NHS Workforce and Service Development

Part of Opposition Day — [18th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 12:44 pm on 11th October 2006.

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Photo of Andrew Lansley Andrew Lansley Shadow Secretary of State for Health 12:44 pm, 11th October 2006

No, I am not giving way, as I am moving towards my conclusion, but before I do so, I want to be fair to the Government. We are talking about work force planning and because I wanted to understand the Government's approach towards it, I looked at their evidence submitted to the Health Committee, which is currently investigating the matter. Here it is. The Government say that there is now "a streamlined framework" for work force planning. There are workforce directorates within strategic health authorities and they work with the social partnership forum, with the workforce programme board, with the national workforce group, with the workforce review team, with NHS national workforce projects, with Skills for Health and with NHS employers. There is even a diagram to explain it all—and all that is supposed to be the "streamlined" framework! Whatever it is, it is certainly not yet streamlined enough. We need a much better system because out there in the NHS, staff have no idea what the work force plans look like, as even now, posts are being cut.

The staff of the NHS are, as we have said, its greatest asset. They work miracles daily and we need them to be motivated and inspired, but at the moment they are demoralised. The Secretary of State has gone from her "best year ever" in May to a "very difficult year" by September. NHS staff are seeing a feast turn into a famine. They see promises of expansion turn into cutbacks and they see the advertising campaigns of three or four years ago to recruit new nurses and therapists turning into the cruel irony of people leaving training unable to pursue their vocations and find jobs. They see sham consultations over service reconfigurations driven by short-term financial expedients.

The staff also note how the effects of the European working time directive are dressed up to suggest that services have to be shut down because they are deemed unsafe. Frankly, that is a slur on NHS staff. People are working across the country to save their local NHS services. Labour Members should not decry that as a Tory conspiracy; it is happening because people are angry about the loss of their local NHS services. They do not want to block changes, but they want them to be guided by evidence and to take account of needs for accessible services.

The new chief executive of the NHS says that more than one in four of district general hospitals have to be downgraded. He then tells us, in an interview in The Guardian, that he "understands the politics" of it. Well, we do not need an NHS chief executive who understands politics, but one who is focused on patients. We need a chief executive who is not spending all his time trying to work out what Ministers want him to do, but assessing what is in the best interests of patients and the NHS. We need an NHS free of the Secretary of State and the chairman of the Labour party sitting down with their advisers, trying to decide which hospitals to close.

I am an optimist. I believe in the NHS and I believe in what NHS staff can achieve, but they can do so only if we give them the framework, the resources and the freedom to deliver. That is our objective, so I commend the motion to the House.