I join other Members in congratulating Stephen Morgan on his maiden speech. I am sure that he will make many fine contributions to this House, and I look forward to debating with him in the months to come.
I think we agree across the House that doctors, nurses and all NHS staff are fundamental to the foundation of the NHS, which the Secretary of State referred to as a world-class health system. It is, on a number of measures, such a system. Since 2010, the Government have been determined, despite the pressures we have faced, to maintain and increase funding for the NHS. We made a commitment in 2010—we could have made a different choice, given all the difficult choices we had to make—to continue funding our NHS, and we pledged in the 2015 election campaign to increase NHS funding further.
I know the vital work that frontline staff do in the hospitals that serve my constituency, such as Russells Hall hospital, Sandwell general hospital and Rowley Regis hospital, where the staff work extraordinary hours and do exceptional work for my constituents. Of course, pay is an important part of incentivising a high-performance workforce, and I welcome the Treasury’s announcement on public sector pay, which indicates that we will look at giving Departments more flexibility. I think that that is important.
I want to highlight one aspect of the workforce challenge that the NHS faces. I have campaigned on mental health for the last decade or more. Over the summer, Government announced their ambition to increase the workforce for mental health by 20,000 by 2020. There are particular challenges around the recruitment and retention of those who work in mental health in the NHS. If the Government are to have any chance of delivering on their aspirations and objectives as outlined in the five year forward view, which they have committed to implementing, they have to get the workforce challenge right. Not enough people want to go into psychiatry or mental health nursing, and we need to find ways of incentivising people to fill those positions. The stretch ambition to get 20,000 additional people working in mental health is a considerable challenge.
I welcome the announcement about flexibility, because I think it will open up opportunities to address the particular skill challenge that we face in mental health. We must try to find innovative ways to incentivise people to come into the NHS to work in mental health, whether it is in psychiatry or psychological therapies, to fill that skills gap. Unless we address those issues, there is no way that we will be able to build the kind of mental health services that we desperately need in our NHS. We have made a lot of progress, but this particular workforce challenge lends itself to innovative thinking about pay and incentives.
I hope that the flexibility that the Government have announced will allow the Department of Health to look at its workforce plan and think in even more detail about how it might develop the incentives necessary to create the mental health workforce that we desperately need. That might mean looking at pay and incentive structures as well as training and other ways of getting people into the profession. I very much welcome the Government’s decision to allow Departments more flexibility on public sector pay. It has been a long road, and the decisions that we had to make at the beginning of 2010 about public spending have meant sacrifices for public sector workers. Everybody agrees that we have particular challenges in the NHS workforce, and we need to find innovative and flexible ways to deliver that workforce, particularly in mental health.