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The National Health Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:50 pm on 23rd October 2019.

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Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 6:50 pm, 23rd October 2019

It is a privilege to wind up this important debate on behalf of the Government, especially in the light of the many excellent and measured contributions by Members on both sides of the House. It is also a pleasure to respond to a debate in which both the shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the shadow Secretary of State for International Trade have spoken. I have great regard for them both, although unlike the shadow Secretary of State for International Trade, I intend to focus rather more on health and the NHS, given that they are what the debate is about.

That the debate has been so well attended reflects the importance of the NHS and the pride in it felt by all Members and our constituents, by Government and Opposition alike. The NHS rightly occupies a special place for us all, and the debate gives me an opportunity, standing at the Dispatch Box, to pay tribute to all who work in our NHS. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in a marathon speech opening the debate, set out the five major reforms that place health and social care at the heart of the Queen’s Speech: our long-term plan, the medicines and medical devices Bill, the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill, adult social care reform and the Mental Health Act reform. Those measures come on top of record investment by this Government in our NHS, with £33.9 billion extra through the long-term plan; 40 new hospitals being built, with six ready to go now, and more doctors—a real commitment to ensuring our NHS is fit for the future.

Before I deal with the Opposition amendment, I will touch on as many of the speeches made by right hon. and hon. Members as possible. I will start with the incredibly moving, powerful and brave speeches made by my right hon. Friend James Brokenshire, my hon. Friend Mike Wood, Mary Glindon and Ann Clwyd. All, rightly, paid tribute to the NHS and set out their personal debt to the service, and I think it is right that on behalf of the House and the Government I echo that tribute, because it is thanks to the amazing NHS that those four wonderful colleagues are still with us. We should be extremely grateful for that.

I also highlight the contributions by my right hon. Friend Mr Dunne and my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond, both distinguished predecessors of mine in this role. If I manage to stay for another week, I will have exceeded the tenure of my immediate predecessor, but I have a long way to go before serving as long as my right hon. and hon. Friends. I pay tribute to them for their commitment to the NHS, for all they did for it as Ministers, and for the central role they played in putting in place the building blocks for the long-term plan and the investment we have been able to announce today.

Dr Wollaston, in a typically measured, well informed and reasonable speech, highlighted the importance of listening to partnership and engagement. In the context of the long-term plan, she is absolutely right to highlight that we are listening to the NHS, and the NHS has, in turn, listened to the public and to her Committee, as we all do. I have yet to be summoned to appear before the Health and Social Care Committee, but I suspect it is only a matter of time.

My hon. Friend Andrew Selous made an important speech in which he highlighted the importance of workforce, medical schools and new places. I am very pleased that the Government have set up five new medical schools. I had the privilege of visiting the new medical school in Lincoln on its first day for students. Our colleague, the former hon. Member for Lincoln, Karl McCartney, campaigned passionately for it to be set up. It was a privilege to meet those students on their first day.

Tim Farron touched on radiotherapy, in which I know he takes a particular interest. Grahame Morris has already raised this issue privately with me. I am very happy to meet both of them to discuss it further if that is helpful.

My hon. Friend Neil O’Brien, my constituency neighbour, spoke positively and passionately about the impact the investment we are putting into our local hospital trust in Leicester will have on our constituents. I am sure that the constituents of the shadow Secretary of State will be just as pleased as ours. I hope he might evince a certain degree of positivity about that.

I thank Dr Cameron for her tone, which again emphasised the need for us to be measured in our language in this debate. There will always be political passions and differences, but it is right that we seek to be measured. She mentioned her work on thalidomide. I believe my hon. Friend Simon Hoare has also been very much involved in this issue. Again, with the appropriate Minister I am very happy to meet her to discuss that.

We heard powerful speeches from many colleagues on both sides of the House advocating for their constituents, which is as it should be: my hon. Friend Lucy Allan, my right hon. Friend Sir Mike Penning, my hon. Friend Mark Pritchard and Mike Hill. Alex Norris highlighted the importance of social care, as did so many other Members. It is absolutely right that we focus on that.

Turning to the shadow Minister and the Opposition amendment, I say once again to this House, because repetition is never a sin in this place, that, as my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State have set out clearly, our NHS is not for sale. Our NHS has never been for sale and our NHS will never be for sale. No trade agreement will ever change that: our NHS is not on the table in any trade talks.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out, those on the Opposition Front Bench knowingly push scaremongering nonsense. They push it because they do not want to talk about Brexit, given their non-policy in this area, which is characterised by dither, delay and dodge. Given that position, I do not blame them for not wanting to talk about it, but they should know better than to seek to scare vulnerable people with talk of things that are not going to happen.

The Opposition may speak about their commitment to the NHS, but the difference is that those of us in the Government actually deliver on our commitment, with the longest and largest cash settlement in the history of the NHS, the biggest and boldest hospital-building programme in a generation, new treatments and new technologies to deliver world-class and cutting-edge care, and by addressing the injustices in social care and the inequalities in mental health. It is clear that the Conservatives are the real party of the NHS. We have protected and prioritised the NHS for each of the 44 years of its 71-year history when we have been in government. Under this Government and this Prime Minister, we will continue to do so, helping our doctors and nurses do their jobs and putting the NHS on a secure and stable footing for the future—a publicly funded NHS, free at the point of use, accessible according to need, not ability to pay—so that our NHS can continue to be—