It is a huge pleasure to be the tail-end Charlie of this massive debate on the Queen’s Speech. Every single Member who made a maiden speech today—and they were all outstanding—referred to health in considerable detail, which only goes to show that the Health Secretary already knows that we are all probably more concerned about our hospitals, nurses and GPs than about anything else. In these last few minutes, I want to focus on two issues. I will speak first about the workforce and people, because ultimately our great health service depends on people. Secondly, if I have the time, I will speak very briefly about national insurance.
As the Prime Minister has announced, we will have to recruit a great many more nurses from abroad, but there are issues there. First, the NHS visa is very welcome, but the mooted earnings threshold of £30,000 needs considerable thought, as does the application of the immigration health surcharge to those who are being recruited to work specifically for the NHS. There are also anecdotal issues about family visas. My own suggestion to the Health Secretary is that we could look at whether long-term partnerships between British universities and universities abroad in countries such as the Philippines might generate highly qualified nurses with British nursing qualifications and a good standard of English, ready to be recruited by the NHS and to come and work here. That would help to resolve some of our problems.
Even more important than our foreign nurses, however, is the regrowth of our home-grown nurses. That has been helped by this Government’s creation of nursing associates through a higher apprenticeship scheme. The “but” is that although work in, for example, Gloucestershire Royal Hospital is valid for the purposes of the higher apprenticeship scheme, the Nursing and Midwifery Council does not consider those employees to be eligible for the BSc course. I urge Ministers to think about how the apprenticeship levy could be used creatively to resolve the issue between NHS employers and the NMC. That would provide a clear pathway for healthcare assistants to go all the way to the status of a full nurse, which would help us to realise the goal of 50,000 more nurses.
As for national insurance—which does not insure anyone, let alone the nation—may I encourage the Health Secretary to look again at how we might use it as a ring-fenced source of funds for both health and social care, thus turning it into national health insurance, as a King’s Fund study recommended so strongly earlier this year? I believe that, sooner or later, that could be used for an even more precious cause: helping to fund our future health and social care needs.