I think there is a consensus in Westminster Hall, informed by multiple Select Committee reports that have highlighted the crisis in our health and social care system. My clinical commissioning group is facing a £40 million deficit. My local hospital, which is one of the best run in the country, is facing a £20 million deficit. It is obvious that that simply is not sustainable.
As other colleagues have pointed out, accident and emergency figures are deteriorating, waiting times are lengthening and there are increasing difficulties in seeing a GP. In Devon, we face controversial plans to close community hospital beds and to close a number of community hospitals completely. That is not an accident; it is the result of seven years of the most stringent restraint on NHS investment in its history, combined with 40% cuts to social care when we have a growing elderly population and increasing demand. The issue was exacerbated by the disastrous Lansley reforms in the Health and Social Care Act 2012—the biggest structural upheaval in the NHS’s history— implemented at the same time as maximum spending restraint.
As well as that organisational upheaval, we face a workforce crisis in health and social care, as the Chair of the Select Committee, Dr Wollaston pointed out. That has been exacerbated by the uncertainty over Brexit. Until recently, the Government have appeared pretty oblivious to all that. The £2 billion extra in the Budget was welcome, but it is a drop in the ocean compared with the amount of money that is needed.
I welcome the commitment in the Green Paper to look root and branch at a sustainable funding solution for health and social care. I worry, however, that a Green Paper is often a euphemism for kicking an issue into the green grass. I would like to see a policy announcement or a White Paper. As colleagues have pointed out, we have had much cross-party support. One proposal was scuppered in the run-up to the last general election. I worry that to grapple with the issue in the second half of a Parliament is not sensible timing. Governments need to get a grip on the issue at the beginning of a Parliament so that there is maximum time for cross-party working to get something in place. I am not optimistic that the Green Paper will come to a conclusion.
We also need to have an honest conversation with the British public about how we fund health and social care. I share Members’ regret that the Chancellor seems to have ruled out any sort of posthumous levy on people’s estates. We need to look at all options, including the excellent sugar tax that was recommended by our Select Committee. It is already having a dramatic effect in getting drinks manufacturers to reduce the sugar in their products and therefore improve public health.
Finally, we would like the Government to end the uncertainty over EU nationals working here in our health and social care system. They could do that today when the Prime Minister stands up in the House and gives her statement on article 50. That would give a huge boost to morale and end the uncertainty. People are already leaving, and the system is not able to recruit. That workforce crisis will do more damage in the short term than anything else.