National Health Service

Part of Opposition Day — [14th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:40 pm on 21st January 2015.

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Photo of Liz Kendall Liz Kendall Shadow Minister (Health) (Care and Older People) 6:40 pm, 21st January 2015

It is a privilege to speak in this debate, which has seen some passionate and thoughtful contributions about the NHS. Many hon. Members spoke about the pressures on their local ambulance services and A and E departments, including Jim Shannon and my hon. Friends the Members for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Angela Smith), for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi). Jeremy Lefroy and my hon. Friends the Members for Jarrow (Mr Hepburn) and for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) spoke about the closure of walk-in centres, and difficulties in getting a GP appointment, which are piling pressure on their local hospitals.

My right hon. Friends the Members for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson) and for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron) described the terrible impact that this Government’s cuts to social care are having on elderly and disabled people, piling further pressure on the NHS, as Age UK’s excellent report showed yet again today. My hon. Friends the Members for York Central (Sir Hugh Bayley) and for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) spoke about the problems with child and adolescent mental health services, which have seen their constituents, like mine, sent thousands of miles away from family and friends to get treatment, which is terrible for them, terrible for their families and costs the taxpayer far more.

We have heard time and again during the debate how many of the long, hard fought-for gains achieved under the previous Government are being squandered before our eyes. When we left office, 98% of patients were seen within four hours in hospital A and E departments. Now that is down to 84%, with 180,000 patients having waited for more than four hours in the last month alone. In 2010, 80% of people could get a GP appointment within 48 hours; now one in four wait a week or more or cannot get an appointment at all.

The maximum 18-week wait for treatment has been missed for the last six months. Cancelled operations and delayed discharges from hospital have reached record highs in recent months. The vital cancer waiting target has been missed for the last nine months, meaning that 15,000 people have had to wait more than 62 days to start their cancer treatment. Anyone who has had a family member or friend wait for that treatment to start knows just how frightening that can be.

Ministers repeatedly claim that these problems are nothing to do with them and are simply the result of people living longer. But when our population is ageing, when more people are living with long-term chronic conditions and when the NHS faces the tightest financial settlement of its life, we should not cut the very services that help keep people out of hospital and living at home, which is better for them and better for the taxpayer. We should not remove the very incentives that improved GP access and close a quarter of walk-in centres, so that more people end up in A and E.

We should not slash social care budgets by £3.5 billion, so that half a million fewer of the most vulnerable older and disabled people cannot get help to get up, washed, dressed and fed. Forty per cent. fewer people get home adaptations such as grab rails, which prevent falls, and 220,000 fewer people get meals on wheels. We should not cut 2,000 district and community nurses, who are essential to helping elderly people get back home from hospital, and prevent people with long-term conditions ending up in hospital in the first place. We should not cut training places, so that hospitals are now spending £2.5 billion on more expensive agency staff and hospitals such as mine in Leicester have had to recruit 260 nurses from Spain and Portugal.

Moreover, as my hon. Friend Ian Austin and my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy so powerfully explained, we should not force through the biggest back-room reorganisation in the history of the NHS, wasting £3 billion, distracting the entire system, making thousands of people redundant only to re-employ them elsewhere in the system, and creating even more layers of bureaucracy, so that no one knows who is responsible or accountable for leading the changes that patients need on the ground.

In case the House needs reminding, I should say that the Government have created not only NHS England, alongside Monitor, the Care Quality Commission and the Trust Development Authority, but regional NHS England teams, local area teams and commissioning support units, as well as clinical commissioning groups and health and wellbeing boards. No wonder there is so little leadership in the system.

Labour Members make no apology for holding this Government to account for their record. After all, their Prime Minister promised people that his top priority in government could be summed up in three letters: NHS. I would hate to see what happened in a service he is not so bothered about.

Labour Members know that people want hope—the hope that there is a proper plan to get the NHS back on track. That is exactly what Labour will deliver. We have set out our plans for immediate action to ease the strain on A and Es by making sure that there are enough GPs in emergency departments and enough clinicians on NHS 111; stopping walk-in centres from closing; getting nurses to return to practice; and making sure that councils, the NHS and voluntary organisations identify the older people who are most at risk of going into hospital so that they get the right support to stay at home.

We have also set out a long-term plan for investment and reform so that our care services are fit for the future. We will provide an extra £2.5 billion on top of this Government’s plans to get the GPs, nurses and home care workers we need to transform services in the community and at home.