Health and Social Care

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:44 pm on 16th January 2020.

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Mental Health and Social Care) 4:44 pm, 16th January 2020

Today’s debate has shown how important the NHS and social care are to Members on both sides of the House, and has been wide-ranging. It has been great to listen to contributions from, I think, 32 Back Benchers, but, because we are short of time, I will focus on paying a special tribute to the 12 who spoke for the first time.

I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Luton North (Sarah Owen), for Ealing North (James Murray), for Enfield North (Feryal Clark) and for Vauxhall (Florence Eshalomi), as well as the hon. Members for Sevenoaks (Laura Trott), for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), for Watford (Dean Russell), for East Dunbartonshire (Amy Callaghan), for Peterborough (Paul Bristow), for Twickenham (Munira Wilson), for North West Norfolk (James Wild) and for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn). As Damian Green said earlier, the standard of maiden speeches we have been hearing is breathtakingly high. They all made excellent speeches, and reminded us of the qualities and commitment to public service of their predecessors. They also highlighted their own commitment to health and social care, and we heard of much personal experience of the wonderful job being done by our staff in the NHS and social care. Earlier, my hon. Friend Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow Health and Social Care Secretary, mentioned the loss of our colleagues Paula Sherriff and Julie Cooper, whom we miss. It was also good to hear kind words about our former Labour colleagues Helen Goodman, Lisa Forbes and Stephen Pound, whom we also miss.

Last month’s performance figures show the NHS struggling to cope with demand, unable to provide beds for patients and leaving them languishing on trolleys in A&E departments. More than 1,400 patients were left stranded in hospital each day last November. They were patients who were well enough to leave but unable to do so because of a lack of social care. The Government’s failure to address the crisis in social care is having a profound impact on the lives of people who need care, and on our struggling NHS. The Health Foundation said last week:

“No plan for the NHS will work while social care remains the Cinderella service. Long overdue action on social care is needed to…reduce the pressures on the NHS.”

Proposing a solution to the crisis in care should be the Government’s top priority, as we have heard in many of the speeches this afternoon. However, despite the Prime Minister’s earlier pledge to

“fix the crisis in social care once and for all, and with a clear plan we have prepared”,

he now says only that he will do something “in this Parliament”. After 10 years of inaction, is that the best the Prime Minister can say, alongside a vague offer of cross-party talks?

There are four key areas where action is needed to ensure that people have access to a functioning social care service that meets their needs. Labour has plans for a national care service, and we have made it clear how we would have addressed these four key areas. The first is funding. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services tells us that, since 2010, £7.7 billion has been cut from budgets for adult social care. Councils just do not have the funding required to deliver the care that people need. The second area is access to publicly funded care. Age UK estimates that 1.5 million older people are going without the social care and support they need every day, and that number is increasing year after year while the Government fail to act.

The third area is capping care costs. Too many people are faced with catastrophic costs for their care. In 2014, the Government proposed to introduce a cap to limit the amount people must pay for their care, but they dropped that in 2017. In the past three years, 9,000 people who have been paying for their own care have completely depleted their savings or assets and approached their local authority for help with their care. The people who face the highest costs are those with dementia. So just how will the Government deliver on their promise that no one will be forced to sell their home to pay for care? Will they introduce a cap on care costs, as Labour would do?

The final area is the care workforce. Skills for Care tells us that there are 122,000 vacant care jobs. Care staff do not get the pay, working conditions or access to training that they deserve, meaning that many of them leave working in care for better-paying jobs in retail or hospitality. We need to pay care staff the real living wage, provide them with training to develop their careers and end the use of zero-hours contracts.

But it is not just in social care that there is a workforce crisis, as we have just heard from Richard Graham. More than half of mental health professionals have said that they are too busy to provide the level of care they would like to give to their patients. We need more mental health nurses and more psychiatrists to meet demand. Three out of four children with a mental health condition do not get the support they need, and others wait months to be seen. Mental health patients continue to be sent hundreds of miles from home because their local NHS does not have the beds or the staff to provide the care they need. Placements are sometimes in private hospitals that provide inadequate care, and that includes the 2,200 autistic people and people with learning disabilities trapped in inappropriate institutions. Last week, the Prime Minister stated that that number was falling rapidly, but the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who is now sitting here with us, knows that that is not the case.

Eight years after a Conservative Prime Minister promised to end the use of such institutions, the speed of change has been glacial. It took the Health and Social Care Secretary 14 months to resolve the case of Bethany, a young woman with autism held in a series of inappropriate placements, and I remind him—I notice that he is not listening—that there are 2,200 more Bethanys who are too often subject to inappropriate seclusion and restraint, as she was. I was glad to hear Jackie Doyle-Price raise the matter of early deaths at in-patient units and to hear from my hon. Friend Helen Hayes on the need for homes, not hospitals.

From older people left without the care they need to children waiting months to see a mental health professional, we have seen people across the NHS and social care let down by this Government. Disappointingly, the Queen’s Speech did not set out measures to fund the NHS and social care properly. The Government must provide the necessary funding for both services and, importantly, must now put forward plans to fix the crisis in social care once and for all, as has been promised. I urge right hon. and hon. Members to support our amendment to guarantee that both the NHS and social care get the resources they need.