Former business minister Nick Boles proposes national insurance overhaul to create revenue stream for health service

Theresa May is facing growing calls from Conservative MPs to consider higher taxes to fund the struggling NHS, with Nick Boles suggesting an overhaul of national insurance.

Boles, a former business minister who was treated for cancer last year, published a paper on Thursday proposing a rebranding of national insurance to “national health insurance” to associate it specifically with the NHS.

He said it would potential tax rises to pay for health and social care more palatable in future, as voters would know it was ringfenced for the NHS.

“I propose that national insurance is renamed national health insurance and dedicated to funding the NHS and social care,” he said. “I argue that we will need to spend more on funding the NHS and social care and that a hypothecated payroll tax is the best way to secure public support for the increase in tax that will be necessary.”

In the latest chapter of his book, which he is publishing in regular instalments online, he said it was “foolish to delude ourselves that we can meet legitimate demands for high-quality care without spending more money”.

Boles, a policy expert who founded the Policy Exchange thinktank with Michael Gove in 2002, is the most prominent Tory MP to have called for a radical overhaul of the NHS funding model. But several of his colleagues have made similar suggestions and momentum is growing for No 10 to consider a funding rethink rather than annual winter crisis cash injections

Jeremy Lefroy, the Conservative MP for Staffordshire, said: “Too many governments – including the last Conservative government – have put off reform of social care because it is seen as controversial or difficult.

“But we can do so no longer. To do so will need improvements both in provision of care and increased funding – in my view, through income-based social insurance along the lines seen in some other European countries.

“Providing good care for those who need it most is a mark of a civilised nation. I believe that the British people would support paying more according to income. But they would wish to see the care increasingly provided through locally accountable and socially responsible organisations where high-quality care – and not profit – is the motivation.”

Johnny Mercer, the Conservative MP for Plymouth, has also floated the idea of moving to a hypothecated tax for the NHS.

He wrote in the i newspaper on Thursday: “Get the grown-ups together and figure this out. The people need it, and the government needs it. There are options, such as hypothecated taxes; why is it called national insurance anyway? It’s all tax to most of us.”

Dan Poulter, a former health minister and part-time NHS doctor, first called for such a tax last summer, saying his experience inside hospitals had convinced him that radical, long-term funding solutions for the health and care sectors were “urgently required”.

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has rejected the idea of a royal commission on the NHS but did say on Wednesday that there would need to be national consensus on how to get “significant more funding” for it as part of a 10-year plan.