NHS and Social Care Commission

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:51 pm on 28th January 2016.

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Photo of Jeremy Lefroy Jeremy Lefroy Conservative, Stafford 2:51 pm, 28th January 2016

That is an excellent point. I declare an interest, being married to a GP. Many GPs are already doing that—many have specialist interests. Perhaps there could be a specialism of generalism, if that is not a contradiction in terms—the idea that it is possible for someone to say, “I want to practise my medical career in a smaller place where I do a wider variety of tasks, but I have the knowledge to recognise the limits of my competence and when to refer onwards.”

I welcome the motion and the commission, although I will suggest some boundaries to it. The points that have been made about not going over old ground and not making the commission’s remit so broad that it is of no earthly use are valid. The Barker report has done some tremendous work in that respect and I will come on to that. There are other reviews going on, which I am sure have not escaped Members’ notice. The maternity review under Baroness Cumberlege, to which I have made a submission, is extremely important.

Here again, we see the contrast. On the one hand, we want the best possible care for mothers, pregnant women and their children when they are born; on the other hand, women want to be as close to home as possible. In some cases, and with midwife-led units, which we have just got in Stafford to replace our consultant-led unit, that can work for a limited number of women, but probably only about 30% of women will be able to go into such units; 70% will have to go further afield. We need to think about whether that is the right model. In the UK the largest unit, I believe, is in Liverpool, with more than 8,000 births a year. In Germany the largest is the Humboldt in Berlin, with about 4,500 births a year. Is there something to learn from that model, from the French model, from the Dutch model? I am hoping that Baroness Cumberlege’s report will show us that and give us a clear path for maternity and newborn care in the NHS.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to fund the five-year plan. That was not an easy step to take, but it was extremely important. As far as I can see, funding has been increased even since the election, but as others have said, it is a very challenging plan. Nobody has ever managed to achieve £20 billion or £22 billion of savings and we are already seeing some potential problems with that. I was lobbied yesterday by community pharmacists, who are seeing potential cuts in the sums allocated, which may result in the closure of pharmacies in the future. Of course, reform is needed, but the Government need to look carefully at that area.

I welcome, too, the additional money for child and adolescent mental health services. I chaired a roundtable of mental health providers in my constituency a couple of weeks ago. The additional money, the first part of which is just coming through, was welcomed and should plug some of the gaps in that service, although there remains an awful lot to do, as the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam so eloquently pointed out.

I shall focus on two areas—integration and financing. At present the two main acute hospitals serving my constituents, the Royal Stoke and the County hospital in Stafford, are full. As other Members have pointed out, this is at a time when we have not had a major flu epidemic or abnormal winter pressures. We have something like 170 beds at the Royal Stoke with patients who should really be out of hospital but cannot leave, and in the County hospital we have around 30 beds. Of course, that means it becomes more difficult for their A&E departments to meet their targets.

I must say that the people in those departments are doing a great job. I urge Members to watch the little online video recorded in the Royal Stoke by The Guardian and see just how hard they are working in a hospital that this time last year was going through a very difficult time. It shows exactly what we are talking about, with people working long shifts and putting patients first, as they are in the County hospital and, indeed, in hospitals up and down the country.

We clearly have a problem in getting people out of hospital. As Members have said, that was raised 10 years ago, but we have still not fixed it. That is a real reason for integration. It is something the commission needs to look at, not to reinvent the wheel, but to look at where things are working and say, “Let’s get this right across the country.”

I think that the supported housing review, which was discussed in yesterday’s Opposition day debate, is critical. If a lot of the funding for supported housing goes as a result of changes to housing benefit, we will see a greater problem, with more pressure on A&E departments and in-patient services.

I very much endorse what Members have said about community matrons and district nurses, who perform a vital role. Only this week my wife was talking about the work of the district nurses in Stoke-on-Trent and how valuable and appreciated it is. However, not many of them are available at any one time, particularly over the weekend, which means a lot of juggling to see when they can go out to see her patients. Members have talked a lot about integration, and they have far greater knowledge than I have. I will just make the point that the commission needs to look at best practice.

I want to spend some time focusing on financing. It is absolutely right that the commission should examine all the options, but I have to say that, having looked at this quite carefully over a number of years, I do not think that we have too many options. I tend to agree with the Barker commission on that. Its report states that there should be a ring-fenced budget for NHS and social care, and it rejects new NHS charges, at least on a broad scale, and private insurance options in favour of public funding.

I have come to that view because I do not think that there is any other way in which the volume of extra resources needed will be raised. At the moment—I stand to be corrected on this—we probably spend between 2% and 3% less of our GDP on health than France or Germany does, which could amount to an additional £35 billion to £45 billion a year that we need to raise and spend.

I have to say that the NHS is a very efficient system. Given that efficiency, just think what would be possible if we came up with that extra 2% to 3% of national income, as our neighbours in France and Germany do. I am not talking about the 18% that the US spends, which in my view is far too much. A huge amount is wasted in the US system, and it does not necessarily achieve the right outcomes, particularly for people who are uninsured—thankfully that is changing as a result of recent reforms—or in lower income groups.

That is where we will run into political problems, which is why it is so important to put it into a cross-party, non-party political commission. In our fiscal system we lump together many different things and call them public expenditure, but what is called public expenditure is, in fact, made up of very different categories of spending. There is spending on state functions, such as defence, policing and education, and then there is spending on individuals, of which the biggest categories are pensions, welfare and, of course, the national health service, yet we are coming to a situation in which we talk about it all as if it is tax. So often in politics tax is bad, yet a lot of this spending is good; the two things do not make sense. In countries such as Germany, the latter forms of expenditure—the more personal ones—are often provided more through income-based social insurance. In the UK we started with that system more than 100 years ago, with national insurance, but over the past 50 years we have allowed national insurance to become less relevant, except in relation to eligibility for the state pension and certain benefits.