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NHS Funding Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:46 pm on 27th January 2020.

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Photo of Munira Wilson Munira Wilson Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care) 7:46 pm, 27th January 2020

Along with my Liberal Democrat colleagues, I naturally welcome all commitments to additional expenditure on the NHS, and we will not be opposing the Bill. The questions that need to be addressed, which other Members have touched on, are whether the minimum expenditure enshrined in the Bill is sufficient, and why the Government have singled out NHS England’s revenue budget for protection without also prioritising other extremely important areas of the Department’s budget, which have a huge impact on revenue expenditure, such as public health, capital investment, workforce development and, of course, social care.

The NHS has been chronically underfunded for a number of years. As we have already heard from many other Members, our healthcare system in England is in crisis. We have a crisis in waiting times, a workforce crisis and an infrastructure crisis. However, the funding committed in the Bill will enable the NHS only to stand still in the coming years, maintaining the level of service that it currently provides. Those crises will continue. As we have heard, in real terms the additional £34 billion equates to only £20.5 billion when adjusted for inflation, and that equates approximately to a 3.3% increase every year. As we have also heard, many respected commentators and NHS leaders have said that some 4% extra a year is needed to transform services.

I fear that Lilian Greenwood did not receive a response to her excellent intervention when she asked the Secretary of State what assurances the Government would provide that, should the rate of inflation increase owing to unforeseen circumstances—or, indeed, owing to Brexit, which, unfortunately, we face at the end of this week—the promised real-terms increase in NHS spending would be protected.

The crises to which I have referred are clearly epitomised in the challenges faced by NHS mental health services. The mental health system has experienced decades of underfunding and neglect, resulting in services and facilities that are all too often substandard and sometimes dangerous. Mental illness represents up to 23% of the total burden of ill health in the UK, but only 11% of NHS England’s budget. In terms of waiting times, the most mentally unwell are often left waiting the longest for treatment. I am particularly concerned that children and young people are being especially let down. We know that 81% of trust leaders say that they are unable to meet demand for community CAMHS, and only three in 10 young people with a mental health problem were able to access specialist services in 2017-18. In my own constituency, Off The Record, an excellent local charity that does sterling work to support young people with mental health problems, is often told by users of its service that access to local CAMHS is possible only if they are suicidal when they present themselves. That cannot be right.

The Secretary of State has given assurances today on his commitments to increase mental health and CAMHS spending, but we know that this is not always getting through to the frontline in an equal way. There is a lot of variability across the country and we need proper, accountable public tracking of expenditure to ensure that every area across the country can—[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Ms Dorries, is mouthing at me, but if she looks at Mind’s analysis of the variability of mental health spending across parts of the country, she will see that there is huge variability. We need to track it publicly to ensure that that priority investment is getting through. We have heard much from the Government about levelling up, and I hope that Ministers will accept that mental health, and CAMHS in particular, needs to be a priority area for levelling up.