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Queen’s Speech - Debate (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:57 pm on 22nd October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 9:57 pm, 22nd October 2019

Sorry, he is in a different place. I follow the noble Lord in paying tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and his colleagues on the Long-Term Sustainability of the NHS Committee, which he chaired, because many of its proposals were replicated in the long-term plan.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross, Lady Walmsley and Lady Massey, and my noble friend Lord Young raised the importance of prevention, primary care and tackling inequalities. These are all important agendas for the Government and for my department, which is why the Government have committed more than £4.5 billion of additional funding to support GP services and will recruit an additional 20,000 staff to work in practices.

It is also why the Government have published their prevention vision, which sets out an ambitious agenda in order to put public health at the heart of everything the department and the NHS do, including aggressive action to tackle obesity such as the sugar tax, which has proved to be a great success. I am happy to reassure my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham that this will continue to be right at the heart of our agenda. Moreover, the department is addressing the real and valid concerns about health inequalities. We have just recently finished consulting on how to improve the health of people living in the poorest communities. Reducing inequalities is a key part of the long-term plan and will be a requirement as part of our PCMs.

We have also worked closely with Defra on the introduction of the clean air strategy, which was noted by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and on antimicrobial resistance, which no one noted but I do so now, and with Henry Dimbleby on his food strategy. On this last point, while I cannot commit the Leader of the Opposition to continuing commitment on this agenda, I can certainly reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, of the Government’s ongoing commitment and I thank her for both her expertise and her work on this agenda because it is essential.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross, Lady Meacher, Lady Hollins, Lady Watkins, Lady Sherlock, Lady Campbell, Lady Wheeler and Lady Bakewell, along with my noble friend Lord Young, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London also raised the critical issue of social care. As my noble friend Lord Willetts said, we must just get on with it, and I do not think that I can improve on what the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, said: “Ageing is not an option”, and nor is substantial reform in this area.

The Prime Minister was clear on the steps of Downing Street about this Government’s determination to fix the crisis in social care to ensure that every older person has dignity and security and that no one needs to sell their home to fund their care. He wants this to be a bold, once-in-a-generation reform and I can reassure the House that officials across government are working, probably at this moment, on developing ambitious proposals on top of the £17.1 billion invested in the past financial year. However, I will strongly reiterate to the Secretary of State and to the Prime Minister, as I often do, the very strong mood in this House that the time for action is now. I will also confirm that the department will consider carefully the recommendations set out by the Independent Living Strategy Group, led by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and those of the Intergenerational Fairness Committee, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, is a member, as part of those considerations.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Jolly, Lady Donaghy, Lady Janke and Lady Watkins, along with the noble Lord, Lord Patel, raised the issue of NHS staffing. Having the right staff is crucial to delivering the aims and objectives of the long-term plan. To address this, we are recruiting more staff than ever before with, for example, a 25% increase in training places for medical students. We have also given a significant pay rise to more than 1 million staff and my noble friend Lady Harding is currently preparing for publication the people plan, which will set out a range of ambitious options for what more we can do to improve the situation. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, this will specifically consider the whole range of potential financial incentives which could support recruitment and retention. At this point I will follow other noble Lords in putting on the record my department’s deep appreciation of the noble Baroness, Lady Emerton, for her wonderful work as a champion of the nursing profession.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Jolly, Lady Hollins, Lady Sherlock, Lady Featherstone, and Lady Tyler, and my noble friends Lady Verma and Lord Kirkhope, along with the noble Lord, Lord Watson, noted the importance of getting mental health right, the reform of the Mental Health Act and the care of those with disabilities. This is not only a crucial issue but a complex area, so it is important that we get the reform right. I recognise the impatience of noble Lords to go further faster, but there is real progress to report. The Government have already accepted a number of the recommendations made in the independent review. We will publish a White Paper by the end of the year and we will set out in detail our legislative and non-legislative response. To address the immediate service challenges, the Government are also investing record amounts in NHS mental health care as well as in care for those with learning disabilities and autism. I can also report that capital will not be overlooked. Since 2017, we have recruited more than 3,000 additional staff to put in place a wide range of measures to ensure that care is provided closer to home.

The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and my noble friend Lord O’Shaughnessy raised Brexit and the health service. In any Brexit scenario my department is committed to maintaining the very highest standards of regulation and I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham that we will remain a world leader in the regulation of tobacco and of prevention, as we have laid out in our prevention vision. Our preference remains close co-operation with the EMA as well as with our other long-term friends and partners such as the Commonwealth, as my noble friend Lord Howell mentioned.

The importance of patient safety was also raised by a number of Peers in relation to the upcoming Health Service Safety Investigations Bill. I am very much looking forward to its Second Reading next week, when I am sure we will have plenty of time to debate it and I will be held to account in every possible way—so I shall not go into detail on that now.

I will say just a word about innovation, raised by the noble Lords, Lord Patel, Lord Kakkar and Lord Bassam, who raised the importance of life sciences and innovation. We have a very strong record in this area. I am afraid I do not recognise the picture presented in the IPPR’s recent report. Turnover and employment in UK life sciences have grown notably over the last decade, and the life sciences strategy sets out a powerful vision for action, which we are delivering against assiduously. This has included £1 billion of government investment and £3 billion of leveraged industry investment. We now have substantially better partnership between the NHS, academia, government and industry, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, that we have to improve on our rate of progress between ideation and adoption. Part of that is better working between all those agencies engaged in trying to deliver against that objective.

I also noted strong support from the noble Lord, Lord Patel, and others on the fast-track visa for top scientists. I will take away the sensible suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, that this be expanded to include the cultural and creative sectors.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, raised the storage of gametes. I agree on the importance of this, as I think she knows, and have continued to push this matter within my department. To that end, I hope to have a positive update in the coming weeks.

I am mindful that I have only a short amount of time and the clock is counting down. In closing, I reiterate my thanks to noble Lords for their many and varied insightful contributions. Responding to a debate such as this is a challenge, given the breadth of issues we have covered, but it is also a pleasure, giving me the opportunity to engage on many issues that I do not regularly come across in my brief. As has been pointed out, we debate the gracious Speech in unprecedented political times, but my commitment to this place on behalf of the Government and the departments for whom I speak today is that we will continue to strive day in, day out to improve the lives of and the services available to people right across the United Kingdom. I know that is an ambition to which all your Lordships here today will join me in being committed.

Motion agreed nemine dissentiente, and the Lord Chamberlain was ordered to present the Address to Her Majesty.

House adjourned at 10.17 pm.