My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Darzi. I was in the Chamber when he leapt across that Bench to save the life of a noble Lord who had had a heart attack, and a very impressive sight it was. I, too, have suffered a cardiac arrest and I received life-saving care from two wonderful paramedics from the South East Coast Ambulance Service.
My personal experience, not in a way that I would have chosen, was of the NHS at its very best. Everything at every stage, from the moment the cool-headed handler took the 999 call, the paramedics who got my heart going, the surgery, to the kindnesses and the professional aftercare that I received in East Surrey Hospital, could not be faulted. I was honoured when the hospital asked me to open its wonderful new cardio wing and meet the staff. It was an emotional event for me to stand in front of the very people who had saved my life, giving me an opportunity to join this debate today.
I declare an interest, in that my sister was a state registered nurse, my brother-in-law is a retired senior surgeon with the NHS and my niece is a junior doctor training in infectious diseases. She is extremely proud to be part of the NHS and very optimistic for the future.
While we bask in the reflected glory of all that the NHS has achieved in the past 70 years, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Winston, that we must be realistic. We need to remember the winter pressures and looming targets that put the NHS under immeasurable pressure and result in less than optimal patient care.
At this late stage of the debate, I will touch on just one challenge facing the NHS, which has been mentioned by many noble Lords: creating a sustainable workforce moving forward, particularly as we rely so heavily on European and overseas staff. Since we voted to leave the EU, there has been a dramatic reduction in the number of staff coming from Europe. Although immigration restrictions have been lifted, it is going to take time to recruit staff. The NHS must be able to offer a long-term future, or why would they come? The focus should be on making medicine and nursing attractive again and developing a long-term plan that meets workforce challenges. There is much bridge-building to do after last year’s junior doctors’ strikes if the NHS is to keep them once they have completed their training. Junior doctors welcome Jeremy Hunt’s pledge for more medical school places, but there are ongoing concerns about low morale and rota gaps in the workforce causing significant issues with retention of staff. Worryingly, junior doctors are leaving not only the NHS but the profession altogether.
With regard to nurses, this is the last year that those in training are entitled to receive a bursary and will not have to pay university fees. They will then have to pay £29,000, plus living costs, for a three-year period. This means that most nursing graduates will leave university with debts of around £54,000. I would be interested to hear whether the Minister is concerned that this issue will have a negative impact on nurses’ recruitment.