NHS and Social Care Commission

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:59 pm on 28th January 2016.

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Photo of Sarah Wollaston Sarah Wollaston Chair, Health and Social Care Committee 12:59 pm, 28th January 2016

I have to declare a personal interest here, because one reason why my daughter, who is a junior doctor, has spent a year in Australia is that there are sometimes difficulties with married couples—or, indeed, people in any relationship—being able to work in the same part of the country. There is far more that could be done to help junior doctors, in addition to the contract negotiation about money. However, as I have a personal interest, it is probably best if I do not comment further on that.

I want to draw attention to the role of the voluntary sector, which the right hon. Member for North Norfolk referred to. I pay tribute to the voluntary sector partners in my constituency—bodies such as Dartmouth Caring and Brixham Does Care. Across the constituency, a number of organisations are making a real difference to people’s lives, yet very many voluntary sector organisations are coming under extreme pressure. I could give examples of voluntary sector partners that have had to close, sometimes for the want of very small amounts of money, even though they have delivered enormous value. These are locally-facing organisations.

It was welcome that Simon Stevens gave a commitment to look at making the arrangements for commissioning voluntary sector partners easier. Even though those commissioning arrangements may have been made easier, often the resources are not there to fund such organisations. We need to look again at how we can deliver best value for patients by supporting voluntary sector partners across all our constituencies.

Those are the areas that I want the Minister to focus on in the here and now, but I agree that in the long term, we must look at funding. One challenge in this country—and I think it is a wonderful thing—is that almost all the funding for the health service comes directly from taxation or national insurance. We are almost unique in that. Only two other countries exceed us in that regard. Government funding for the NHS accounts for 7.3% of GDP and only an additional 1.5% is levered in from the private sector.

The choice before us is whether to expand the amount that we raise through charging and top-ups. Personally, I do not support that. The Barker commission did not support it either. Top-ups and charging do not raise as much as people imagine by the time the bureaucracy involved in collecting the money and the unintended consequences that are often found, such as widening health inequalities, are accounted for. I hope that we do not choose to go down that route. The most equitable funding mechanism is taxation.

There is an issue of intergenerational fairness here, as the right hon. Member for North Norfolk said, and we need to consider it. These are hard political choices, which can no longer be ducked. Given the demographic challenge and the challenge of complexity that we face, the alternatives are appalling. The alternatives are to abandon our older people. The pressures that our hospitals face from those who cannot be discharged into the community and those in the community who cannot get into hospital are mounting. We can ignore them no longer.

I call on the Government to consider very carefully working with our Opposition partners at scale and at pace to bring forward an agreement on how we will bring more money into the system as a whole, and in the meantime, to make sure that the money we do spend is spent in the best interests of patients.