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NHS Funding Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:37 pm on 27th January 2020.

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Photo of Jon Ashworth Jon Ashworth Shadow Secretary of State for Health 5:37 pm, 27th January 2020

It is unacceptable, and sadly it is happening constantly in the English NHS. Of course, on certain performance targets there is improvement in Wales; there is no improvement on any performance targets when it comes to A&E or electives in the English NHS. I welcome the hon. Lady to her place and she is right to raise that issue, but I hope she will also raise with the Secretary of State his poor leadership on performance data for the English NHS.

The long-term plan rightly calls for more investment in areas of the NHS that have been neglected for many years, particularly mental health services, community health services and primary care. We endorse the approach outlined in the long-term plan. Mental illness represents around 23% of the total disease burden, but only 11% of NHS England’s budget. Mental health patients are some of the most let down by the decade of decline in the NHS. We regularly read heartbreaking reports in the newspapers of patients forced to wait up to 112 days for talking-therapy treatments, when we know that people are supposed to get an improving access to psychological therapies appointment in six weeks. We regularly read of the shortage of mental health beds, which means that too many people—often young people—are sent hundreds of miles across the country. They are often young people in desperate circumstances, sent away from their family and friends, often receiving ineffective care in poor-quality private providers. The rationing of care for children in particularly desperate circumstances has seen more than 130,000 referrals to specialist services turned down, despite those children showing signs of eating disorders, self-harm or abuse. It is totally unacceptable.

The long-term plan calls for increased investment in mental health services, which we welcome. Had we won the general election, we would have gone further and invested more to deliver parity of esteem for physical and mental health, and we would have legislated to ensure health and wellbeing in all policies with a future generations wellbeing Act. None the less, we welcome the ambition in the long-term plan to increase the proportion spent on mental health. In the past 10 years, under intense financial pressures because of underfunding and austerity in the NHS, commissioners have had to raid budgets, especially child and adolescent mental health services budgets, to fund the wider NHS. In the past 10 years, mental health services have often lost out because of financial pressures in the system so, if such an amendment would be in scope, we will seek to amend the Bill to ensure guarantees for mental health funding and that mental health funding can be ring-fenced. We will also seek look to ensure that there is a framework of accountability, under which the Secretary of State would come to the House, perhaps once a year, to update it on mental health funding and where it is being spent.

We endorse the increased funding for mental health, community services and GP services at a faster rate. If the Government are genuinely committed to that, and if at the same time the NHS is to live within its 3.3% uplift, that means that by definition less money will remain for growth in funding for the acute sector. The Secretary of State will need to moderate the rate of growth in acute demand, because if he cannot, there is a risk that either the money that he is allocating to mental health services will be diverted back to hospitals, as has happened in the past 10 years, or waiting times will have to increase and A&E performance will have to worsen ever further.

The problem is that the Secretary of State will not be able to drive up performance and moderate need without a fully funded plan for the whole of the health and social care sector. That is why the Bill is fundamentally inadequate. When in June 2018 the previous Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, came to the House to outline the funding settlement, he quite rightly said that he would not be able to fix the various problems facing the NHS if that did not happen alongside a funded staffing plan, a funded multi-year capital plan and a funded social care plan. The previous Secretary of State was correct. The problem with the Bill is that, as the Secretary of State conceded, it excludes key areas of health spending, such as public health; health visiting; the training of doctors and nurses; the capital budgets to build and maintain hospitals; and the capital budgets for community health facilities. That is before we even get on to social care funding, which is another issue that has in effect been kicked into the long grass by the Secretary of State.

We all know that public health services are crucial services that keep people well, prevent ill health and keep people out of hospital. A year ago, the Secretary of State would do interviews to tell us that public health and prevention was his big, No. 1 priority. I remember his interview in The Sunday Times in which he said that he had ordered the behavioural insights team to target those who are obese, smokers and people who drink to excess. He said he would “not rule out” using social media to target people to change their ways. Pregnant smokers would get emails to encourage them to stop smoking. This is my favourite; this is what he actually said—well, it is quoted in the article:

“Those in hospital with ailments related to alcohol abuse will be targeted for a ‘stern talking to’”.

That is what he said on prevention a year ago. What did we get instead? We got more cuts to smoking cessation services, more cuts to alcohol addiction services, and more cuts to drug misuse services. That is what we have had in the past 12 months, because budgets have been cut as part of the wider £870 million cut to the public health grants. The Secretary of State did not mention public health in his remarks. We still do not know what the public health allocations will be for this year. He is asking the House to legislate for a funding allocation that the previous Secretary of State outlined to the House 18 months ago. He cannot even tell us the public health allocations beyond the next three months. That just reveals what a ridiculous political stunt this Bill is.