We have had an important debate, in which it is fair to say that both sides of the House have recognised the importance and hard work of workers across the NHS. I saw this hard work in action on the Becket ward of Worthing Hospital a few weeks ago, where deputy sister, Sue Grace, and her team were in an improvement huddle, where every day they look at how they can make life better for their patients. That goes on right across our NHS. Because of the hard work of NHS workers across the country, there have been 1 million more operations and cancer clear-up rates have improved.
The Health Secretary recognised in his opening comments that there are challenges to address. We need to ensure that we retain those hard-working staff, that we can recruit the next generation into the service and, as my hon. Friend Dr Wollaston pointed out, that we are able to recruit people in specialisms. We need to look at making jobs more flexible so that people have a good work-life balance and we need to look at banding, as my hon. Friend Maria Caulfield pointed out. That is why the Government announced yesterday that we are moving from a blanket approach of having a 1% public sector pay cap to greater flexibility in each workforce across the public sector.
Just to be clear—because there seems to be some confusion on the part of Opposition Members—the prison officers and police settlements were for 2017-18. Our new policy is for 2018-19. There is already a clear process in place for that. The Health Secretary will submit evidence to the independent pay review body. It will look at issues such as recruitment, retention and affordability, and will then come back with a recommendation. That is the way we should do it; we should look at the evidence. Rather than shouting out numbers in the debate, we need to look at the circumstances. We need to ensure that pay is fair for people in the NHS, but that it is also fair for the taxpayers who fund those services.
OECD figures show that we spend 9.8% of our GDP on health and social care. That is above the European Union average of 8.6%. We are able to do that because we have run a strong economy. Today we announced record levels of employment. We have not heard any concrete proposals from Labour Members this afternoon. We have just heard reckless pledges that they will spend more money without looking at how they are spending it. As my hon. Friends the Members for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) and for Copeland (Trudy Harrison) pointed out, the Conservatives do not just spend more money. We actually make sure that the money goes to the frontline, that it helps and empowers people there to do their jobs, and that it makes those jobs more fulfilling.
It is not just about spending more money; it is also about the way we spend it. If we followed the Labour party’s advice, we would end up crashing our economy in exactly the same way the Greeks did with their economy. What was the result of that? They ended up cutting health service spending by 36%.
We have recognised that there are challenges in the national health service and in other parts of our public sector, and this policy applies right across the public sector. We have reflected on that situation, and we have moved to a more flexible policy that looks at issues of recruitment and retention.
However, it is important, as my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes pointed out in an excellent speech, that we also look at fairness for the people who pay for our public services. It is only by having a strong economy and by being disciplined in our approach to debt that we can get the great public services that we all want.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
notes that in 2017-18 NHS pay rises have been capped at one per cent and that this represents another below-inflation pay settlement;
further notes that applications for nursing degrees have fallen 23 per cent this year;
notes that the number of nurses and midwives joining the Nursing and Midwifery Council register has been in decline since March 2016 and that in 2016-17 45 per cent more UK registrants left the register than joined it;
and calls on the Government to end the public sector pay cap in the NHS and give NHS workers a fair pay rise.