– in the House of Commons at 11:46 am on 23 May 2024.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 11:46, 23 May 2024

With your permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to make a statement on this Government’s work in the national health service.

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay—I have warned him that I am going to refer to him—and welcome him back to this place. His magnificent question at Prime Minister’s questions yesterday was an absolute tribute to him and to his family, but also to the national health service, which has done so much to put him back together. My hon. Friend’s commitment to public service and dignity in the face of adversity are not only inspiring, but an example to us all. I make this commitment to him: as Secretary of State, I am determined to change the prosthetics policy to support quadruple amputees such as him. He makes the point passionately, and I have heard him.

I also want to reassure the victims of the infected blood scandal and their families that the general election that the Prime Minister called yesterday will in no way affect the process that is already under way. Throughout the election period, Government officials and I will continue to study the report, to make sure that the lessons of Sir Brian’s inquiry are learned and that the mistakes can never be repeated. We will work with the NHS Business Services Authority to make sure that everyone who is eligible receives the second interim payment of £210,000 over the summer. The report lays bare the many failings of successive Governments, including historic failings in my own Department. As Secretary of State, I apologise unreservedly for the actions that have hurt and harmed so many people, and I know there is consensus in this House that we will work together to ensure nothing like this scandal ever happens in our country again.

I last updated the House in January, and I would like to use this opportunity to share the steps we have taken since then to make our NHS faster, simpler and fairer for patients and staff. In 2019, we promised 50 million more GP appointments a year, and thanks to the hard work of our GPs and their teams, we have delivered on that promise. In January, we went further by launching our Pharmacy First programme, which empowers pharmacists to prescribe medication for seven common conditions without the need to see a GP. The numbers of people using that programme are encouraging, and when it is at full power, 10 million GP appointments will be freed up.

In the face of industrial action, we have reduced the NHS waiting list by more than 200,000 since September. Outside the pandemic, we have delivered the biggest six-month fall in the waiting list in more than a decade, with waiting lists falling for six months on the bounce. Through our new hospital programme, we have committed to delivering 40 new hospitals by 2030. I am pleased to tell the House that six hospitals are now open to patients, two more are expected to open by the end of the financial year and 18 more are in construction.

We have launched a recovery plan for dentistry that will create 2.5 million new NHS appointments this year alone. That is being done by giving dental practices extra cash for new patients they see, introducing golden hellos and deploying dental vans to isolated rural and coastal communities. Since I launched our recovery plan, more than 500 additional practices have opened their doors to NHS patients. Today, we are going further by publishing a consultation on introducing a tie-in for graduate dentists, which will commit them to a period of NHS work when they can hone their skills, develop a breadth of experience and give back to the people who helped fund their training. It costs the taxpayer up to £200,000 to train a dentist, and we think it is right and fair to ask new graduates to use their new skills in the NHS.

Ensuring that the NHS works for women is one of my priorities, and we have taken a number of steps to support them. We are opening women’s health hubs across England, we are helping 50,000 bereaved parents acknowledge their beloved baby with baby loss certificates, and we have helped half a million women to get cheaper hormone replacement therapy. We are also rolling out new maternal mental health services for new mums, which are already available in all but three local health systems.

We are looking to tackle conditions that disproportionately affect the female population, such as osteoporosis. Every year in England, some 67,000 fractures are suffered by people of working age, the majority of whom are women, and many of them are entirely preventable. I have listened to the tireless campaigning of the Royal Osteoporosis Society and the campaigns of the Express and The Mail on Sunday, so today I want to confirm that this Government have the ambition to expand the use of fracture liaison services to every integrated care board in England and achieve 100% coverage by 2030.

I have also made it my priority to protect our children, who have been questioning their identity in ever increasing numbers. The Cass review laid bare the damaging effect that social media and degrading pornography have had on young people’s sense of self. It also set out clearly the need for extreme caution in medical interventions. Today, I want to set out my clear intention to introduce a banning order on puberty blockers, with limited exceptions, under section 62 of the Medicines Act 1968. This is an extraordinary use of that power, but it is the right use of that power because we must protect our children and young people from this risk to their safety.

We know that to make the NHS sustainable in the long term, we need to work on prevention, not just cure. To drive this progress, we need to embed prevention within the structures of the national health service and the Government. That is why we will be benchmarking, identifying and publishing health service prevention spending. To support investment in prevention, NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care will work closely with integrated care systems to develop practical information and evidence that will aid local investment decisions.

As Secretary of State, I have seen how prevention tests across the NHS are not joined up, and I want to make the NHS app the front door for prevention as well as for cure. By 2026, people across England will be able to book vaccinations for 16 preventable diseases, including MMR—measles, mumps and rubella—and human papillomavirus, on our app. This move will make sure that millions more people receive the vital vaccines we all need, not just saving them from life-threatening conditions, but saving the NHS money and resources in the long term.

We also have a duty to give families the information they need to make healthy choices. There has been a lot of talk about the potential damages of ultra-processed foods, including in the press recently. We want to cut through the noise and give people the facts. That is why I have asked our National Institute for Health and Care Research to gather evidence on the impacts of ultra-processed foods on health to help us support people to make informed and healthy choices.

In conclusion, when it comes to the NHS, this Government have a record to be proud of. We have 50,000 more nurses, 60 million more GP appointments and 7 million tests, checks and scans at community diagnostic centres. We have waiting lists coming down, more dental appointments available, better care for women and more protection for vulnerable young people. We have the first ever long-term workforce plan, and more doctors, dentists and nurses than ever before. We have a clear plan and we are taking bold action to build a secure future for our national health service. I commend this statement to the House.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care 11:55, 23 May 2024

Let me start with a few points of genuine consensus. First, I associate myself and my party wholeheartedly with the right hon. Lady’s remarks about Craig Mackinlay and the extraordinary courage and strength he has shown. I greatly welcome her reassurance to victims of the contaminated blood scandal and the emphasis she placed on the cross-party commitment to continue at pace to deliver justice, whatever the outcome of the general election. I also welcome what she said about the justifiably cautious and responsible approach she is taking in relation to puberty blockers in the light of the Cass review.

That is the end of the consensus, however, because after 14 years of Conservative incompetence, neglect and vandalism, the national health service has never been in a worse state. The Government cut 2,000 GPs and now it is impossible to get an appointment. They wasted billions of pounds on top-down reorganisations, recruitment agencies and crony contracts for useless personal protective equipment instead of training the workforce the NHS needs. They forced nurses out on strike for the first time in history; and now the Prime Minister shamelessly tries to blame them for his own failures, sending the country into an election with strike action still looming. He promised to cut waiting lists; they are up to 7.5 million. Even their claim that waiting lists have fallen in the last six months has been achieved only by excluding the community figures—fiddling the figures. He promised to build 40 new hospitals and the Government have failed to build a single one. They hold people in this country in such contempt: the Conservatives think the public are so stupid that they will fall for the same recycled soggy promise all over again. Vast swathes of the country have been left without a single NHS dentist, forcing people in Britain, in 2024, to perform DIY dentistry on themselves.

After 14 years, the fundamental promise of the NHS has been broken: people can no longer be sure the NHS will be there for them when they need it. Listening to the Prime Minister’s interviews this morning, it is clear he has given up on the NHS. He has called this election with no plan to cut waiting lists, no plan to end the strikes, and no plan to reform the service. The Conservatives have taken the NHS to breaking point; if they are given five more years, they will finish the job.

This election is the country’s chance to turn the page on 14 years of failure, to end the chaos in the NHS and to rebuild our NHS. No part of our country is crying out louder for change than our health service—not just investment but reform, because if the NHS is to be there for us free at the point of use for the next 75 years, as it has been in the last, it must change. Only Labour can deliver that change.

Our damp squib of a Prime Minister is dripping into this election with a puddle not a plan. In contrast, Labour has a plan to get our NHS back on its feet and make it fit for the future. [Interruption.] Conservative Members ask what it is: give the people what they want—40,000 extra appointments a week at evenings and weekends to cut waiting lists; double the number of scanners, with AI-enabled scanners diagnosing patients faster; 700,000 emergency dental appointments and reform of the contract to rescue NHS dentistry; double medical school places and train thousands more nurses, GPs and midwives, delivering Labour’s workforce plan; bring back the family doctor so patients can see the same GP for each appointment; 8,500 mental health professionals to treat people on time, with mental health support in every school and hubs in every community, alongside landmark reform of the Mental Health Act 1983. That is Labour’s plan, and that is just the start. More than that, unlike the Conservatives, we have a record on the NHS to be proud of: a record of the shortest waiting lists and the highest patient satisfaction in history. We did it before, and we will do it again. That is why representatives of the nationalist parties in Wales and Scotland know, and even admit in private, that a Labour Government in Westminster will be a rising tide that lifts all ships across our United Kingdom.

I say to people that it is not enough to send MPs to Westminster to oppose the Conservatives; they need to send Labour MPs to replace the Conservatives. If they are given five more years, nothing will change. The chaos will continue, and the NHS crisis will get worse. As we approach this general election, be in no doubt: the only way to deliver the change our country needs is to vote Labour. I have every hope that our country will do just that.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I know that the hon. Gentleman has spent a lot of time in recent days studying that infamous pledge card. It has obviously taken up a lot of space in his brain, because he seems not to have understood that not only did we settle months ago with the consultants, so they are not on strike, but we have arrived at a settlement with the specialty and specialist doctors, which is going out to ballot. He asked about junior doctors, and he has obviously missed the news that we have just entered mediation with them. We are bringing together, with the workforce plan, the progress we are making on working conditions. The Labour party does not like conversations about mediation—no, no, no —because we all know that Labour MPs are beholden to their trade union masters and have never condemned a single strike that has affected our constituents and their access to healthcare.

The hon. Gentleman asks about the new hospital programme, and I was wondering whether he would. It is, as some might say in politics, bold. I have taken the trouble—it was a lot of trouble—to read the Labour party’s health mission. One of its pledges is that one of the first steps of a Labour Government would be to pause all capital projects in the NHS. Our constituents should be clear: the Conservatives have a new hospital programme, which we are delivering; the Labour party has a no new hospital programme.

The hon. Gentleman also talked about the ideas for the NHS—ones he could not quite remember over the weekend—and the number of appointments that Labour would bring. I think it was appointments, because when he was asked to clarify whether he meant appointment or treatments, he could not define it. I hate to break it to him, but there is a difference between an appointment and, for example, a triple heart bypass. I would love to know whether he is talking about appointments or treatments. Just to help him understand the scale of NHS England’s activities on a weekly basis, it provides 575,000 out-patient appointments a week. His pledge sounds like a big number, but the truth is that it will not even touch the sides, even when Labour has worked out where the sides are.

The hon. Gentleman also bravely talks about the Cass review, and I genuinely welcome the fact that he has thrown away his long-held principles and relied on the evidence that Dr Cass provided, but I wonder whether he ought to have a conversation with his fellow shadow Cabinet members, because they announced a policy this week that is self-identification by the back door. They want to put the responsibility for self-identification and the gender recognition certificate process on the shoulders of our GPs, when we have been clear that we want our GPs focusing on the 60 million more appointments they are making in the past year. He does not understand—[Interruption.] Forgive me, he is chuntering at me, and he needs to go away and read the Gender Recognition Act 2004, because it is a panel that looks after that process, and Labour is seeking to change that to make it a single GP.

The hon. Gentleman talks about the record of the Conservative party, and we are proud of it. I am particularly proud of the fact that we have record funding under the Government for mental and physical health. I wonder whether he is quite so proud of the record in Wales. By the way, Labour runs the NHS in Wales; I wish I had responsibility for Wales, but I only have responsibility for England.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

It is going better than it is in Wales. Under the Labour-run NHS in Wales, a quarter of people are on a waiting list in that part of the NHS. The number of patients waiting two years is higher in Wales than it is in England. Patients are waiting on average six weeks longer in Labour-run Wales than in England. If that performance were replicated here in England, waiting lists could be as much as six million higher. The choice is clear: unfunded Labour failure or a clear plan for a more secure future with the Conservatives.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Health and Social Care Committee

Record funding, a long-term workforce plan finally in place and serious investment at last from the Chancellor on health tech in the spring Budget. That is really welcome and a record to be proud of, as the Secretary of State said, but she will be aware that if demand continues to exceed supply, we have a problem.

My right hon. Friend told us that she does indeed believe that prevention is the new cure, so throughout the general election campaign and from here on as she continues as Health Secretary, will she please bang on remorselessly about the big drivers of ill health—smoking, alcohol addiction, obesity, poor housing and bad diet—because, remember, we can only protect the NHS if we are a healthier society?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank my hon. Friend not just for his question, which was excellent as always, but for his long record in the House, particularly in the world of healthcare. He was a superb Minister in the Department of Health and has chaired the Select Committee with great skill. He has scrutinised many a Minister, which I promise him is not a relaxing experience. I really pay credit to him.

May I also thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the importance of prevention? We want to bend the demand curve on the NHS. We know that demand has risen in recent years—we are seeing more people in A&E, we are seeing more cancer referrals and we are seeing more people accessing scans, checks and diagnostics—and we need to help people to understand that we can take responsibility for our own health. Through work such as that on using the NHS app as a gateway to prevention, I genuinely think that we will be helping not only our generations but, importantly, younger people, who sometimes get forgotten in our conversations about healthcare.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

I welcome the commitment from the Health Secretary to paying the £210,000 interim payment to those infected under the contaminated blood scandal. But can I say that there is no clarity at all from the Government about the payments that Sir Brian recommended in April 2023 to those who have received nothing so far—the parents who have lost children and the children who have lost parents?

Can I seek a guarantee from the Health Secretary that we will see psychological support services put in place in England immediately? They are in place in Northern Ireland, in Scotland and in Wales. Since 2020, Ministers in the Department have been saying that those services would be made available. That is four years ago; it is not acceptable. After the statements earlier this week by the Prime Minister and the Paymaster General, that is something that the NHS could do quickly and which would have enormous impact, especially because, with the general election having been called, people do not quite know what will happen to the Government’s promises.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank the right hon. Lady for all her work. She may recall that, when the inquiry was announced by the then Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mrs May, we had a debate on that matter where I spoke as a Back Bencher on behalf of a constituent; I very much hope that he and others gain some reassurance from the fact that I understand exactly the issues they have faced over many years. As Health Secretary, it is my responsibility, and indeed my privilege, to try to help them now.

In relation to the compensation schemes for those who have not yet received payments, I know that the right hon. Lady will have carefully pored through the responses of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General. We want to give the independent compensation authority—I underline independent because I am sympathetic to the sensitivities of families and victims around the role that the Department of Health and others played in their pain—and Sir Robert the chance to set up the scheme, assisted by the expert panel.

I promise the right hon. Lady that I have been discussing psychological support with the chief executive of NHS England for some time. We want to recruit the right people to conduct that incredibly sensitive work. It will take us a little more time, but I assure her that NHS England is acting quickly to bring in those services, we hope, by the end of the summer.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

I thank the Secretary of State for her answer to Dame Diana Johnson. I hope that the letter that her Department received from us will get a full reply, and I thank her for her interim words.

I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to come to the opening of the new integrated care centre by the town hall in Worthing—a local authority enterprise carried on by the present administration in Worthing. There has been great concern about dentistry in my constituency. The pressure is coming off, but not fast enough. Would she please encourage everyone in NHS England to ensure that dentists are encouraged to provide the kinds of service that all our constituents want?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the opening of those services. I look forward to attending that opening with him and colleagues across his area. In the dental recovery plan I set out a number of ways in which we will improve the delivery of dental care across England, including immediate, medium and long-term work. The immediate-term work is already seeing results. Having switched on the new patient premium, we are already seeing practices opening. We want to bring forward the golden hellos to encourage dentists into areas that do not have the services that we would like. There was a slightly misinformed Prime Minister’s question yesterday; we are in the middle of tendering our dental vans, because as a rural MP I want services as quickly as possible while we are building the foundations to ensure that people get the care they need.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

Let me say that it has always been a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall miss you terribly; your fairness, insight and wit has brought colour to this Chamber. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”]

Moment of consensus over, I stand here as the Member of Parliament for a constituency that will have listened to the Secretary of State with horror. For 14 years we have been desperately waiting for Whipps Cross Hospital to be redeveloped. The Minister for Social Care, Helen Whately, and I had a meeting about it this morning that she had to cancel, presumably because the general election has been called. The failed new hospital programme has cost my constituents dearly. We were told under that programme that works would be finished by 2025. They have not even started, because the Government still have not committed the funding. The board meeting notes admit that they will not even start next year, and they certainly will not be finished by 2030. What a damning indictment of this Conservative Government.

My constituents have to be treated in corridors at Whipps Cross. The physical layout of the mangled, broken building is directly impacting on the quality of care that my constituents receive. There is an amazing team at Whipps Cross, doing incredible work, almost in tears that we still do not have our new hospital, because of the impact on patient care. Will the Secretary of State answer the question that I wanted to ask her colleague in that meeting this morning? We need urgent confirmation that we will get the funding to build the hospital at Whipps Cross, to finalise the plans and to start talking to a contractor so that works can begin in 2026. Conservative colleagues in my borough pledged to start works last year, but that was not true. Will the Minister at least confirm that under her plans we will finally get the funding? Walthamstow deserves better.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Madam Deputy Speaker, I had not heard the news that you were stepping down. I share the House’s dismay, but also pass on our thanks to you for having been a Chair. It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, although it is a steely pleasure because you let us know, most of the time, when we speak for too long. [Interruption.]

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am trying to; the hon. Lady’s colleagues are trying to prevent me.

We have committed to Whipps Cross Hospital. It takes time to build hospitals. We have six new hospitals open to the public already, and another 18 entering construction. I hope that the hon. Lady is challenging her own leadership, including the shadow Health Secretary, because Labour’s health mission—or first step, or pledge; who knows what the terminology is—says that one of its first steps in government would be to pause all capital projects in the NHS. The Labour party needs to answer on that.

Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Independent, West Suffolk

May I add to the tributes, Madam Deputy Speaker?

This is my final contribution to the House. Having served in the Secretary of State’s shoes, I know how hard it is to deliver on manifesto commitments. Delivering on the commitment to 50,000 more nurses and the commitment on GP appointments, and being on track with the 40 new hospitals, is a great achievement. Could I urge her to say a little more about how all that is supported by the incredible improvements in technology in the NHS in the last decade? Without them, there is no way for the NHS to succeed in the next decade. Harnessing extraordinary opportunities such as AI, but not only that, will stand the NHS in great stead, if we can get the data used properly. And with that, that’s over.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

My goodness me. I thank my right hon. Friend. I have an inkling of the responsibilities and pressures that he bore during the pandemic. There will be many thoughts about how the Government and society handled the pandemic, but he devoted his absolute all to keeping people safe, and to moving our society out of the lockdowns. I thank him sincerely for all his work.

True to his character, my right hon. Friend wants to talk about the future. Outside the pandemic, he had a particular focus, when he was Health Secretary and in previous Cabinet positions, on the role that technology can play in our lives. Our NHS app now has three quarters of adults in England signed up to it. That is a testament to him and to those in the NHS who helped to deliver it. There are more subscribers to the NHS app than to Netflix. The most common users of the NHS app are those over the age of 65. We can see just how powerful the app can be, and the role that it will play in prevention, but we need to invest in the technology. I view the long-term workforce plan as critical to building the next 75 years of the NHS, as is the tech plan that the Chancellor announced in the spring Budget, which provides £3.45 billion for technology to drive forward progress in the NHS—a plan that the Opposition has not supported.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

May I take this opportunity to thank all NHS staff for their dedication, professionalism and care, which are really quite extraordinary in the light of the circumstances that they face? I spent 30 years working in and around the NHS, and I know that it was on its knees in 1996 and 1997, before the Labour Government made such a difference, but nothing compares to the state of it today. I am thinking particularly about NHS dentistry; my constituents are having to wait seven years for an appointment with an NHS dentist. I know that my hon. Friend Wes Streeting will meet dentists on the first Monday after Labour come to office.

The Secretary of State has not adopted a plan that would have worked, the one produced by the Health and Social Care Committee. Can she tell us why she did not adopt that plan in full, and what she will say to my constituents, who will vote at the polls for a service that works, as opposed to one that is broken?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I join the hon. Lady in thanking her local NHS staff, and, indeed, NHS staff throughout the country. The NHS employs more than 1.3 million people, and every single one of them contributes in their own way, from clinicians to nurses to hospital porters to administrative staff. All those people play a really important part in keeping us well and safe.

Notwithstanding the picture that the hon. Lady has sought to paint, I hope she will have the graciousness to acknowledge that we are diagnosing more cancer cases, and diagnosing them more quickly at stages 1 and 2. I hope she will acknowledge, for example, that some nine out of 10 cancer patients are treated within 31 days of a decision to treat them, and that the average waiting time in England—not Wales—is just under 15 weeks. Of course there is more to do, but we have plans in place.

I also urge the hon. Lady to look carefully at our dental recovery plan. We have seen more practices open up to provide more NHS appointments, and as the recovery plan is rolled out, we will see up to 2.5 million more appointments, roughly three times as many as will be seen under Labour’s dental recovery plans. Compare and contrast!

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Conservative, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland

Let me add my best wishes for your retirement, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope it will be a long and happy one.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her statement. As waiting-list figures continue to fall, which is fantastic, it is vital that we continue to boost access to primary care, so will she join me in welcoming the news that the excellent Garth surgery in Gisborough, in my constituency, is seeking to expand by creating six new consulting rooms and more space for the recruitment of GP registrars?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank my right hon. Friend for presenting us with what is happening on the ground, rather than the relentless doom and gloom that we hear from the Opposition. There are excellent examples in our local areas of people not just enjoying working in the NHS, but thriving in it. My right hon. Friend’s general practice will be one of those that have contributed to the 60 million more GP appointments made available in the last year—an election promise that we made in 2019, and have kept. Let me explain the maths to the Opposition: that means more than 1 million primary care appointments each working day. That is something of which we should all be proud, and for which we should thank our GPs.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (Science, Research and Innovation)

May I say how sad I am, Madam Deputy Speaker, that whatever the result of the general election, it will not bring you back to the place that you so wonderfully occupy?

Waiting lists, dental services, mental health services, clinical trials, workforce morale, cancer care, innovative treatments, childhood obesity—whatever the measure, the Tories have failed us on health. Is the Secretary of State really asking the people of this country to vote for five more years of Tory failure, when they can, by voting Labour, vote for the change that the health service, and indeed the country, so desperately need?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

May I gently remind the hon. Lady that her party leader is a former barrister? I declare an interest: so am I. In the old days, we barristers used to rely on the evidence, but the evidence on which the Leader of the Opposition relies is produced in Wales. He says that it is a blueprint for what will happen in NHS England. My goodness me! As I have said, a quarter of the people on NHS waiting lists are in Labour-run Wales. The highest number of patients who are waiting two years is in Labour-run Wales, and patients wait on average six weeks longer in Labour-run Wales than in England. I am genuinely surprised that, having been in his post for as long as he has, Wes Streeting—for whom I have considerable respect—has not been able to influence or direct his Labour colleagues in Wales to follow his ideas, if he thinks that they are so good. That is clearly not working.

Photo of Conor Burns Conor Burns Conservative, Bournemouth West

May I add my best wishes to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as you become one of the Members of this place who have chosen to leave it voluntarily in the coming weeks, and may I say, advisedly, that I wish you all the best as you leave this Chamber of Parliament?

May I return my right hon. Friend to the subject of her statement: an NHS update? Recently, on International Nurses Day, I visited Poole Hospital to see the amazing new barn theatres that have resulted from the huge investment going into the NHS in Dorset. When we talk about the money that we are putting into the NHS, that often appears to the public to be mere statistics. However, in Dorset, and in Bournemouth in particular, we see not only the new barn theatres in what is becoming the primary elective part of the local NHS, but, as a result of the £250 million overall investment, the development of the BEACH building—BEACH stands for birth, emergency and critical care and children’s health. These are real investments, which—notwithstanding the outbreak of hyperbole that I confidently predict we will see more of in the coming weeks, and which, sadly, we have not been able to cure in the last 14 years—are tangible examples of this Government’s commitment to delivering on the frontline.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am delighted to hear that, and also to say that on my travels last Thursday, I had the great pleasure of visiting Dorset and seeing for myself not just a wonderful community hospital in Shaftesbury, but the brand new A&E unit that is being built in Dorchester. It is thanks to the hard work of the local trust, but also to Government investment, that that important hospital—alongside those that my right hon. Friend has described—can ensure that people in Dorset receive the care that they need in a modern way. That is the modern national health service as we Conservatives see it.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

Does it not concern the Secretary of State that we are spending a great deal of money because of the private sector, which is an undermining factor in the NHS? The NHS paid £11 million to the private health sector in 2022, and many hospitals are spending 15% of their budgets on private finance initiative contracts. Does she not think that we could save an awful lot of money by concentrating on expanding the NHS workforce? Their loyalty, dedication and efficiency are far better and far greater than the atomisation of our services into myriad private sector providers. It is cheaper and more efficient to provide the service publicly, thus providing a better service for everyone.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Let the record reflect this rare moment of agreement between the right hon. Gentleman and me. The PFI contracts signed by the last Labour Government have been an unmitigated disaster for our hospitals, and for the integrated care boards and others who are trying to fund them. The Labour Government drafted the contracts so incompetently that we cannot leave them without a massive cost to the taxpayer. That is the real cost of Labour-run private finance initiatives.

However, I part company with the right hon. Gentleman on the role of the independent sector. We already rely on that sector to provide something to the tune of 10% of elective procedures. I want our residents treated as quickly and as well as possible, and to my mind the independent sector must play an important role in that. We Conservatives want to make it even easier for patients to choose where they receive their treatments, so that they receive them more quickly, as well as the quality of service that they want. I do not know whether he will be here after the election campaign, but we there is at least one area on which we have agreed, namely PFI.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I am extremely grateful for all the terribly kind comments, which means that I am a bit reluctant to say this, but we need to crack on, so I ask for brief questions and brief answers. [Interruption.] It appears that the Whips agree with me. They know that we have the business statement and then the Finance Bill to get through. A good example will be set by Sir Christopher Chope.

Photo of Christopher Chope Christopher Chope Conservative, Christchurch

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for giving such as good example to this House, as always.

My right hon. Friend was kind enough to meet me and our right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright to discuss the plight of people who are victims of covid-19 vaccine damage. She sounded very sympathetic at the meeting and promised to look into the vaccine damage payment scheme, so it was rather disappointing this week to be told in answer to a written question:

“Formal consideration of whether any reforms to the VDPS are necessary will form part of Module 4 of the COVID-19 Inquiry”.

The inquiry will not be heard until January next year, and it smacks of kicking the can down the road and ignoring the victims, who need help. The sum paid—£120,000—has not been increased since 2007.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I fear that my authority is draining away, so I will make another plea for brief questions. I thought the hon. Gentleman was going to set a superb example. However, I am sure the Secretary of State will now respond briefly.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I very much share my hon. Friend’s concerns. I will take away what he has said, but I want to look into this issue, because I understand the points that he and our right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright have made.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Shadow Minister (Education)

The Secretary of State comes to the House, at the end of a Parliament, to paint her Government’s record on the NHS in the most positive light possible. I have to say to her that the picture she paints will not be recognised by staff working in the NHS or patients anywhere in my constituency. I will give her an example: it is impossible for my constituents to get an appointment at some GP practices in a timely manner. At the same time, our local hospital, which is under severe financial pressure, is reporting a record number of patients attending its urgent care centre because they cannot get an appointment in primary care. Will the Secretary of State acknowledge her Government’s failure to tackle primary care, which is placing unbearable pressure on doctors working in our hospitals to do the best for their patients?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Again, I pay tribute to our general practitioners and all the staff who work with them in practices, because we know that they have delivered some 60 million more appointments than in 2019. That was an election promise made and kept. On the hon. Lady’s wider question about primary care, that is precisely why we have rolled out Pharmacy First to free up GP appointments. It is precisely why we have a focus on prevention, because we know that if we can help people through the NHS app, it will take the burden off GPs. It is also why we are looking at fit notes in an imaginative and thoughtful way, because I have listened to GPs, who say that if we can reduce these sorts of responsibilities on GPs, it will leave them with more time for patients.

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Conservative, Rochester and Strood

I thank my right hon. Friend for her support in ensuring that my community diagnostic centre in Rochester will have extra funding so that an MRI scanner can be secured, which will make a big difference to my local community. As she knows, I have been working with the hospital and having conversations about my campaign for a second hospital site in Medway. Could my right hon. Friend have some conversations with her colleagues in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities? We have a Homes England, Government-owned site on the Hoo peninsula that is absolutely primed for a second hospital site. Medway Council is doing its local plan, and it is imperative that the area is used as a health site, rather than a housing site.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank my right hon. Friend, who has been such a firm campaigner on these issues. Her constituents should be very pleased with everything that she has done to press upon me the importance of this matter. The community diagnostic centre is opening and will provide more tests, checks and scans for her local residents. I will take up those conversations, and I am very much looking forward to coming to visit her in the next Parliament to celebrate the opening of the centres.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

Dame Rosie, in the words of “South Pacific”, if we ain’t got dames, where would we be?

In November 2021, Boris Johnson and Sir Sajid Javid appointed me to co-chair a programme board to create a national strategy on acquired brain injury. This issue matters in every single one of our constituencies, and I am afraid we are still failing. Despite the months that have passed, it has not been possible to put the strategy together for a whole series of reasons, including churn of ministers and the fact that the Government are not able to put a single penny into it—not even enough money to check how many people suffer a brain injury every year. This is a cross-party issue. How can we ensure that later this year—regardless of who forms the Government—we end up with a national strategy for acquired brain injury, so that we do not just save people’s lives when they have been in a road traffic accident, but give them back the quality of life and independence that they so dearly deserve?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I know that he has been working very closely with the Minister for Health and Secondary Care, my right hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson, on this issue. He will remember the cross-party working that we had when I took the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 through the House, and our concerns about the disproportionately high rate of ABI among female prisoners. I will take away the hon. Gentleman’s thoughts. He will appreciate that I might not be able to enter into detailed discussions with him on this issue during the campaign, but I very much look forward to continuing our discussions from the Dispatch Box in six weeks’ time.

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien Conservative, Harborough

Thank you for your service. Madam Deputy Speaker.

A long time ago I was a medical student, and improving access to general practice is really important to me. I am proud that the record funding that we have put into the national health service has enabled us to have not just 50,000 extra nurses, but 56% extra clinical staff in GP surgeries in my constituency. The average surgery is doing 44 extra appointments every working day compared with at the start of this Parliament, but an ageing society means more and more pressure. What is the Minister doing to take the pressure off with things like Pharmacy First?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank my hon. Friend not just for his early commitment to the medical profession, but for his work as a Health Minister. He did so much to help prepare the dental recovery plan, and I am so grateful to him for all his work.

On his question about prevention and the scale of the demand on the NHS, he is absolutely right. One piece of work that we are trying to bring together is about looking at the whole person, rather than individual conditions, because we know that, as we age, we will develop more conditions and live with more than one condition. Part of my work to reform our NHS and make it faster, simpler and fairer is about ensuring that we are living longer, healthier lives and concertinaing the period of ill health towards the very end of life, so that it is better not only for us as individuals and for our families, but for society and, of course, for the NHS.

Photo of Chris Webb Chris Webb Labour, Blackpool South

In the first few weeks that I have been the Member for Blackpool South, many of my constituents have contacted me about the lack of NHS dentistry in the town. No NHS dentist is taking on adult patients, and children with tooth decay are forced to go to our local A&E. This is a huge issue in our town, which has so many other troubling issues. Will the Secretary State finally admit that this Government have let my constituents down, and that only under a Labour Government will we get access to the dentistry we desperately need?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place, and I say to him that Blackpool has a very special place in my heart, because I went to school there. Indeed, I could hear the cheers from the “Big Dipper” and the “Pepsi Max Big One” from my classroom. I had coastal towns such as Blackpool and Mablethorpe, which is in my own constituency, at the forefront of my concerns when we were looking at how we could help some of these dental deserts. It is why I have been focused on getting dental vans into tender so that we can try to push out some of these services. They are not a permanent fix, but they will help people in the short term while we are building up new practices through golden hellos and suchlike. Of course, today we have had the announcement of the consultation for dental graduates. If the taxpayer has contributed to their training, we would love them to have experience of the NHS.

Photo of Holly Mumby-Croft Holly Mumby-Croft Conservative, Scunthorpe

I thank my right hon. Friend for arranging for the Minister for Health and Secondary Care, my right hon. Friend Andrew Stephenson to come to Scunthorpe hospital. We were absolutely delighted to show him our brand new A&E, our ambulatory care unit and the renovated wards that have now been completed.

The Secretary of State will know that we are also midway through the construction of our community diagnostic centre, which we are really looking forward to getting up and running. Is she aware of my campaign to ensure that the small number of services that the hospital is indicating might be moved to Grimsby remain in Scunthorpe? It might only be a small number of patients who are affected, but it is incredibly important to them. I know that she cannot influence it at this point, but will she acknowledge the great strength of feeling on that issue?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

My hon. Friend has devoted her career in this place not only to representing the steelworkers in her constituency, but to her constituents’ healthcare, and it is thanks to her campaigning, and that of other colleagues, that we have a CDC, and facilities like that, in her local area. She has very tactfully described my position. I, of course, acknowledge my awareness of her campaign, and I really look forward to working with her in the future to see whether we can ensure that the residents of Scunthorpe—and the residents of Grimsby—have those services that we all hold so dear.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Secretary of State very much for her statement. It is clear that the NHS is, in some cases, in need of critical care. While we all prepare for an election, there are ill and vulnerable people unable to prepare for the surgery and treatment that they so desperately need. How will the Secretary of State ensure that, while this Parliament dissolves, the NHS continues to consolidate and grow, and delivers much-needed diagnoses and operations for its patients—our constituents?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank the hon. Gentleman. One of the joys of this Parliament has been to have him contributing in every statement and debate. On the particular healthcare needs in Northern Ireland, he will appreciate that healthcare is devolved, and that we are all very mindful of recent history, in terms of the devolution of power in that particular set of circumstances. However, I have very much enjoyed working with the Health Minister, Minister Swann.

Clearly, we value our United Kingdom, and we want to do whatever we can to help all corners of the United Kingdom in healthcare—although, of course, we respect that they are devolved matters. That is why I want to work closely with my counterpart in Northern Ireland, and, as I have indicated—or am indicating now— I would be very happy to work with the Health Ministers in Scotland and Wales to help them with their waiting lists.

Photo of Rob Butler Rob Butler Conservative, Aylesbury

This Conservative Government have invested hugely into the NHS. Doctors are working extremely hard, but because of the rapid growth of Aylesbury, unfortunately, there are still many local residents who have to wait too long to get appointments. Innovative ideas such as Pharmacy First and health hubs on the high street are already undoubtedly helping, but I believe that we can do even more. That is why, in this election, I am campaigning for a permanent walk-in health centre in the heart of the town—a one-stop shop where people can go for check-ups, see a nurse, physio or paramedic, and receive expert medical advice and support. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that is exactly the sort of clear plan for bold action that will secure the future of our NHS?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I most certainly do, and it is a pleasure to hear that my hon. Friend, who is such a great campaigner in his constituency, has that as a clear target for his area to represent his constituents. On the recruitment of general practitioners, we have set out, through our long-term workforce plan, our ambitions—and, importantly, the plans underlying those ambitions—to ensure that we recruit even more doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, and so on, to build the NHS of the future. My hon. Friend might want to share this fact with his constituents: since 2010, there are more than 41,000 more doctors in our NHS in England and more than 73,000 more nurses. Those are figures to be proud of.

Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham

I associate myself with the good wishes that have been sent to you this morning, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Prevention is, of course, better than cure, so will my right hon. Friend confirm that she is doing all that she can to ensure that the Government’s world-leading Tobacco and Vapes Bill is passed during the wash-up? She knows of my concern about children’s exposure to vaping. If the Bill will not be passed through wash-up, will she confirm that a Conservative Government would act quickly, once re-elected, to protect our children from deadly nicotine addictions?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, who, of course, brings her professional expertise into the Chamber. On the Bill, she will appreciate that we are at a very delicate stage, which I am not allowed to say anything about at the Dispatch Box, but she should be confident of my commitment, and that of the Prime Minister, to this important legislation and to a smoke-free generation.

Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham

Buckinghamshire has seen significant improvements to the NHS estate, not least with a new paediatric A&E at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, but my right hon. Friend will know that we have had many conversations about getting a new primary care facility into the village of Long Crendon and about critical upgrades to Wycombe Hospital to replace the ageing tower. Can she confirm that a future Conservative Government will remain absolutely on track to deliver on those facilities?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am delighted to not just support my hon. Friend, but commend him for his campaigns. This Conservative Government are committed to building the facilities that we need in the national health service, and it is a pity that the Labour party does not seem to be in the same place.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West

I thank the Secretary of State for visiting Southend Hospital last month. She knows that, when I was elected, ambulance handover times in Southend were the worst in the region. They are now often the best, and the emergency village is helping thousands of residents. She also helped to launch the first trust-wide fracture liaison service in the UK in Southend, which will save thousands of fractures, millions of pounds and thousands of bed days. Will she join me in congratulating CEO Matthew Hopkins, CEO Andrew Pike and consultant rheumatologist Dr Way Main Wong on this life-transforming service?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

May I say how delighted I am to see my hon. Friend back in one piece, given her abseil down the hospital recently, and also say how much I enjoyed seeing the confidence, ambition and professionalism of the new services being provided by her local hospital? I hope that she is pleased that I can confirm today that the Government have the ambition to expand the use of fracture liaison services to every integrated care board in England, achieving 100% coverage by 2030, which is very much inspired by her hospital.

Photo of James Wild James Wild Conservative, North West Norfolk

Since being elected to represent North West Norfolk, I have campaigned, with strong local support, for a new hospital. Can my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary confirm that only this Conservative Government are committed to building a new Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn by 2030, for patients and staff, as part of our fully funded plan?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank my hon. Friend, and very much understand and acknowledge his campaigning on this matter. Yes, we want to ensure that his county has the modern hospital facilities that it needs. I note in passing that, in the Norfolk and Norwich trust, this summer, we will see the opening of more surgical capacity precisely to help to deal with some of the waiting lists in his county. This is positive, practical action to secure a bright future for his local NHS.

Photo of Louie French Louie French Conservative, Old Bexley and Sidcup

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the incredible work that the late James Brokenshire MP did for Old Bexley and Sidcup constituents, particularly with Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup. Building on James’s legacy, I have been proud to work with my right hon. Friend’s Department, Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust and other partners locally to deliver new services for patients in Old Bexley and Sidcup.

Will my right hon. Friend join me today in thanking all the teams and all staff at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Sidcup? Will she join me in thanking particularly the project team that is working very hard to deliver the new community diagnostics hub, which will open in Old Bexley and Sidcup early next year?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in thanking the staff in his local area who support that very important hospital, and I praise the confidence and ambition for his local area through the opening of that community diagnostic centre. He is going to see more constituents being diagnosed and getting treated more quickly because of the investment that this Government have put in to that centre in his constituency. I thank all his staff and particularly the project team.

Photo of Heather Wheeler Heather Wheeler Conservative, South Derbyshire

Dame Rosie, I thank you for your service to this Chamber.

Will my right hon. Friend recall the conversations that we have been having about a community diagnostic centre in South Derbyshire, where we do not have one? We do not have a hospital; everybody has to travel. Could I invite her, not only during the next six weeks but after the six weeks—when she is back at that Dispatch Box and I am back here—to visit us and talk to the great teachers, doctors and nurses that want to put this project together?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

That is an irresistible invitation, if I may say so, and I will very much look forward to visiting my hon. Friend’s constituency to support her in her campaign for a community diagnostic centre.

I think we are on the last question, Madam Deputy Speaker, so, as we enter into this general election period, may I give my sincere thanks to every single member of our NHS staff and to every single person working in social care across England? You all do amazing jobs, and it is my great privilege to serve as your Secretary of State. I wish everybody a very calm—not quiet—six weeks. The medics will understand what I mean by that.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

On that note, I thank the Secretary of State for her statement. Once again, I thank everyone who made very kind comments.