October 2014 clearly and independently said that the NHS would need in the range of £8bn-£21bn real terms annual growth by 2020, depending on levels of efficiency, capital investment and transformational funding.

"We stand by this analysis and were not 'lent on'. David Laws was not part of these discussions, and has no first-hand knowledge of them."