Tony Blair has dismissed Theresa May’s claim that the New Labour government failed to spend nearly half of its record health funding on the frontline.

The former Prime Minister said he did not know what Mrs May meant by the attack and argued she did not understand the needs of the health service.

It came as the Government pledged an extra £20bn of NHS funding over the next four years amid growing pressure to halt decline.

Opposition parties and thinktanks have criticised the failure to cost the proposals as well as claims it could be partly funded by a so-called “Brexit dividend”.

Mrs May hit back on the Andrew Marr Show when it was pointed out that her pledge of a 3.4% increase remained lower than experts say will be needed and will be less than the 3.7% put under Mr Blair.

“We’ve seen, under the Labour government, under Tony Blair, there was a point where he put a lot of extra money into the NHS,” she said.

“Nearly half of that was not actually spent on patient care, on delivering for patients.”

But the former Labour leader defended his track record and said the money poured into improving hospital facilities and staff conditions through national insurance contributions was “absolutely necessary”.

He also accused ministers of “mystery tax increases and a mythical Brexit dividend”, while claiming the NHS had “slid into decline” on the Tories’ watch.

“The Prime Minister said today that nearly half of Labour’s record increase in investment in the NHS during the last Labour Government was not spent on patients. I simply don’t know what she means by that,” he responded in a statement.

“But if the implication is that, because significant investment went on increased numbers of staff, including nurses and doctors, better pay and a huge uplift in hospital building and NHS facilities, this is not money spent on patients, it shows how little this Government understands the NHS and its challenges.

“This investment was absolutely necessary to deliver the significant cuts we saw in waiting lists and waiting times and the dramatically improved results in cancer and cardiac care the New Labour government oversaw, resulting in some of the highest patient satisfaction levels ever seen.”

Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell yesterday accused Mrs May of making a pledge that his own party would be ridiculed for, citing her “magic money tree” barb at the general election.

Meanwhile IFS head Paul Johnson said the money on offer “isn’t going to transform the NHS” but could halt future winter crises.

“As a pure arithmetic point of view over this period, there’s no money,” he told the BBC’s Sunday Politics.

“If you look further down the road, yes, we’ll stop paying money to the European Union, but the economy has already shrunk as a result of the vote, the Government has accepted that the public finances will be £15bn or so worse off, not better off, so there really just isn’t money there for a Brexit dividend.”

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