Health and Social Care

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:06 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 12:06 pm, 16th January 2020

No, because we do not think it would work—it is not feasible. It is not just the Committee in the Lords that says that—plenty of think-tanks have said it is not feasible as well.

There is broad consensus about the principle of better integration between health and social care. We have long argued for it, and now the Government have come round to arguing for it as well. The Government are proposing an NHS Bill along the lines of what Simon Stevens of NHS England has proposed. We long warned that the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which was introduced by Andrew Lansley and supported by the many of the Ministers sat on the Front Bench, would lead not to the levels of integration and co-ordination of care that was needed but to a fragmented mess.

We also long warned that the compulsory competitive tendering provisions of the Act would lead to more contracts being handed to the private sector. About £9 billion-worth of contracts were handed to the private sector, despite the Secretary of State telling us that there would be no privatisation on his watch. If his Bill gets rid of those compulsory competitive tendering provisions—the so-called section 75 regulations—we would welcome that, but we want competitive tendering to be abolished completely. We do not want clinical services privatised. We do not want clinical services outsourced, such as pathology labs in London, as is happening on the Secretary of State’s watch. We do not want tinkering in the Bill: we want the Health and Social Care Act binned so that we can restore a universal public national health service. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State says that it is universal. He is clearly not aware of the rationing that is going on across the country because of austerity and the privatisation of the NHS that is his policy.

As I indicated in the debate on the Gracious Address before the election, we will work constructively with Ministers to ensure the speedy passage of the health service safety investigations Bill. We will look to strengthen the independence of medical examiners. We call on the Government to do more to roll out medical examiners across NHS trusts. It is disappointing that so far only about 50% of trusts have medical examiners. These are absolutely vital to improving patient safety, because we know that things do go wrong in the delivery of care. We have all been shocked by the revelations at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust. This is the worst ever maternity scandal, with clinical malpractice apparently allowed to continue unchecked since the ’70s. It is absolutely horrific and astonishing. I cannot imagine the grief that the families affected must have had to endure. Will the Secretary of State update the House on what is happening at Shrewsbury and Telford? I appreciate that there was an Adjournment debate on that matter last night, but I think the House would appreciate his offering us some reflections on what is happening at Shrewsbury and Telford. Will he also commit to reinstating the maternity training fund to help to improve maternity safety in our hospitals?

I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree, more broadly, that the delivery of safe care depends on adequate staffing levels as well, so would he support enshrining safe staffing levels in legislation? We are short of 44,000 nurses in England. Community nurses have been cut by 6,000 since 2010. Learning disability nurses are being cut. Mental health nurses have been cut by 10%. Health visitor numbers are down. School nurses have been cut. We have been warning for years about the detrimental impact on safe care of these staffing shortages. That is why, for example, we fought the Government on the abolition of the training bursary. We welcome the fact that Ministers are now bringing back a partial version of the bursary in the form of a maintenance grant, but why not bring back the whole bursary? Without bringing back the whole bursary, many are sceptical that the Secretary of State will deliver on his commitment for 50,000 new nurses, because as quickly as—[Interruption.] Well, he is rather stretching the definition of the word “new”. He gave the impression in the general election campaign that there were going to be 50,000 new nurses, but that soon unravelled, because when he went on the media it turned out that he was including in his figures 19,000 nurses who already work in the national health service. I of course have some sympathy—