My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Darzi on initiating the debate and on his speech.
Exactly 70 years ago today, I was a patient in Stockport Infirmary. I was quite ill. In those days, when the consultant did his rounds it was like God visiting, with a team of doctors, matron and so and, if I remember rightly, one was supposed either to stand to attention if one was well enough or lie to attention if one was not. I was lying to attention. The consultant came by and I said, “Just a minute. I have a question to ask you”. One did not ask consultants questions like that, so he turned around and said, “What is it?”, and I said, “Are we having a party today?”. He said, “What for?”, and I said, “The hospital’s ours. Isn’t it terrific?”. He walked on. I was the only child in the ward and the other patients asked me what was going on. I explained and I think I got a few Labour supporters out of that.
I should declare that, more recently, I was a member of an area health authority and, even more recently, I was a member of a mental health trust, and I found it a privilege to serve on both those bodies.
I welcome the Government’s recent announcement of a bit of an increase, although it is only a standstill increase and does not increase the resources going into the health service. For all the criticism of the health service, I think we get fantastically good value for money out of it. If we look at the percentage of GDP spent on health, we compare extremely well with many other countries. Most of the major European countries spend more of their GDP on health than we do, and the Americans are way ahead. The trouble is that we get all this on the cheap. It is to the detriment of the health service that it is too easy for the Government to turn off the financial tap for reasons of austerity, and there are no safeguards to protect the health service against a Government’s short-term need to save money. My noble friend Lord Winston made that point earlier. I believe the value for money is incredibly good.
I hope that the Government will tackle the problem of social care. It is all too clear that so much bed-blocking takes place and that the health service would benefit if people could be moved out of hospital when they are well enough into their home with support or into other forms of residential support. It is to the detriment of the health service that we allow this to continue. We have to tackle it.
At a local level, Charing Cross Hospital in West London, which is much loved and much appreciated, is still under threat. There has been a big campaign to save it. The local health authorities wanted to close it down. At the moment, it is still there, at least until 2021. In the meantime, the Government have added £7 million to the A&E services, which are very important, but there is no point in putting money into A&E in the short term unless we have some assurance that the hospital will continue. The trouble is that we have to get out of the position in which the Government can too easily cut off the money so we do not have any long-term assurance about the health service.
Finally, I believe this most sincerely: the British people would accept an increase in taxation in order to fund the health service more securely. They would accept that, provided it was hypothecated for the health service. I know the Treasury does not like that, but I believe that if the people of Britain were told that more money from taxation would be used directly for health and social care, they would accept that.