National Health Service — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:19 pm on 14th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Winston Lord Winston Labour 12:19 pm, 14th January 2016

My Lords, I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds will forgive me for my intemperance. Normally, I do not interfere with the bishops, except when I am playing chess. I also apologise, if I may, to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Prior. I feel very deeply about what I am going to say, and it will be uncomfortable. I want to assure him of my respect for him and my recognition of his commitment to the National Health Service. However, what I have to say is important.

According to independent international observation, we have the best National Health Service in the world, often funded at a lower level than almost any other equivalent in Europe. However, I am not sure that it can remain so after the 2012 Act, which of course was introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, whose idea it was.

The one thing that makes our National Health Service as good as it is, is the quality of academic medicine and research that goes on in our universities. Jeremy Farrar has pointed out that the reason he became such a good doctor is that he did research. In spite of the ludicrous boasts that we are doing more research in the NHS and that every patient will be part of research, sadly, this is really not happening. As Professor Geraint Rees, the notable neuroscientist at UCL has said, the culture of the NHS has become increasingly inflexible and actively hostile to clinical academic training. Why do I say that? It is because it is inflexible in allowing research-oriented doctors to move to different regions to get experience. The system makes it difficult for research-oriented doctors to return to clinical training, and the career that I had would now be impossible. Doctors wanting to do research find it extremely difficult to persuade seniors and managers that they should spend time doing this, and the current problems doctors face are a shocking example of what is happening.

The fact is that research takes time: it takes time to read, to reflect, to discuss, to think, to write, to publish and to talk to patients to explain why the research is so important. I see prospective medical students in schools all over the country and they show one thing: they cannot get into a university to do medicine unless they demonstrate their altruism and an understanding that they will need to be ethical, their commitment to justice, and the notion that they are going to have to be extremely diligent. As you see, they go through medical school with all those principles—the notion of justice, public service and, above all, diligence—drummed into them at every stage in every university.

But what have the Government done? I congratulate the current Secretary of State on one thing. He has certainly united the most diligent, altruistic, committed, intelligent and well-trained workforce in the country; they have gone on strike almost unanimously. The fact is that the attitudes that are being pushed on to the doctors are, ultimately, extraordinarily destructive, and the Government have a major responsibility for that. The future of our NHS is imperilled by this change of attitudes.