NHS and Social Care Commission

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:32 pm on 28th January 2016.

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Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health) 12:32 pm, 28th January 2016

I beg to move,

That this House
calls for the establishment of an independent, non-partisan Commission on the future of the NHS and social care which would engage with the public, the NHS and care workforces, experts and civic society, sitting for a defined period with the aim of establishing a long-term settlement for the NHS and social care.

May I take this opportunity to thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate and Members on both sides of the House for expressing interest in, and support for, the motion? I tabled the motion alongside Dr Poulter, who sadly cannot be here because of a family illness, and Liz Kendall. I want to be clear that I am making this case on a cross-party basis, because I believe that it absolutely transcends narrow party politics. I sought the support of, and have been working alongside, Steven Dorrell, the respected former Conservative Health Secretary, and Alan Milburn, the former Labour Health Secretary.

I have felt for a long time now that the NHS and the care system face a very real existential threat, and we have been drifting in that direction for many years. We have to get to grips with this before seriously unattractive things start happening to some of the most vulnerable people in our country. The motion obviously addresses the situation in England, but the position in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is essentially the same; we are all facing the same demographic challenges and the same need to ensure that our health and care systems meet the needs of our communities today, rather than those of 1948.

There is an enormous belief in the NHS in this country, and it is a belief that I share very strongly. It engenders a sense of solidarity and the sense of the decency of this country that we all commit together to ensuring that people can access care when they need it, regardless of their ability to pay. That is a founding principle that has stood the test of time and should be sustained. That is what this debate is all about.

It was a great Liberal, William Beveridge, who put forward the proposition that there should be a national health service, and it was a great socialist, Nye Bevan, who then implemented it as Minister of State for Health. It is also fair to say that Conservative Governments since have sustained the NHS. We have always had our battles about funding levels, reorganisations, structural reforms and so forth, but the NHS has been sustained, with cross-party support, and it is very important that that continues.

As I have said, that principle has stood the test of time. The Commonwealth Fund concluded back in 2014 that, among the major economies it looked at, the NHS was essentially the best system globally, although it is worth noting that it did not score so well on outcomes or on premature mortality—those are, after all, quite important measures that we should not be complacent about. I have made the case that there is an existential challenge to the system, and I believe that it is time for what I call a new Beveridge report for the 21st century.