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NHS Funding Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:56 pm on 27th January 2020.

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Photo of Seema Malhotra Seema Malhotra Labour/Co-operative, Feltham and Heston 6:56 pm, 27th January 2020

It is an honour and pleasure to follow Peter Gibson, and to be the first to congratulate him on his excellent maiden speech. It was a delight to hear about his life and experience in the constituency, and also to hear his very generous tribute to the very highly regarded and excellent Jenny Chapman, as well as about his other predecessors. He made a very passionate speech, highlighting the issues of transport, the economy, education and health. I am sure the way he did it—with such confidence and such style, and with humour—will have been heard by his constituents. I wish him great success in his work in this House.

At the outset, I want to thank the British Medical Association, Mind, NHS Providers and others that have sent briefings for this very important debate.

It is a very small Bill—two clauses on five pages—which will put into legislation the current long-term funding settlement for the NHS, as set out 12 months ago. It sets a minimum that must be paid to the NHS for revenue spending in each year until 2023-24, when the provisions will cease to have effect. One might note that that is also likely to be the next election year. It came as a slight surprise to me that the Bill was drafted in this way. If spending needs to be locked in by legislation, it is almost as if the Government are seeking to prevent future Conservative Chancellors in this Government from making cuts to the NHS budget. That is a novel approach for a Prime Minister when the Government, as the House of Commons Library has noted, already have control over their own spending.

I want to focus on two areas that go beyond the Bill specifically and into the Government’s strategy for funding and the NHS. The first is capital funding, and the urgent support that is needed in my constituency to get the rebuild of the Heston health centre back on track. The second is community health services and social care, and the specific issue of neurocognitive rehabilitation services.

It is a matter of great concern for the medium and long-term health of our NHS that the NHS capital budget, which invests in our buildings, beds, equipment and IT, is today lower in real terms than it was in 2010-11. That has already been mentioned; indeed, we have had five consecutive switches from the capital budget to the revenue budget for the day-to-day running of the NHS since 2014 totalling over £4 billion. The consequence is that buildings and equipment are being left outdated, affecting increasingly the quality of patient care and the reliability of appointments. Poor buildings and equipment also have a knock-on effect on the morale, recruitment and retention of key NHS staff. The Minister has intimated that there will be additional funding for infrastructure, but we await further details.

I want to raise the important issue of the Heston health centre, because my constituents will not be the only ones to have been affected by changes in Government policy over the last few years. At the end of August I wrote to the Health Secretary and NHS England about Heston health centre when my local CCG contacted me. Among all London CCGs, Hounslow has the fourth highest number of patients per permanent qualified GP, while the amount of funding per registered patient is 7% below the London average and 12% below the England average.

The chair of Hounslow CCG has described the current Heston health centre as unsuitable to deliver 21st-century primary care. The buildings date from the 1970s, are in need of major repair and are no longer compliant with disability legislation. The proposed new development is desperately needed to provide patients with the quality of care they deserve, offering four GP services in one and providing disabled access as well as a more attractive place for GPs.

Hounslow CCG has been working on this development since 2014. In 2015 the project was the subject of a discussion between the Department of Health, Community Health Partnerships and NHS Property Services, at which the CCG, the LIFTCo and NHS England were all represented. At that meeting it was concluded that CHP would work with the West London Health Partnership, the LIFTCo, to take forward the project as a public-private partnership funded scheme. The problem, however, is that after that decision funding was cut and the CCG was informed in June 2014 that, following the Chancellor’s commitment in 2018, new off-balance PPP-funded infrastructure projects would not be taken forward.

I was fortunate to be able to raise this issue with the Chancellor in September, and I am grateful for his offer of having officials meet me. However, having originally been given the green light to go ahead—the project was identified by the Department of Health as the best value funding option—currently we are in limbo: we do not know how the project is going to go forward and there is no clear sense of direction for my CCG and therefore my constituents. I would be grateful if the Minister could still agree to a meeting with me so that direction can be given for a project that is desperately needed.

As we have also heard in this debate, NHS providers and others have also highlighted how funding is to be allocated under the Bill and what will be further funded. I make reference here to community healthcare and social care, particularly in relation to the urgently needed increase in public health budgets following an almost £1 billion reduction in real terms under this Government. I want to raise not just the issue of prevention but recovery from illness and make particular reference to post-stroke and brain-damage related services. Neurocognitive rehabilitation is a particularly underfunded service.

Too often we respond to brain damage as a result of illness or even early dementia with slow diagnosis and medication, when research suggests that better and more structured brain activity could help improve memory, planning skills and basic safety in performing day-to-day tasks that we currently take for granted. We are grappling with this in Hounslow, and I am grappling with it with my own mother, who had a stroke two years ago. At the weekend I was very moved when a constituent came to me and said, “What can I do, because I feel like I am starting to lose my memory, but there are no services available to help me? My daughter has said it is just part of getting old.” We must see whether more can be done not just in prevention but to help through these important services with rehabilitation for all our constituents.

Today’s debate is important; it goes beyond whether the Bill is actually needed into how the Government are going to be spending our collective resources on the NHS, because going forward we need a plan which funds the NHS properly and provides a comprehensive strategy, addressing all our sectors. I look forward to meeting officials about the Heston health centre, and to working with the Government on how we can ensure that the other essential services we need are delivered.