Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:31 pm on 13th September 2017.

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Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health 1:31 pm, 13th September 2017

I thank the shadow Health Secretary for introducing this debate. NHS staff are doing a superb job in tough circumstances, and it is right for this House to debate whether we are giving them an appropriate level of support.

I start by addressing the areas on which we agree with the Opposition. First, it is incredibly important to have motivated staff, simply because motivated staff give better care to patients. It is critical for patient safety that we have enough staff in our NHS and social care system, so recruitment and retention matter. It is also true that, right now, it is very tough on the frontline for NHS staff as they cope with the pressures of an ageing population, of financial constraints that have not been as tough in many years, and of changing consumer expectations of what the NHS should deliver. We agree on all that, but there are some fundamental disagreements that I also need to surface.

The shadow Health Secretary talks about the former 1% cap and the pay restraint that we have indeed had for the last seven years, which his party frequently characterises as austerity—some ideological mission by the Conservatives to reduce the size of the state. [Interruption.] I can see some nods, but it is absolute nonsense.

I remind Labour Members that in 2010 we inherited the worst financial crisis in our history and the worst recession since the great depression. The shadow Health Secretary was an adviser to Gordon Brown in 2010—he does not talk about that very much—and he knows just how serious the crisis was. He uses the phrase “Tory economics,” but the 2010 Labour manifesto, which he may well have had a hand in drafting, wanted to cut the NHS budget. The Health Secretary at the time, Andy Burnham, said that it would be “irresponsible” not to cut the NHS budget.

In 2015, five years on from that terrible crisis, the Labour party wanted to put £5.5 billion less into the NHS than the Conservative party did. In short, the austerity that the shadow Health Secretary criticises today is austerity that Labour wanted to go much further with when it comes to the NHS. Labour needs to recognise that if we had followed its advice we would not even have been able to honour a 1% pay rise, we would not have been able to recruit 12,000 more nurses for our wards, we would not have record numbers of doctors and we would not have record funding for the NHS.