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Queen’s Speech - Debate (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:50 pm on 22nd October 2019.

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Photo of Lord Morris of Handsworth Lord Morris of Handsworth Labour 7:50 pm, 22nd October 2019

My Lords, I too pay tribute to the gracious Speech. I declare an interest: I have family members who have worked in the NHS for many years.

In the gracious Speech we were told:

“Measures will be brought forward to support and strengthen the National Health Service, its workforce and resources”— so, a promise of new hospitals to replace leaking, creaking, not fit for purpose buildings. But why were they allowed to get into that state in the first place? While some 34 hospitals will receive £100 million in initial funding for development projects, the money will not be available for some years.

Over recent weeks, my attention has been caught by a number of reports on the NHS. Rachel Clarke, a palliative care doctor working in the NHS, wrote in the Guardian about staff trying to care for their patients amid collapsing ceilings, broken boilers and unsafe fire cladding. But she says that it is people, not bricks and mortar, that the NHS is really crying out for. The Care Quality Commission reported that more than half of the A&E units in England are providing sub-standard care because they are understaffed and cannot cope with the continuing surge in patient numbers. Sally Warren of the King’s Fund reports:

“Staff are working under enormous strain as services struggle to recruit, train and retain enough staff with the necessary skills”.

Nick Scriven from the Society for Acute Medicine told of an inadequate workforce that is haemorrhaging senior staff. He warns that the NHS is reaching a vital tipping point where care will be compromised. But as well as an urgent need for more trained staff, the Government need to act on ways to reduce waiting lists and bed-blocking.

Dame Sally Davies, the retiring Chief Medical Officer, recently called on politicians to put children’s health before company profits. She demanded tough action against the tide of junk food, which is causing obesity and shortening lives. Ten primary school children in every 30 are overweight, which in later life will lead to heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

In April 2018, the Government put a tax on sugary drinks, which has resulted in manufacturers cutting sugar content by nearly 29%. It is reckoned to have taken 90 million kilos of sugar out of the nation’s diet. But, during the Tory leadership campaign, Boris Johnson, not yet Prime Minister, pledged to halt any new “sin tax”—his words—on sugary drinks. That same day, obesity was named by Cancer Research UK as causing more cases of four common cancers than smoking.

The Government was urged to put a tax on sugar and calories in everyday foods consumed by children. Instead, in March 2017, they challenged companies to reduce sugar and calories in those foods by 20% by 2020. So far, companies have managed a less than 5% reduction. How much healthier might the nation be if it had been a tax rather than a challenge? The Prime Minister apparently prefers to listen to the manufacturers and sellers of junk food in dealing with a health crisis—one assumes for company profits rather than the health of the nation.