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

My right hon. Friend comes to the central point. As someone once said, the NHS has the status of a national religion. In this partisan atmosphere in which we all work, there is a danger that anyone who proposes a change to the NHS will get condemned from on high, because of the political points that can be scored in so doing. If we are to think about what we need from a modern health and care system that focuses on prevention, and to make changes in a rational way, we must give Government the space to think afresh about how we can sustain the system and guarantee care for those who need it. We have a choice now: we continue to drift until, ultimately, the system crashes, or we grasp the nettle and come up with a long-term solution.

All parties should commit to the proposal. If we want a good example, we should look at the commission of Adair Turner, which was established by the Labour Government to look at the long-term sustainability of pensions in this country. He managed to secure cross-party buy-in. He came up with proposals that led to change and reform. It was a process that gave people the space to look at a very difficult challenge and to come up with solutions. That is one model we could follow. It should be strictly time-limited. Somebody made the point that we are talking about not a royal commission, which goes into the long grass for three or four years, but a time-limited commission of up to one year with the aim of coming up with solutions that are then implemented. It should engage with the public, with patient groups and, critically, with staff, who, as Mr Mitchell said, often feel that they are under intense pressure and that they are not listened to by Governments of all political persuasions. They, together with unions and civic society, should be centrally engaged with this commission. At the end of the process, we should seek to come up with recommendations that can then be implemented and can give everyone in this country the assurance that there is a long-term settlement for the NHS and for care.

Finally, let me raise one or two things that the commission needs to consider. It needs to look at the divide between the NHS and social care and at the adequacy of funding. How much as a society are we prepared to pay to ensure that we have a good, well-functioning health and care system? At the moment, funding for our health and care system comes through three different channels: the NHS, local authorities and the benefit system. Does that make sense? Should we look again at that system?

We also need to look at how we, as a country, are spending money on our older people. Are we spending it effectively enough? Are we targeting it at those older people who most need Government help? We need to look at inter-generational fairness and at where the money comes from—a point very well made in a recent book by the respected former Cabinet Minister, David Willetts. We also need to consider how we can give power to people to help them to self-care. David Wanless, when he reported for the Labour Government, made the point that his projections about how much extra money the system would need was based on people being engaged in their health—I am talking about self-caring more effectively. That has not happened in the way that he proposed.

We also need to consider the case for a dedicated health and care tax, which can be varied locally. Even protecting NHS spending results in disproportionate cuts in other areas of Government spending, distorting sensible, rational decisions. As this is an area on which spending inexorably rises, there is a case for carving out such a tax.