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I beg to move,
That this House
reaffirms its commitment to equitable access to high-quality NHS care, based on need not ability to pay;
regards local access to NHS services as an important aspect of quality of care;
urges the development of practice-based commissioning to incentivise primary care access and the integration of GP services, out-of-hours care, urgent care and NHS Direct services;
calls on the Government to publish its review of walk-in centres and patient access survey results;
notes the continuing threat to community hospitals, local accident and emergency and maternity services;
calls for the preparation of evidence-based service models which seek to maintain local access to accident and emergency services, and to maintain community-based treatment and diagnosis and maternal choice;
and further calls on the Government to ensure the fair allocation of resources, relative to burden of disease, to secure equitable access to NHS services.
It is a great pleasure to welcome the Secretary of State and his fellow Ministers to their new responsibilities. I look forward to our exchanges across the House, and I look forward even more to having the opportunity to work together to improve the legislative, regulatory and political framework in which the NHS seeks to deliver services to patients. Despite her travails in her post, it was always the Secretary of State's predecessor's great privilege, and often pleasure, to meet NHS staff, as it is my great privilege and pleasure to do so. If ever one becomes tired or distressed by what happens here at Westminster, one need only visit doctors, nurses and other health care professionals around the country to be astonished at, as well as immensely respectful of, what they achieve and the way in which they go about their tasks.
For the sake of the NHS, however, I hope that the Secretary of State does not emulate his predecessor. At the then Department for Education and Skills, the right hon. Gentleman's policies were rescued by the support of the Conservatives for his Education and Inspections Bill. The time has come for him to be rescued at the Department of Health, although not by our supporting his legislation, but by his supporting Conservative-inspired legislation. We have supported the right hon. Gentleman in the past—now it is his turn to support us.
The purpose of the motion is not to debate those proposals, as the Secretary of State plans to deliver a statement tomorrow. Following proposals from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and myself for greater autonomy and accountability for the NHS, he will be aware that we recently suggested a White Paper containing legislative proposals. We are happy to work together to give the NHS core principles and values entrenched in legislation; a structure of greater autonomy, not only for medical professionals but for those responsible for commissioning services for patients; greater freedoms for those who provide services as well as the ability to invest and improve services; and a strengthened accountability structure that does not all track back to the Secretary of State, as it does now. All those proposals are included in our document, which I will leave on the Table for the Secretary of State to enjoy. I hope that in the weeks and months to come we can work together in a spirit of consensus which, according to the Government's rhetoric, is one of their intentions.
May I trespass away from the subject of the motion, and say a word about the arrest of a number of doctors in relation to the terrorist attacks last weekend? The House and the public will be shocked that members of a profession dedicated to saving lives should, it is at least suspected, conspire to take lives in an indiscriminate act of terror. I hope that the House shares my view that we should not let the action of a tiny, extremist minority ever prejudice our positive view of the way in which thousands of Muslim and overseas doctors form an integral part of health care in this country. NHS employers are responsible for ensuring that doctors meet the requirements for clinical practice and, for example, in language proficiency. Checks on those entering the United Kingdom include visa and criminal record checks, for which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office are responsible. It is important to note—I am sure that the Secretary of State has already done so—that the code of practice for the recruitment of health care professionals from developing countries includes Iran, Iraq and Jordan, which are countries from which the UK has agreed not actively to recruit. I am sure that the House will understand if, when he responds to our debate, the Secretary of State will explain how that code of practice and the highly skilled migrants programme have been applied, and what checks are undertaken on medics who come here.
The Secretary of State has to address urgent priorities in his Department, but if he has any doubts about the scale of the problems he must tackle, he need only read the capability review published about his Department last weekend, when, as they say in business, the Department was "kitchen sinking" on the issues that it had to deal with. The review said that
"the Department has not yet set out a clearly articulated vision for the future of health and social care and how to get there".
It had "serious concerns" about the setting of direction which, given the understated language of the civil service, is about as serious as it gets. There is no direction for the national health service, and there has been a failure of leadership and direction. Where my party leader has led, the new Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have followed in saying that the NHS is their priority. Constitutional affairs have turned out to be the new Prime Minister's priority but, none the less, we have led by making the NHS our immediate and first priority.
What the new Prime Minister means by all this amounts to the belief that
"we need to do better".
When he launched his leadership tour, he said that we must have
"more access to health services at weekends and outside normal hours, millions using NHS Direct, millions using walk-in centres, more access to GPs".
I was not sure whether that was a statement of what exists at present or of what the Prime Minister hopes will be the case. He is right that access to NHS care must be regarded as a vital aspect of the way in which quality health care is delivered. We have argued that that is the case, which is why we tabled the motion.