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Thank you very much indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker. Although I wish the House were completing the necessary Brexit legislation today, it is always a particular pleasure and, indeed, a responsibility to speak on the important subject of the NHS.
I, too, start by thanking every member of NHS staff —including two members of my own family—for what they do. The pressures on them are unrelenting, day in, day out, as all of us in this House must acknowledge. I, too, have a personal reason to be grateful to the NHS: when I was 24, I had a haemopneumothorax in the middle of the night, and the NHS saved my life with an emergency operation carried out in the hospital just over the river. Had it not been for the brilliant care I got some 30 years ago, I would not be here today making this speech.
When I met a number of presidents of royal colleges last month, they told me that they thought we needed to double the number of medical students in training. It is brilliant news that we recently increased their number by a quarter, but the ongoing NHS people review shows that demand is such that a doubling is needed. Another area we need to consider is highlighted by evidence that one to three hours a day of a doctor’s work could be done by non-clinical healthcare staff. Are we using our staff as effectively and appropriately as possible? I am worried by how many medical students we lose: having trained in this country at public expense, too many then go off to Australia, Dubai or elsewhere. Are there perverse incentives in the system? Where is the value for money for the taxpayer?
I hear from staff that sometimes they work with computers that take half an hour to warm up. Yes, we want to get rid of the fax machines and to use the latest technology, but computers that are just turned on and then work are vital for NHS staff under pressure. We need to put more nurses into care homes to curb inappropriate calls on accident and emergency services for residents. We need to make sure there are enough practice nurse courses in rural areas, where there are gaps that lead to poaching. Perhaps we could use the apprenticeship route.
I understand that 27% of medical school students who graduate go into general practice, yet the Royal College of General Practitioners says the percentage needs to be nearer 50% to meet the acute need for doctors in GP practices up and down the country. There is also great variation in the proportion of medical school students who go into general practice. We need to learn how to increase the proportion going into general practice, so acute is the need. I am also concerned that we do not have a proper career path for associate specialists, particularly in surgery, in our hospitals. They are valuable members of staff, but they can drift around the system a bit, and I understand that about 20% of them are leaving. We need to look after them better and plan for them more appropriately.
We need to link our health visitors more closely with the new primary care networks. Health visitors do invaluable work, but their national child measurement data is not transferred to GPs. That leads to problems and to childhood obesity not being tackled. As co-chair of the all-party group on obesity, it is great that we have chapter three of the childhood obesity plan, but I would just remind the Minister that the actions from chapter two, on watershed promotions and point of sale, have not yet been implemented. We need them to be implemented.
We also have a very bizarre issue in that the equality and outcomes framework does not cover children’s weight. In fact, it specifically excludes it—it covers only adults. Come on! We need to vary the contract to make sure it measures children’s weight.
We must do better on foetal alcohol syndrome disorder. It needs to be included in personal, social, health and economic education, and we need a massive public campaign. I am awaiting a letter back from the Secretary of State on that. It is a huge and growing issue that we do not talk about enough in this House.
We live in an obesogenic polluted environment, with unacceptably low levels of active travel. We need to design the healthy environments of the future if we are to relieve the NHS of the pressures that are otherwise going to overwhelm it.
We also need to be aware of the opportunities that NHS staff have to spot incidents of modern slavery. I would like to commend a very alert healthcare worker who last week, on the eve of Anti-Slavery Day, spotted the first victim of modern slavery in her hospital. She was alert to the symptoms and had done the training. NHS staff have a unique opportunity to bear down on modern slavery, and that is so important.
I was staggered to hear from the Scottish National party’s spokesman that the taxpayer is paying out £80 billion for £30 billion-worth of hospitals.