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Funding Settlement for the health service in England

Part of NHS Funding Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 4th February 2020.

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Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston 2:45 pm, 4th February 2020

There has to be a correlation between the number of closures my hon. Friend is seeing and his CCG’s debts, which he was referring to earlier. The pressure on frontline services is making these decisions, which it is more and more likely can only impact on performance. I hope that when the Minister responds he will be able to give him the satisfaction of at least a meeting to discuss the issue further.

The funding in the Bill is insufficient to reverse the decline in recent years, let alone deliver the aspirations set out in the long-term plan. It is not just the opinion of Her Majesty’s Opposition that the performance targets cannot be met; NHS England has also made it clear that the core treatment targets cannot be met because of the funding settlement imposed by the Government. And who loses out month after month when performance targets are missed? It is patients. Whether for pre-planned surgery, cancer treatment, diagnostic tests or emergency care, our constituents are waiting longer and longer, often in pain and distress, to access the health services they need. The figures do not lie.

We must remember that the figures are also real people. They are real people stuck on waiting lists: the total number of people on waiting lists in England is now 4.41 million, which is the highest since records began, and up from 4.1 million, when the right hon. Member for West Suffolk first became the Secretary of State. They are real people waiting for treatment: the target to treat 92% of patients within 18 weeks has not been met for four years—not since February 2016—and obviously has never been met by the current Secretary of State. They are real people waiting for cancer treatment: the Prime Minister himself agreed last month that it was unacceptable that the target for treating cancer patients within 62 days of urgent GP referrals had not been met for five years. That is five years of failure. They are people waiting on hospital trolleys: the number of people waiting four hours or more on hospital trolleys reached 98,452 last December, which is not only a 65% increase on the same point the previous year, but the highest on record.

As we heard on Second Reading, the failure to meet these targets has real consequences. Research from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine shows that almost 5,000 patients have died in the past three years because they spent so long on a trolley waiting for a bed in an overcrowded hospital. As we have said several times during our consideration of the Bill, the true increase in funding is about 4.1%—I will not list again all the bodies that agree with that figure—yet the money in the Bill will not be enough.

This is all before last week’s news about the Chancellor looking for 5% savings in all Departments, including this one. That might not affect the figures in the Bill, but there might be cuts across the wider Department that do have a knock-on impact on service delivery. Let us take a look at A&E. There is increased demand on our A&E services, for many reasons, including the years of cuts to social care, but that is not covered in the Bill. Will the 5% cut come from there—if it does, more and more people will be forced into A&E by a collapsing social care system—or from public health, as we have heard previously, which would inevitably store up problems in the short and longer term?

None of this can be said to be likely to have no impact on performance targets, which for too long have been treated as a poor relation by this Government. The Government have widely ignored them, to the extent that they are spending more time dreaming up ways to get rid of them than to meet them. We say that patients deserve better. We will push the new clause to a vote, because we believe it is clear that the Secretary of State will not be able to drive down waiting lists or drive up performance with the level of health expenditure that he proposes to enshrine in law.

Rather than presenting the Bill as a panacea, let us ensure that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister are held to account for the promises that they make, and that the Secretary of State comes to this place every year to tell us whether, in the Government’s opinion, the funding allocated for that year will be sufficient to meet those performance targets. If it is not, the Government must set out what they are going to do about it. It is simply not good enough to continue, year after year, to have a Government who treat the targets as an inconvenience. If those standards are to mean anything to patients, and if the Government are serious about persuading us that they mean something to them as well, they will have to come here every single year and tell us, unambiguously and with reference to the funding package for this year, how they intend to meet those targets.

Let me now say a few words about new clause 5 and inflation. I am conscious that a number of other Members wish to speak, so I will be fairly brief. The new clause is a safeguard to deal with a mistake made in the Bill. Because the amounts are presented in cash rather than real terms, the figures may not end up being as big as they at first appear. While inflation is now relatively stable and within a reasonable range of the Bank of England’s target, I do not think that anybody—particularly at this time—can confidently predict the rate at which it will be running at in two, three or four years’ time.