Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:54 pm on 13th September 2017.

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Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 1:54 pm, 13th September 2017

I welcome the hon. Lady’s intervention. I definitely welcome other routes into nursing. Of course when I was a wee doctor, we had two routes: the enrolled nurse and the degree nurse. That disappeared with Nursing 2000, but we are now coming back to that discussion. I have no problem with that, but we will need degree nurses. We have nurses in very advanced practitioner roles, which means that they require a more academic design—a more balanced and weighing-up-the-evidence kind of approach. It is important that we do not make it that the only route most people can afford to follow is the healthcare assistant route. I welcome it, but I certainly would not like to see people limited by it. The Secretary of State tells us that this is not an issue, because we still have more applicants than places—as yet, according to the universities, the number of places has not expanded by very much—but what we do not know is the talent that exists among that 23%. It may be fine numerically, but if we are excluding people who might have been absolute leaders in the nursing profession and in the NHS then we are the poorer for it.

We know that 40,000 vacancies need filling, and the pay cap is definitely making it harder to fill them. Brexit is not exactly helping either. Everyone here knows that my other half is a German GP in our NHS who, 15 months on, still has no idea what our rights and opportunities will be. The pay cap is definitely contributing to that problem and it is time for it to go, but it must be funded, or else it will mean a cut in services, which will hurt not just patients, but staff, who will feel that they are damaging the very service in which they work, and they will feel guilty about that. As that service is cut and contracts, their working day and working life will get worse.

The Government often talk as if spending on public service staff is money wasted. It is as if we cannot afford that money because we need to get the debt down, but in actual fact money that is put out by public sector workers is irrigating the economy—the money is spent. Some of it comes back in income tax—20% of everything all of us spend comes back. Money disappears when it is pushed at the top. It goes into banks and offshore, and is therefore outside our economy. Money that is in our economy encouraging commerce and business is helping us to recover.

After the tragedies of this summer—from the terrorist attacks to Grenfell—people right across this Chamber have quite rightly praised NHS staff and emergency workers. Now is the time for us to show not just what we think of them, but how we value them.