The Department of Health has touted a huge spending increase on frontline services for 2011/2012, but Labour Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has accused the government of a "loss of financial grip in the NHS" after it was revealed that overall expenditure actually dipped.

According to the DH, spending on frontline NHS services leapt up £3.4 billion (or 3.5%) in cash terms compared to last year. 

In addition, it claims the NHS has saved £1.5 billion since last year by cutting the number of managers and "reducing expenditure on wasteful IT projects".

However, the figures show that NHS spending in real-terms has actually slipped by 0.02%, or £25 million, which the government claims is due to "faster than expected savings from bureaucracy and £400 million saving on IT projects".

In response to the spending cut, Burnham said: "Today we have it in black and white - official confirmation from the government that David Cameron has cut the NHS for the second year in a row, breaking his central Election promise".

"His disastrous decision to spend £3 billion on an unnecessary re-organisation has led to a loss of financial grip in the NHS," he claimed, adding: "Almost four thousand nursing jobs are being axed, leaving waiting lists getting longer and the return of patients on trolleys in corridors [and] we are seeing crude, random rationing across the system with 125 treatments being stopped or restricted". 

But a spokesperson for the Prime Minister stressed that the cuts "should be seen in the context of the savings we are making on bureaucracy and IT," according to The Telegraph.

Health Minister Simon Burns argued that the increases in frontline spending "are already showing results – waiting times have been kept low, there are more doctors, the NHS has performed more diagnostic tests and planned operations, and infections have been reduced even further.”

Robust health?

And describing the NHS as being in "robust financial health", the DH noted that Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities reported a surplus of £1.6 billion for the year, which it says will be carried forward and made available in 2012/13.

However, accusations of hypocrisy were flying around after it emerged that the Treasury is actually clawing back a whopping £1.4 billion of £1.7 billion underspent by the Department of Health in the period.

According to The Guardian, sources in Whitehall sources have said that this surplus will be used to help balance the council tax freeze and fund other key areas of public spending that are not related to health.

"The government promised that all efficiency savings would be reinvested in the NHS, but Friday's figures confirm George Osborne's £1 billion raid on its budget to pay for tax cuts for millionaires," Burnham reportedly said.