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NHS Funding Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:19 pm on 27th January 2020.

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Photo of Philippa Whitford Philippa Whitford Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union) 6:19 pm, 27th January 2020

My hon. Friend does a lot of work on this topic. There is no doubt that a lot of investment must go into children’s earliest year, because our risk of so many conditions in later life is actually laid down between conception and the age of two. Energy and funding should therefore be focused at that point.

We have been waiting for three years for the promised Green Paper on social care, and there was absolutely nada in the Queen’s Speech. But this is a discussion about how to come up with an innovative system of raising the funds for social care. It is not an argument about whether social care needs to be funded. The answer is quite simple: it does. The gap is currently more than £6 billion. As well as spending more on health in Scotland, we also spend £130 a head more on social care, but that allows us to provide free personal care, which allows people to stay in their own homes and live their later life with dignity, where they want to be—where we would all want to be if we needed support. Last April, this care was extended to people under the age of 65 who need it because they have degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease. This would be a worthwhile investment for the UK Government to consider, because we simply cannot fix the NHS without fixing social care.

The Prime Minister enjoys trumpeting his 40 new hospitals, when we know that there will actually be six, but there is no mention of additional capital funding to cover the more than £6 billion backlog in maintenance and repairs that the shadow Secretary of State described so vividly; one could almost smell some of the problems he was describing. This backlog built up when NHS trusts slid into £2.5 billion of debt after the introduction of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, because the transactional costs—the bidding and contracting—were taking so much money away from the frontline. Year after year, we saw this repeated movement from capital to resource just to keep services afloat. That has to be stopped.

The biggest challenge in all four health services is workforce shortages, and that challenge is already being made worse both by Brexit—with a 90% drop in European nurses and European dentists coming to this country—and by the issues around pension tax reforms that are driving senior clinicians, particularly doctors, to cut their hours and their shifts. These factors are making workforce shortages an acute issue. In their manifesto, the Government committed to 50,000 extra nurses, and we saw the Secretary of State leaping up and down in delight, boasting about it. We are to expect the extra nurses over the next five years, but the problem is that we are still waiting for the 5,000 extra GPs that were promised for the last five years, and there are actually 1,000 fewer GPs in England than there were five years ago.

Everyone should welcome the expansion of the nursing workforce from 280,000 to 330,000, whether it is done through recruitment or training, or whether it is due to retention; I do not have an issue with that. But this expansion was costed in the manifesto at £879 million. Now, I am sure that everyone welcomes the return of the nursing bursary, even if it is only half of that which we provide in Scotland. Unlike in Scotland, nursing students in England will still have to pay tuition fees, which is likely to deter some mature students, who have a tendency to specialise in mental health and learning difficulties—areas of huge nursing shortage. It is not clear what the £879 million is actually for. Surely it cannot be for the salaries, because they would each cost only £17,500 a year, which is not even the real living wage. If it is for training and the bursary, have the Government forgotten to add the salaries into this Bill, because 50,000 extra nurses is a significant hike in the NHS salary bill? If it is the former and they are planning to recruit on a salary of £17,500 a year, then good luck with recruiting anybody.

This Government simply need to reverse the real-terms cuts they have made over the past decade. On a point of principle, they also need to go back to discussing funding of the Department of Health and Social Care in the round, not picking out the NHS in England to make it sound like a big number while cutting everything else. It is critical to invest in prevention and in social care, so a return to departmental spending and departmental investment would be very welcome. In all of this, they need to make sure that they are wrapping services around the patient. The patient is the person who should be at the centre of NHS and social care.