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The National Health Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:12 pm on 23rd October 2019.

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Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Conservative, Ludlow 4:12 pm, 23rd October 2019

It is a particular honour to follow Ann Clwyd and to hear of her recent experience, which highlights her continued diligence in serving her constituents after 35 years in this House. I am also pleased to follow my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond, who has just left his place. He was one of the four successors that there have been to my post in the Department of Health and Social Care since I left it less than two years ago. As a result, he has covered many issues that I want to focus on today, which offsets the fact that I have only four minutes left for my remarks.

I am particularly pleased that this Queen’s Speech has had a significant focus on health. It has been a while since the first Conservative Government came in and enacted the Health and Social Care Act 2012. There is legislative capacity in the Queen’s Speech and in the period that will hopefully follow to allow the Department to put through its legislation. The measures on social care are so vital for many of us. With many of our adult and children’s social care providers running into a brick wall on funding, it is becoming increasingly urgent that we find solutions to the social care issue. It is particularly satisfying to see that mental health has its rightful place in the Queen’s Speech. Implementing the long-term plan is the key plank of the legislation, and the legislative capacity gives the Department the opportunity to ensure that it can fulfil the promise of the long-term plan with any statutory obstacles removed through legislation, as necessary.

I will touch on two specific measures, beginning with the health service safety investigations body, which my hon. Friend Sir Bernard Jenkin was so instrumental in supporting through the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee. This is a world-first body introducing a statutory underpinning to health safety and providing a safe space in legislation so that people can have confidence that its investigations will remain confidential in appropriate circumstances. I very much welcome that, having started that process myself.

Secondly, the medicines and medical devices Bill will provide an opportunity for innovation to come to the fore. The Secretary of State has a particular enthusiasm for technology and introducing a modern, 21st-century digital era into the NHS, which is long overdue. I anticipate that the Bill will provide significant capacity to beef up the accelerated access collaborative to allow productivity through technology to be adopted across the NHS. We have had some excellent work from Professor Eric Topol highlighting how the introduction of artificial intelligence, particularly in diagnostics, can greatly increase the productivity of the NHS workforce, on whom the demands being placed by our demographics are increasing all the time.

On workforce, I am very proud that in the time I was at the Department we increased the percentage of doctors and nurses in training by 25%, and I was delighted to hear the Secretary of State refer to the record number of GPs in training, but we have to sort out the pensions issue, which has been affecting many senior clinicians in general practice and in our hospitals. The measures announced earlier this year are only a stopgap. I was in a GP surgery last week. One of the practitioners works half time, another three quarters time; they cannot afford to work full time because of the tax implications for their pensions.

On nurses, the continuous professional development offer of an extra £1,000 per nurse is vital. When I was going round hospitals, the matrons in every ward I went to said that this problem was making it more difficult for staff to progress through the career structure, so that offer is very welcome.

I will make one final point on workforce. Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital is not one of the trusts receiving the extra and very welcome capital investment, but that is because it got it 18 months ago, and I am delighted that decision has gone through. This week, it hired 179 nurses from India to fill vacancies. When we allocate capital, we need to think about encouraging training opportunities for clinicians where the capital is being deployed.