National Health Service — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:44 pm on 14th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Taylor of Warwick Lord Taylor of Warwick Non-affiliated 1:44 pm, 14th January 2016

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, for securing this debate. He and other noble Lords have spoken with much wisdom, expertise and experience. My only qualification in this area may be that I was a board member of the North West Thames Regional Health Authority, a member of the Solihull Family Practitioner Committee and a board member of SCAR, the Sickle Cell Anaemia Relief charity.

As a schoolboy, I attended a university open day as a precursor to studying for a medical degree. I recall that we had to walk through a laboratory where some experiments were being carried out on dead bodies donated for research. It is still vivid in my memory. I passed one corpse that had been drained of all body fluids and dissected lengthways, so that I was looking at a half-body. I recalled that in the Bible Lazarus had been raised from the dead, but I thought to myself, “But that Lazarus was not cut in half; this guy is going nowhere”. I decided at that point that medicine is a special calling, and perhaps it was not calling me. So I have every admiration for members of the medical profession. I just hope that the BMA and the Government can reach an agreement. With the prospect of two further doctors’ strikes, it is surely the patients who will suffer.

It is said that some 40% of diseases are related to lifestyle. Smoking and alcohol abuse are major problems. As the saying goes, Bacchus has drowned more men than Neptune. We need an effective national plan for preventable illness, otherwise the impact of lifestyle-related diseases and longer lifespans will put even greater strain on resources. This may have to be a part of an open, independent inquiry or commission charting the way forward, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, stated. It could include an international comparison of the way that other countries deal with these issues, especially the means of funding the service. The inquiry needs to examine a more holistic approach to health, involving health promotion, sickness prevention, mental illness and social care. We have excellent health foundations, such as the Nuffield Trust and the King’s Fund, that can help with this.

The third Gospel was written by Luke, who was a doctor of medicine, but, as a Greek, he was a non-Jew, a foreigner. I mention that to highlight the tremendous contribution made by ethnic minorities to our NHS. Some 37% of doctors and 27% of nurses are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. In London, 40% of the NHS workforce are from BME communities.

In my student days, my idea of a balanced meal was a biscuit in each hand. Since then, I have had to learn the value of healthy nutrition and exercise. There is nothing permanent in life except change, and there has to be change in our approach to the NHS in order for it to meet its present and future demands. As John F Kennedy once said, our task now is not to fix the blame for the past but to fix the course for the future.