My Lords, it is fitting and symbolic that the debate was opened by three of the foremost medical experts in this House. We thank the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, for initiating the debate. He was followed by the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, and the noble Lord, Lord Winston, who, although not a surgeon himself, is a great expert on his own subject in the medical field. We thank them for their remarks. I must give a strong word of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, for his inspiring introduction. He covered a lot of ground and dealt with a lot of things. I agree with his implication—possibly it was even stronger than that and was a full expression—that we can all be proud and sentimental about the amazing National Health Service and what it has achieved but, at the same time, call for modernisation, efficiency and so on. I hope and pray, however, that we will avoid yet another upheaval of the administrative structures, which would drive people mad. That all comes together, and there is no sense of shame in saying that this taxpayer-funded service should receive more funds in the future. The period of austerity from this Government has been very painful for the National Health Service and we need to get over that now.
The noble Lord, Lord Darzi, mentioned his connection with the Royal Marsden. In 2003, for very sad family reasons, I had occasion to experience the Royal Marsden Hospital and its superb and wonderful treatment of people facing cancer. To a lay man like me, an example such as that remains in your memory for ever. I have always tried to avoid private healthcare, although I suppose that on occasion there is an emergency or one needs something quickly and therefore has to agree to a date being fixed if the NHS asks you to wait a bit longer. However, the service provided by the NHS is superlative. Even private medical companies often use its facilities and equipment because they do not have the same range of skills, equipment and expertise.
I commend the very good briefing note by the Library. It reminded us that the cost of the NHS as a percentage of GDP is similar to the EU average and very similar therefore to other leading countries. The cost of private healthcare is much more expensive for self-evident reasons, and I do not think it can ever match the efficiency of the NHS, despite it being funded in the way that it is. It is an amazing achievement.
I conclude not by trying to be clever for its own facile reason but by genuinely linking the dangers of Brexit with the National Health Service. Although there is no obvious connection at all between them, I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, for his letter to the Guardian today referring to these problems. He talked about the degradation of the physical economy and GDP as a result of the falling size of the economy already because of Brexit—it has already started and it is going to get worse if Brexit is to occur—and the departure of nurses and doctors from this country back to where they came from or elsewhere because they fear there will not be a positive future for them if we are not members of the EU. He quite rightly concludes by saying:
“Of the 52% who voted leave, few, if any, voted to sabotage the NHS”.
I am sure that is right. Therefore, that must be yet another collection of reasons why we have to think about the future of the NHS but also the future of the country.