NHS Services (Access)

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 15th October 2014.

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Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Shadow Secretary of State for Health 4:15 pm, 15th October 2014

I do get emotional about the NHS, because I believe in it, unlike the hon. Gentleman. That is fine, I do not mind—it does animate me. Let us have a look at Wales and, as I am about to come on to cancer care, let us have a look at that. In England, only 84% of patients receive treatment within 62 days. That is not good enough, and Wales has better figures on cancer care. The analysis of the four home nations’ health care systems found that there is good and bad in all of them and this Tory attack on the national health service in Wales has to stop.

I will move on to cancer and I will go back to the letter that I was quoting. It said:

“Thousands of patients are facing longer and even unacceptable waits to find out whether or not they have cancer, because services are under extreme pressure and referral targets are being missed.”

In 2014, 10,000 people in England had to wait longer than the recommended 62 days to start their cancer treatment. The number of patients waiting longer than six weeks for diagnostic tests has doubled in the past year—doubled, for cancer tests. That is simply not acceptable. We need to hear today what the Secretary of State is going to do about it and may I suggest that the very first thing he should do is stop the cuts to cancer care? A parliamentary question shows that expenditure on cancer services has fallen by £800 million in real terms since 2009-10; the information comes from his Department and I will send it to him. That is why the NHS has missed the cancer treatment target for two quarters running, the first time that it has ever done that.

The evidence is indisputable. The NHS has gone downhill on this Government’s watch and the question follows of what they are doing to bring GP, A and E and cancer services back up to national standards. That is what our motion and, more importantly, patients demand to know from the Secretary of State today, but they will also want to know why the NHS has gone from being a successful service four years ago to being at breaking point today. The front page of The Times on Monday offered us an answer. It quoted a senior Cabinet Minister who said:

“We’ve made three mistakes that I regret, the first being restructuring the NHS. The rest are minor.”

The Secretary of State is conveniently looking down and avoiding my eye at this point, but I am sure he has found out who that was. I am sure he knows. I know that he is avoiding looking at me, but is he prepared to tell us who it was or is he going to carry on with his head buried and avoiding—[Interruption.] He is blushing. I see that he has the good grace to do that, at least. It is an embarrassing comment, it really is, from a senior Cabinet Minister, but what use is it to people now, when people such as Andrew George and I were pleading with the Government to stop the process, to admit that it was all a mistake? It is an embarrassing situation for the Secretary of State to deal with, but at least we have from the very top of this arrogant Government the first admission that their reorganisation was a major mistake.

The article goes on to quote an ally of the Chancellor, who says:

“George kicks himself for not having spotted it and stopped it.”

Not having spotted it? This was famously the reorganisation so big we could see it from space. Not spotted it? What planet was the Chancellor living on? The truth is that the Government could have and should have stopped the reorganisation for the simple reason that they were elected on a promise of no top-down reorganisation and did not have the permission of a single person in this land to carry it out. That is why Thursday 7 May 2015 will be their day of reckoning on the national health service.

If this private apology now is designed to bring people back on board, it will not work. Doctors and nurses lined up to plead with the Government to call the reorganisation off, but they ploughed on. In the words of Mark Porter, chairman of the British Medical Association:

“The damage done to the NHS has been profound and intense”.

Let me focus on just one example of that damage, staffing costs, as the Secretary of State was talking about them this week. The staff census shows very clearly that in the early years of this Parliament, when spending on back-office restructuring was at its peak, front-line nursing posts were cut by about 7,000. At the same time, the reorganisation threw nurse training into chaos. Training places were cut and have never recovered, down from 21,000 a year to 18,000 today.

The NHS has been recruiting more staff in the wake of the Francis report, but this is where the damage done by the reorganisation is hitting NHS trusts. They are being forced to recruit overseas or to turn to agency staff because there are simply not enough nurses coming through the training system.

I have been contacted by a whistleblower from a trust in Liverpool who says that it is now common for staff to receive text messages from agencies such as Pulse offering huge fees—up to £1,000—to work weekends in London or the north-east, with all travel and accommodation costs paid. That is now the norm, and it is happening on this Secretary of State’s watch. Some nurses are literally taking off one uniform on a Friday night and putting on another for the weekend. That is why the agency bill is out of control, and it is happening on his watch.

In 2013-14 the NHS spent £2.6 billion on agency staff. For foundation trusts that is a staggering 162% over what was planned. That helps to explain why trust deficits are mounting. Does not this mismanagement of the staffing budget explain why the Government are now reneging on their promise to pay nurses a meagre 1% pay rise? Is not that the real reason? I wonder how the Secretary of State thinks those nurses will feel when they read this week that senior mangers’ pay has increased by 13.8% on this Government’s watch, while their pay has gone up by only 5%. I am told that he has refused to meet the unions even to discuss it. It is not good enough. He should get to the negotiating table tomorrow and start treating the staff of our national health service with the respect they deserve.