The NHS is without a doubt a much-loved and vital service. Established almost 71 years ago, it has been under the stewardship of a Conservative Government for 44 of those years, almost two thirds of its existence. The NHS treats 1.4 million patients every 24 hours. It is literally where we start our life, and a constant support and safety blanket throughout our lives. We simply could not live without it.
That is why the NHS is this Government’s No. 1 spending priority. It is beyond question that this Government have provided the biggest investment ever into our NHS in the post-war period. The scale of the commitment is mind-blowing, at £33.9 billion extra in cash terms by 2023-24. If any other Government had done it they would have been celebrating it and would have spoken of little else. By 2023, we will be spending £157 billion a year—many billions of pounds more than the Opposition proposed.
My mother-in-law, who was a frequent user of the NHS in her later years, used to say to me “You have to be able to cope to be able to care.” I find her words very poignant when talking about our magnificent NHS, because it is vital that we maintain a strong economy to fund the NHS at these record-breaking levels. The biggest danger to the NHS in my view is a dangerous experiment with socialism coupled with a £1,000 billion spending commitment. The NHS will literally be competing with railways and utility companies and goodness knows what else for a pot of money which will be much smaller due to economic failure.
As someone who has worked in the private sector for most of her life, my approach is somewhat different. The private sector has to work well if the NHS is to have the funding that it needs. There are other lessons that are relevant in my experience. It is reasonable to assume that we can increase efficiency. There are many examples across the NHS and many new ways of working: multi-disciplinary teams, primary care networks, integrated services, urgent care centres, Pharmacy First, online GP services, and much more innovation to come as part of the long-term plan.
Nowhere have I see that endeavour for excellence combined with efficiency more than in St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester. I pay tribute to our wonderful staff and the phenomenal record of the whole Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, led brilliantly by Dame Marianne Griffiths. We are extremely proud that our hospital trust is rated outstanding, and was described as effective, caring and well led during its Care Quality Commission evaluation. It is not surprising that the trust has won awards. Over the past four years it has won best organisation in the health service, best education and training in patient safety, and the top hospital award. Marianne has won best chief executive two years running. We need that excellence in all our hospitals across the country.
Before I was elected to Parliament I was lucky to serve on the hospital trust board of governors, where I learned a great deal. Most importantly, I saw its can-do attitude and search for continuous improvement combined with sensible and inclusive leadership that ensured that it delivered great results. For those who doubt that the NHS can make efficiency savings year on year while maintaining top-quality services, Western Sussex Hospitals has managed a surplus every year but one since its creation in 2009, wiping out £20.5 million-worth of legacy debts.
West Sussex County Council has stepped up to the public health challenge, and only last month launched a new joint health and wellbeing strategy, “Start well, Live well, Age well”. Prevention through education is a key component of our health and wellbeing. In West Sussex, we have introduced a winter falls prevention programme, a tobacco control strategy and alcohol reduction initiatives, as well as programmes to counter loneliness, suicide and self-harm. Listening to Opposition speakers in this debate, people could believe that the system is broken. It is not, and that is certainly not the story in my constituency, where I am lucky to work with great people: doctors, nurses, porters and all the other NHS staff.
None of this is to the credit of politicians, who often use the NHS as a political football, spreading nonsense and rumours with threats of privatisation. It is down to the committed people in the NHS doing a great job with strong leadership on the ground. That is now underpinned by the right funding model for the future—the biggest cash injection in NHS history, which is something that we should all celebrate.