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The National Health Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:01 pm on 23rd October 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Independent, Wimbledon 4:01 pm, 23rd October 2019

It is an honour, a pleasure and a surprise to be called in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. I confess that I had forgotten I put in for it, but I am none the less delighted to speak and to follow Helen Goodman. She knows how much I oppose no deal, but I say gently to her that I spent more hours of my life than I care to remember between December last year and July ensuring that in the event of a no-deal Brexit the NHS would have the supplies it needs, and I am confident that my successor as the Minister for Health, my hon. Friend Edward Argar, will be able to reassure her from the Dispatch Box that the NHS is putting in place all the preparations she wants.

For me, the most important line in the Queen’s Speech was that new laws would be introduced to implement the NHS long-term plan. I say that because I think the long-term plan is likely to be one of those documents that define healthcare and the way we deliver it for many years to come. It appears that real thinking has been put into creating a joined-up framework, but as the Chair of the Health Committee, Dr Wollaston, will recognise, it is not just a central diktat document. It is a document that was formulated working upwards with NHS staff and that makes them integral to the whole system.

The Opposition spokesman, Jonathan Ashworth, was right to identify that there are staffing problems, but he was wrong not to accept the absolute priority the long-term plan attaches to staffing and the work that is being done. The Health Secretary spoke about the number of extra GPs being recruited into training this year; what he did not say was that while recruitment is a problem, retention is even more fundamental. A number of the training places are in new medical schools in areas that are likely to retain the new doctors because they trained in the area. Equally, in nursing, which everyone rightly talks about, retention is as important as recruitment, and efforts are being made through new routes back into nursing. When I visited Great Ormond Street Hospital, I was struck by the introduction of 10 to 2 shifts, enabling mothers who want to return to nursing to continue to practise on child-friendly shifts. It is true that flexible rostering is coming on and we should avail ourselves of such opportunities, because if we cure our retention problem, we halve our recruitment problem.

I am pleased to see the work being done on the NHS infrastructure plan. Inevitably, everybody has said that the 40 hospitals are not there, but anyone who has been in business or in any form of charity work that requires forward planning knows that 40 hospitals or 40 projects are not brought on just like that. They need business plans. We can commit to six hospitals so quickly because the process has been worked through and they are ready to go. It is encouraging that 21 plans are in procedure and are starting now. It is much more likely that those hospitals will come forward more quickly.

It would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to bring forward one constituency case, which I think highlights a problem that a number of hon. Members have already spoken about today: the use of medical cannabis by people with severe epilepsy. The case concerns my constituent Kayleigh Morris, whose Aunt Dee spends an extraordinary amount of her time and her life ensuring that her niece is able to live. She appreciates that the Health Secretary saw them seven months ago. What she would like, however, is for the Health Secretary to—if I can put it colloquially—put a rocket up the health system. I have spent the past three months writing letters to the chief executive of the hospital just to get him to respond to my constituent on this matter. If the Health Secretary could put that proverbial rocket through the system, it would be greatly appreciated.

I see that I have 18 seconds left, which is probably a relief to the House. I will just say that I am particularly pleased to see that the Government are, along with the long-term plan, going to bring forward reforms to mental health.