NHS and Social Care Commission

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:21 pm on 28th January 2016.

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Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Conservative, Faversham and Mid Kent 3:21 pm, 28th January 2016

The hon. Gentleman might want to hear what else I have to say before he agrees entirely with what I am saying, but we share the view that scaremongering is unhelpful.

In a health system that spends £135 billion of taxpayers’ money every year, that employs 1.3 million staff and that has over 60 million users in the British population, there is no way in which this issue cannot be political, as the hon. Member for Leicester West said. It just is political. It is no bad thing that it is political, because it means that there is a debate about it and, out of debate, we get better answers. It also means that the public are given a choice.

One concern I have about the proposed commission is that there appears not to be a consensus on what it should be about among those who support it. I have heard this afternoon that it should be about the future funding settlement for health and social care, but also that it should be about public health, the structure and configuration of the NHS—the estate solutions—the future role of mental health in the health service, prevention, and the integration of health and social care. To me, that is a problem. If the commission is to be effective and short—a period of one year is proposed—and if it is to lead to something concrete, it cannot possibly be that wide-ranging. I worry that those involved in the commission will spend a huge amount of time working out, and disagreeing among themselves about, what the commission is looking into. That process would be an enormous waste of time, money and attention—there is a limited amount of attention, brain power and resources to put into such a discussion about the future of health and social care, which is an opportunity cost.

To the extent that the commission might focus on future funding for the long term of health and social care, that is important and should be given a huge amount of attention. We need to look further out, but if anything is political, it is that question. Questions such as how much as a society we should spend on health and social care, what proportion of GDP or what amount per person we should spend, and how it should be funded—should it be taxes, charges or co-payments—are important, but they are very political. They are questions of value. It would be incredibly difficult to take the politics out of them.

In fact, it would be wrong to come to a consensus. We need a debate and we need to disagree. We need to give the public a choice. Just as the current funding settlement through to 2020—the £8 billion or £10 billion in this Parliament—was put to the public last year at the general election as part of an overall package of Government spending, taxation, debt and deficit proposals, future funding for the health and social care system should be put to the public at a future election. It is not something that should be agreed by insiders in a commission between now and the next election—the suggestion is that it should move quickly. That is a worrying proposal if I have understood it right. The public should decide that and it should be debated in the run-up to an election.