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The National Health Service

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 4:17 pm on 23rd October 2019.

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Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield 4:17 pm, 23rd October 2019

I shall rattle through my speech. I always like to speak in the Queen’s Speech debate. I thought I was going to be robbed this time, but here we are, back with the opportunity.

I am not an expert on health, but I do take a great interest in it, and I have a real interest in management, so I want to say something about the big issue in health. We have a brilliant national health service, and we will all, politically speaking, keep on fighting about it, but I agree with Rory Stewart: at some stage, we will need a royal commission, especially on social care, which will become very expensive as people live longer and as the challenge of providing decent care increases. Furthermore, everyone loves the NHS, but not many people want to pay much more in their taxation. We have to crack that and find a way to fund the NHS properly.

Not only that, but we are getting cleverer all the time. I had the pleasure of a breakfast meeting with Professor Topol, who wrote an innovative paper for the Government about new technology, science and our ability to identify cancers and diagnose earlier. It is all so exciting, and it is going to happen, but it will cost money.

Where our health service is severely deficient is in the quality of management. I spent some time in hospital a couple of years ago. It was not serious, but I had the chance to look at how a hospital was run, and the more I looked, the more I realised that people were not trained properly: doctors do not get trained as managers. We often promote highly skilled medical people to manage our health service, but there is no great institution educating the best administrators and managers in the health service. They have them in some parts of the United States and in other countries, such as France, but we do not have that very high-quality management, and we need to do something about it, because the future needs high-quality people.

May I strike a slightly discordant note at this point? What causes ill health is poverty. We all know about the relationship between the two. We know about it in my constituency, and we know about it everywhere. The fact is that poorer people get ill, and in the last few years austerity has made a lot of people ill. One of the indicators of poverty and ill health that I have noticed is dentistry: in this country, people have to be really, really poor to get any free dentistry. There are very few NHS dentists in my constituency, and we are beginning to see people with awful-looking teeth. You need wealth these days to afford good dentistry. It is a dreadful, dreadful thing that we have pushed dentistry out of the national health service. It is unacceptable to so many people.

On the other hand, I believe that there are very exciting signs. We now need a new model of hospital and a new model of GP surgery, and some of the very best that I have visited are top-class. I think we have learnt that big, big hospitals are no longer the most appropriate for most communities. I am delighted that, after a massive campaign in Huddersfield, we have money for a new A&E service in our old hospital that Harold Wilson opened, but that hospital is out of date. We need a new build, and I can tell the Secretary of State and his ministerial team that we would build a modern, techie, innovative, wonderful hospital on that Harold Wilson site. We already have some money for the A&E, but we could go further and build a wonderful, futurist hospital.

I have done a lot in public health. I organised the seat-belt legislation that banned people from allowing children to be unrestrained in cars. That is one of the things that I have done with the World Health Organisation on an international basis. Every year, 1,780 people are killed on the roads and 10 times that number are seriously injured, and the impact on our hospitals is massive.

We need much better public health education. Where has it gone? People talk about it, but then they turn it off. Local authorities do not have the money to deliver it, and to deal with the problems of obesity, drug addiction—which was mentioned earlier by Dr Wollaston—alcohol addiction and smoking. We could make such changes if there were more relevant public education on those matters, and on matters such as atrial fibrillation: half the people in this country do not know that they have an irregular pulse and are likely to have a stroke.

There are all sorts of things that we can do in our wonderful health service. We just need the time and the resources.