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The National Health Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:29 pm on 23rd October 2019.

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Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society) 4:29 pm, 23rd October 2019

It is a pleasure to follow Sir Mike Penning. Indeed, there have been many good contributions this afternoon, and I particularly want to point out the contribution of my hon. Friend Dr Whitford.

I would like to repeat the call that I made earlier in the year through the publication of my private Member’s Bill, which asked the UK Government to make provision for an independent evaluation of the effects on the health and social care sector, should the United Kingdom leave the European Union. After working with Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and the relevant Departments in Northern Ireland, I asked the Government, in the Bill, to undertake an evaluation of the sustainability of funding and the position of the workforce, as well as the

“efficiency and effectiveness of the health and social care sectors”.

The concern among those working in the sector about the harm Brexit could do can be measured by the fact that no fewer than 103 third sector organisations, trade unions and charities from every part of the United Kingdom have signed up publicly to support the measures in the Bill. I can assure all those who have supported the Bill up to now that it is my intention to re-present it to the House at the earliest opportunity. I will do that not just to highlight the issues facing the sector but to ensure that, in the months to come, should Brexit happen, no one in UK Government will ever be able to claim that they did not know what was happening or that they were unaware of the effect Brexit would have on the sector or the service user.

Earlier today, the Secretary of State said that his Bill had health and social care at its heart. I am therefore surprised and disappointed that something akin to what I am suggesting was not in the Queen’s Speech, but I can assure the Government that if they were minded to take my Bill on board, they would find that I and, I am sure, Members from across the House and the entire health and social care sector would work with them constructively to get it through the House.

Every one of us knows that there is already a crisis in health and social care, and I believe sincerely that Brexit will simply deepen that crisis. I am not alone, and I know that the Government know this, because the British Medical Association wrote to the then Prime Minister in February to say that

“there is no clearer immediate threat to the nation’s health than the impact of Brexit.”

The Department’s figures show that around three quarters of the medicines that we use in the UK come from, or through, the European Union. There are well-founded and genuine fears about the availability of medicines and, just as importantly, supplies of vital medical equipment, post Brexit. When we add to that the fact that our population is ageing and living with increasingly complex care needs, we find that there is a challenge of care. That challenge is to recruit and keep the workforce needed to look after those with complex medical needs. That situation will undoubtedly worsen as the UK, for reasons known only to itself, is intent on deliberately cutting itself off from that pool of labour, on which we have come to rely so heavily. The House does need to accept my word for this. Professor Ian Cumming of Health Education England said almost two years ago:

“Our biggest risk in the short term, as a result of Brexit, may be in the non-professionally qualified workforce across health and social care”.

It is simply not enough for the Government to say, “Trust us, it will be all right on the night,” because frankly, no one believes that it will be all right on the night. The Government have to show that they have thought of absolutely everything and that they are leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that everything will be all right. I passionately believe that the Government should look favourably on my private Member’s Bill, which 103 organisations have signed up to, and accept that an independent evaluation of the impact of Brexit on the sector is an essential part of restoring and retaining public trust. They would have nothing to lose by taking this on board and accepting that this evaluation will help everyone across these islands when it comes to health and social care.