NHS and Social Care Commission

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:19 pm on 28th January 2016.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt The Minister of State, Department of Health 4:19 pm, 28th January 2016

I think that engagement with all involved is essential. When I am away from Westminster, engaging with patients, the public and staff is fundamental to the visits that I make to the services for which I have responsibility.

There is nothing to stop any of the work that the right hon. Member for North Norfolk is suggesting from starting. It is essential that everybody is fully involved. I do not think that the Government or the Opposition will make any of their decisions on the NHS or its expenditure by excluding anyone.

Valerie Vaz, in a turbo-charged contribution, also spoke of the importance of getting integration right. She reminded us that Dick Crossman started it all off. I am sure that we have all had election manifestos that have spoken of an integrated transport system and integrating health and social care. Now we just have to make sure it happens. She made the point that no amount of talk or number of recommendations relieves someone of the burden of doing it. At the end of the day, it is doing it that counts. That is the role of the Government, while being appropriately challenged by all others.

I am delighted that my hon. Friend Helen Whately spoke of the importance of the workforce, particularly the workforce in social care, who have a very difficult time of it. They have great skills and need to be on a career pathway where they can acquire more. They also need to be valued. Again, my hon. Friend believed that the current mechanisms were better than others for dealing with these difficult problems.

To conclude, I will give my sense of the debate. I found it slightly hard to distinguish what the foundations of the debate were—whether it was about the quantum of funding or how the funding was gathered into the health budget in the first place. The commission is expected to cover a breadth of issues, but I am not certain that it can bear the weight. Decisions need to be made, no matter how the information comes forward.

We do not need a commission to deliver the process or to take the heat out of the debate. We have to be careful about how we speak about these subjects. By and large, what happens upstairs gives the public a good sense of how we deal with witnesses who come in from outside, members of the public and each other. We can do much more of that without the need for a commission. We must remember to handle things carefully.

I am not sure that structural change could be handled through a commission. That is very much a local decision. This is not all about funding; it is about how the funding is used. We have to ensure that we do not get into the trap of measuring everything by what we put in, rather than by output. One of the most telling points was when the right hon. Member for North Norfolk said that in the Commonwealth Fund analysis that gave the NHS such a good rating, the one thing it dropped down on was outcomes—treating people and whether people stayed alive. To most people, that is probably the most important outcome of all. We have to make sure that, for all the other good things that we are doing, such as the work the Secretary of State is doing on transparency and all the efforts we are making to give people more information, we recognise the importance of that.