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I thank the Secretary of State for advance copy of his statement.
Today’s announcement is the clearest admission that eight years of cuts, of the tightest financial squeeze in its history and of privatisation have pushed the NHS to the brink. Is not the announcement of new potential legislation the clearest admission that the Health and Social Care Act 2012 has been a wasteful mess and should never have been introduced in the first place?
With waiting lists at 4 million, with winters in our NHS so severe that they were branded a “humanitarian crisis” and with 26,000 cancer patients waiting more than 60 days for treatment, Tory MPs should not be boasting today but should be apologising for what they have done to the NHS.
We have long called for a sustainable funding plan for the NHS, and I note that the Secretary of State did not use the words “Brexit dividend.” Is that because he knows—I say this for the benefit of his own Back Benchers—there is no such thing as a Brexit dividend? That is why the Institute for Fiscal Studies said with respect to the Brexit dividend that
“over the period, there is literally zero available”.
If the Secretary of State disagrees with the IFS, will he confirm the Government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts that there is no Brexit dividend initially for the public finances? Is it not the truth that this package will be paid for by extra borrowing and higher taxation? The Prime Minister should level with the British public and not take them for fools.
The Secretary of State is graceful enough to concede that higher taxation is on the way, but do not the British public deserve to know how much extra tax they will be paying? Will VAT go up under the Tories? Will the basic rate of income tax go up under the Tories? It is not good enough for him to say that these are matters for the Chancellor, because they are matters for the Cabinet of which he is a member.
Given that the Secretary of State is putting up tax and borrowing, and of course every £1 should be spent wisely, can he guarantee that not a further penny piece will be siphoned off into poor-quality, poor-value privatisation? Three years ago, he told us that the NHS would find £22 billion-worth of efficiency savings. How much of those efficiency savings came to fruition?
How much will the NHS be spending on agency workers and locums in the coming years? The NHS already spends £3 billion a year. Staffing gaps have led to clinical negligence claims of £1.7 billion a year, twice the rate of 2010. How much of this new money will go to further claims? The NHS spends £389 million a year on consultancy costs. Will consultancy costs increase, or will the Secretary of State cap them? With hospital trusts in deficit by £1 billion, can he guarantee that trusts will break even next year?
Is it not the truth, as expert after expert has said, that this settlement is not good enough to deliver the needed improvements in care? Indeed that is why the Prime Minister could not even confirm, when asked a basic question today, whether this funding will deliver the NHS’s constitutional standards on treatment waits, A&E waits and cancer waits.
Can the Secretary of State tell us whether, this time next year, the waiting list for NHS treatment will be higher or lower than the 4 million it is today? This time next year, will there be more or fewer patients waiting more than 60 days for cancer treatment? This time next year, will there be more than 2.5 million people waiting beyond four hours in accident and emergency or fewer? If he cannot give us basic answers to these fundamental performance target questions, that exposes the inadequacy of this settlement.
Why does the Secretary of State not tell us what was left out of this settlement? We have a childhood obesity crisis; we have seen cuts to sexual health services and to addiction services; and health visitor numbers are falling. Yet there is no new money for public health in this announcement—instead we are told to wait until next year. We have a £5 billion repair bill facing the NHS and outdated equipment, yet there is no new money for capital in this settlement—instead we are told to wait until next year.
On social care, we have had £7 billion in cuts and we have had 400,000 people losing care support. The social care Green Paper is delayed again. Is it not a total abdication of responsibility to have left social care out of this settlement? This is not a credible long-term funding plan for our NHS; it is a standstill settlement for the NHS. The reality is that under this plan the NHS will remain understaffed, under-equipped and underfunded—it needs to be under new management.