The NHS - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:11 pm on 5th July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Winston Lord Winston Labour 3:11 pm, 5th July 2018

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to congratulate my noble friend—and respected colleague at Imperial CollegeLord Darzi on the outstanding way he introduced the debate. I was just talking to the noble Lord, Lord Reid, in the Bar and he said that sometimes you tear up the speech that you have written. This is one of those occasions.

At 8.40 am today, my grandson was born at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital under the National Health Service. My daughter had a horrendous pregnancy four years ago. I went through every single red light in London, I think, on my way to Queen Charlotte’s, when she had the most serious obstetric emergency and could have died. In fact, both she and the baby, Ellie, survived and are well, and she had this last pregnancy by elective caesarean section. It is striking that the National Health Service has been an example of the most amazing care. When I took her into Queen Charlotte’s the first time, she was delivered within 13 minutes of arrival on site and they did not even recognise me, even though I had helped design the building in which she was being delivered. That is a great credit to the health service.

Today there was a slightly different welcome when I drove up to the car park. It was completely blocked by television cameras, with various news media filming Queen Charlotte’s in all its panoply of glory, accompanied by wonderful, syrupy comments about the National Health Service. While I was hoping to hear a baby cry in the operating theatre next door, I was watching the coverage on television as an example of exactly what we do not need. My noble friend Lord Darzi was completely right, in the humble way he introduced the debate, to point out how magnificent the health service has been, but it is also important for us to be realistic. There is a major problem that we have to face and it is often easy to be really quite untruthful about the impact.

We are not having a proper debate about the health service in this country. I mean no disrespect to the Prime Minister or anybody else but we cannot continue on handouts. Both parties have been equally responsible. We always claim on this side that we invented the health service. I remember that when the dreadful internal market was brought in by Margaret Thatcher, Frank Dobson, the shadow Health Minister, promised he would abolish it. He did not when we came into power. We still have that iniquitous system, which is costing the National Health Service millions in bureaucracy and all sorts of other things, and of course resulting in health inequality, with the postcode lottery and many other examples.

We have to recognise that we need to have an honest debate and the only way we can do this is to depoliticise the system and the argument. We have to recognise that on all sides of this House we agree about the value of the National Health Service. We all realise that it is a remarkable and unique but fragile organisation. We need to do something about recognising that first we have to agree on a proportion of gross domestic product to understand how we are going to fund it before we consider taxation or any other form of spending. We have to understand how much it actually costs and at the moment, with that internal market, sadly, we do not know that. That is a major problem for us and something that I hope we will look at.

My noble friend Lord Darzi reiterated a very important point that I made in a debate about a month ago when I pointed out the importance of academic healthcare and the academic science centres. This is something which really is unique in the health service and unless we continue with that aspect of science, there will be a problem. So we have to weigh that in the balance of how we fund the health service in the future.