It is a pleasure to follow the maiden speech of Feryal Clark. She has just proved that what she lacks in height she makes up for in her energetic performance, and I have no doubt that she will give the Treasury Bench considerable challenge in the future. So many firsts, but I must congratulate her specifically on being the first refugee Member of Parliament. Does not that show that this country is open and liberal, and welcomes those from all parts of the world, whatever their circumstances, who want to make a contribution and do the right thing? I congratulate the hon. Lady. When I go around schools, I give the message to everyone that if they work hard and take advantage of every opportunity that comes to them, they will get on in life. I now have a new poster girl, and I look forward to hearing more contributions from her.
I was struck by the opening speeches, because it is getting a bit boring that all we hear is, “We’re spending this much money” and “Well, it’s not enough and we would spend more than you.” That will not get the best for our NHS. The truth is that whichever side of the House we sit on, we all want our NHS to be the best it can be. Every Government, of whatever colour, will always make the NHS a priority when it comes to the Budget. Let us not make this debate all about money. When we do, we let those areas in which we are not doing as well as we should off the hook. Getting the best out of the NHS is not just about money; it is about leadership and about behaviour—on the part not just of medical professionals, but of patients too. We need to make sure that we have honest discussions about outcomes, what we need to do better, what we expect from everyone and what patients can legitimately expect from the NHS.
That was very much part of the discussion during the general election. I remember knocking on doors and being asked, “But can we trust you on the NHS?” I would reply, “Conservatives are not aliens from the planet Zog who never get ill. We depend on the NHS as much as anyone else. Why would we ever engage in an act of self-harm by not doing our best for it?” We can be clear that under this Government the NHS will have the investment that the country can best afford, and we will focus on making sure that it delivers the best service possible.
The biggest challenge facing the NHS is not money. The workforce remains a considerable challenge. While we carry on talking about imports and the need for more doctors and nurses, we will continue to feed perverse behaviours and make the labour market in the NHS dysfunctional. Medical staff know that they can earn more as locums, so we have a massive vacancy rate and sky-rocketing salary bills, because of the choices people make. We need to do more to address that issue.
Much healthcare can be delivered by those who are not medical professionals. We need to look at where the NHS can commission services from the voluntary sector and how that could work. It is not just about doctors and nurses: it is about a more holistic approach to wellbeing. I would really welcome it if we could move the political debate away from pounds towards patients.
My right hon. Friend Jeremy Hunt spoke passionately about patient safety. Again, we need to focus on outcomes, and no one did more than he did to meet that challenge. When he became Secretary of State for Health, my constituency had a failing hospital, but thanks to the measures that he put in to improve performance, we now have a hospital that provides the service that we deserve. We should not be shy about challenging poor performance. The excellent doctors, nurses and others delivering medical services know when things are failing and would welcome the challenge to the leadership of their institutions to make them better.
We need to do more to help more vulnerable patients. The public services do very well for the pointy-elbowed middle classes who are able to fight for what they want, but the test of a society is how we treat the most vulnerable. In that regard, I welcome the commitment to reform the Mental Health Act 1983. That Act was a product of an era in which people with mental ill-health were an inconvenience to be managed. I am pleased to say that we have moved on very far from that, and we will introduce reforms that will empower patients to look after their own recovery. We should be grateful to people who have been through detention and shared their distressing experiences to make things better.
I can see that you are rightly looking at the clock, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I want to mention one final challenge in an area where, as a Minister, I was disappointed not to be able to do more—the issue of people with autism and learning disabilities being detained in institutions that, frankly, are doing them harm. I was horrified to see a report on “Sky News” only this week that showed that we have lost 10 people in the past year in those institutions. That is a mark of failure of the state: families entrusted their loved ones to that care and then lost them. I hope very much that we will redouble our efforts to make sure that we are not putting people into inappropriate care settings and are giving them the tools to be able to live outside those institutions.