Reality check: what is the interest on the debt cost more than NHS pay?

Claim: We have to pay more in debt interest than on NHS pay.

Reality check verdict: If you are using the Office of Budget Responsibility of the owner of the figure of interest on the debt, then we tend to spend more on NHS pay.

With the nurses who were demonstrating in Parliament Square against pay cap of this week, the Prime Minister, Theresa May was asked by the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn about if public sector workers could be paid more.

She responded by fault of the last Labour government for the amount of debt that the country has, saying: “As a result of the decisions that the Labour Party took on the government that we now have to pay more in debt interest than on NHS pay.”

Reality check asked Downing Street for the figures back and told them that in 2016-17 debt interest costs was expected to have been £49.1 bn, while NHS staff costs for the year were £48.1 million euros.

Let’s take a look at these figures.

The interests of the debt of the costs of the figure comes from the Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR) economic and fiscal outlook from the time of the Budget in the month of March.

The trick with this figure is that the OBR comes up with two numbers depending on whether or not you count what is known as the Asset Purchase program (APF).

As part of its attempts to stimulate the economy, the Bank of England has bought a large amount of uk government bonds.

The government has to pay interest on those bonds, so that makes interest payments to the Bank of England.

But once a quarter, the Bank of England returns interest payments to the government.

The OBR of the title figure does not count the money that has been returned as part of the expenses of the government. In 2016-17 it was £36.0 million euros.

Used by Theresa May ignores the fact that the money was returned to the coffers of the government, so that the total of £49.1 million euros.


The figure for the NHS pay is surprisingly difficult to give a definitive answer.

The number of Downing Street gave comes from the Department of Health, annual report and accounts.

The figure of £48.1 bn is for all the permanently employed staff of the departmental group, which means that it includes people who work full time for the NHS in England, as well as those who work for the Department of Health and arm’s length bodies such as the Public Health of England. Includes employer national insurance contributions and pension contributions.

Does not include any person who works for the NHS in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland because the staff are not paid for by the devolved administrations.

It also does not include any employee of an agency, on a temporary contract, or the majority of staff working in the GP surgeries.

We asked NHS Digital to come up with a figure only for the salaries of NHS England staff and they gave us the remarkably accurate figure of £39,450,395,739.60, that is to say, about £39.5 million.

NHS Digital warns that the figure is lower than it should be, because it excludes data for the hospital relies on the, and do not include maternity or sick leave. As with the Department of Health figures also do not include the figures for the NHS outside England, or for the GP practices.

But even this figure is greater than the amount spent in interest on the debt when the APF is taken into account.

Read more Reality Check

Follow us on Twitter