National Health Service — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:12 pm on 14th January 2016.

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Photo of Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Shadow Spokesperson (Health), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 2:12 pm, 14th January 2016

My Lords, if the Minister is going to have any time at all, I should cut my contribution short. First, I declare an interest as president of the Health Care Supply Association and the barcoding association GS1, because I want to comment on the remarks of my noble friend Lord Carter on efficiency.

I very much welcome this debate. I was very taken with my noble friend’s description of the ideal world. I wonder if noble Lords think, as my noble friend Lord

Carter does, that elements of that are in existence in the NHS at the moment, and that the issue is how to get that going in every part of the NHS. That is one of the essential conundrums.

I will focus also on the very important contribution of my noble friend Lord Winston, who talked about the risks to our medical research. Our medical research has always been one of the best in the world. On it our whole life science sector has depended. The fact is that we in this country have always had a very strong, innovative pharmaceutical and diagnostic industry. When my noble friend says that all of that is at risk, we need to listen.

There is no doubt—I pick this up consistently—that there is a hostility in the NHS to the kind of time that is needed for doctors to practise in research, and even to take part in Royal College activities. This has really got to stop. Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, here, I have to say that the introduction of NHS England does not help, because, for all the fine words that are in both the mandate and what NHS England says, I do not see any commitment in NHS England to these kinds of issues.

I will raise one further issue in aid of that. Our record on the introduction of new, innovative medicines in this country is a disgrace. We have some fantastic inventions, but the NHS is pathetically slow in introducing them. The noble Lord probably knows very well that we have an accelerated access review under the chairmanship of Sir Hugh Taylor. The word on the street is that it is simply not going to get anywhere because the NHS is not going to play ball and is not going to insist that NHS bodies invest in these medicines. A whole sector of our economy is at risk because of this. I know that the Minister is as concerned as I am and I hope that he might say something.

I come to the issue of junior doctors—not to talk about the dispute but because both my noble friends Lord Winston and Lord Mitchell raised the issue of why junior doctors are so disengaged. Anyone who has met them will know how angry they feel. It is partly about the Secretary of State’s manipulation of statistics—which, frankly, given the brightness of junior doctors, was always going to be very unwise. It is also about their distrust of management. Part of the problem is that they just do not believe that, locally, NHS employers will do the right thing.

My noble friend is right. Why are junior doctors treated so abominably by NHS employers? Why can they not get access to decent hot food at night? Why are the junior messes not in places where they can go and meet? I do not know what can be done to get this home to the NHS. Anyone who meets our juniors knows that they are the brightest of the bright and are hugely committed—yet, somehow, we seem to have made them wholly disenchanted with the NHS. It is a very serious issue.

This brings me to the issue of leadership, which my noble friend mentioned. In June last year, the noble Lord, Lord Rose, produced an excellent report on how to enhance and improve leadership in the NHS. He asked the Government three questions. How do we get better leadership? How to we recognise it? How do we find and mature the people who are needed to lead the

NHS? I am afraid that there has been virtually no response to this from the Government. That is very disappointing. In fact, all that has happened is that the turnover of chief executive officers has continued at an alarming rate. Again, as one of my noble friends said, we have got to get rid of leadership by bullying. There is a bullying culture throughout the system and it is having a corrosive impact on the ability of people locally to lead organisations.

Of course, funding is very important. I do not need to repeat all the arguments that noble Lords have put forward. Essentially, they concern growing population and demographic pressures. We in this country spend less on health than any comparable country. The OECD figures that came out just before Christmas were very convincing on this. The Government’s claims in the Autumn Statement frankly do not ring true. We know that they are front-loading some of the money for the next five years, but the annual increase from here to 2020 will be 0.85%— even less than the average increase from 2010 to 2015.

At the same time, we know that half of that extra money has come from raiding the budgets of Health Education England and Public Health England, from capital funds and from the cost of pension payments. At the same time, what do Ministers do? They pile on more pressure. Not a week goes by without another press release from the Department of Health or an announcement by the Secretary of State that something else has got to be done. No wonder his credibility is shot in the NHS.

Of course, the gap between the money that is going in and the £30 billion per annum that it is generally believed will be required by 2020 is huge. I pay great tribute to my noble friend Lord Carter, because obviously he is helping the NHS to see if it can close part of that gap. I am sure that is right and that, on procurement in particular, a much more cohesive national approach is needed—but at the end of the day, there is still going to be a gap.

Should there be a royal commission? I cannot help repeating Harold Wilson’s famous diktat that royal commissions take minutes and waste years. That is, of course, when they are used simply to postpone a decision. I understand why noble Lords want some kind of neutral and impartial commission to look into those issues. However, we have already had the Barker commission, and I doubt whether anyone is going to improve on that. In the end, it is a matter of political will. I say to the Minister that, at the very least, what we seek is some honesty from the Government: admit that the financial gap is not going to be met and stop piling on the pressure.