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New Clause 6 — Secretary of State’s response to a section 65 regulator’s report on an NHS foundation trust

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 11th March 2014.

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Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, Chelmsford 5:15 pm, 11th March 2014

It is a pleasure to follow John McDonnell. He said at the beginning of his remarks, and he kept to his pledge, that he was going to speak without party rancour. I, too, would like to do that because I think there is very little difference between my views on the health service and those of Andy Burnham. We may perhaps have a divergence of view on how to achieve what we both passionately believe in, as does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, which is the finest health service for the provision of care for all people in this country, but on the core principle of a national health service, free at the point of use for all those eligible to use it, there is not one iota of difference, despite the speech I heard from the endearing hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris). I almost felt I had woken up from a nightmare. Having listened to the same speech in 39 of the 40 sittings of the Health and Social Care Bill Committee, I regarded it as my good fortune that during the 40th sitting, my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State was giving evidence to the Health Committee which prevented the hon. Gentleman being in our Committee.

The point I want to make is this: the national health service has from day one constantly evolved in the delivery of health care, partly because of changing medical science, partly because of changes in the diseases that people have suffered from owing to improved and enhanced preventive care, and partly because many conditions that in the past one would stay in hospital for no longer need to be treated in hospital but can be treated in a GP surgery or elsewhere. We all—politicians, medical practitioners and others—have to recognise that the NHS is constantly evolving and revolving, and we have to adjust to those changes and meet those challenges.

I passionately believe that decisions within the NHS should be taken locally. I supported the Health and Social Care Bill so strongly because it devolved powers and decision making to the people who I think are best qualified to take commissioning decisions on behalf of patients—local GPs. I also welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is no longer micro-managing the running of the NHS on a day-to-day basis. However much admiration I have for my right hon. Friend, or even for the shadow Secretary of State when he was in post, I do not think he is best qualified to be running the health service on a day-to-day basis.

If we are going to evolve and meet the challenges, difficult decisions will have to be taken, and politicians in particular—politicians of all political parties; this does not apply simply to Opposition Members of Parliament or to Conservative Members or to Liberal Democrats—have got to be braver. When there is any consideration of a reconfiguration to meet new challenges or address problems, the knee-jerk reaction is to take the populist, easy route, say no and oppose for opposition’s sake, rather than look at the reasons behind any reconfiguration.