Leaving the EU: Health and Social Care — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 19th March 2019.

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Photo of Brendan O'Hara Brendan O'Hara Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Inclusive Society) 9:30 am, 19th March 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the effect of leaving the European Union on the UK’s health and social care sector.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to the debate, and all hon. Members who have come along to take part in it. I put on the record my sincere thanks to Robert McGeachy of Camphill Scotland, to Craig Wilson and Gareth Jones from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, and to Andrew Strong of Alliance Scotland, for all their help and support in preparing for the debate.

The debate’s origins are in my private Member’s Bill, which I tabled in November 2018. It sought from the UK Government provision for an independent evaluation of the effects on the health and social care sector of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. Like many others, my Bill will almost certainly fall this Friday, without ever seeing the light of day or being debated. I was always prepared for the likelihood that the Bill would fall because of a lack of time, so that does not surprise me. What did surprise me, however, was my Bill’s impact on the organisations that deliver vital health and social care to so many vulnerable and needy people day-in, day-out right across the United Kingdom.

Currently, no fewer than 102 different third sector organisations, trade unions and charities have publicly supported the measures in the Bill. Not a single one of those organisations believes that Brexit will be good for the health of the people of these nations. Moreover, they all support the idea that an independent evaluation of the effects of Brexit on the health and social care sector should be carried out, and that it should examine the sustainability of public funding, the challenges faced by the workforce, and the efficiencies and effectiveness of the sector.

I will not test everyone’s patience by naming all 102 organisations that have lent their support, but I can assure hon. Members that they cover every part of the United Kingdom. They include the Western Isles Carers, Users and Supporters Network, which is based in Stornoway, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, Disability Wales, and the London-based Mentor UK, which does great work with young people on alcohol and drug misuse. Those organisations share my concerns, and I want to put on the record my sincere thanks to each and every one of them for contacting and supporting me.

In the light of the extremely high levels of concern among those delivering services at the sharp end, I did not want this hugely important issue simply to disappear from the radar on Friday, when my private Member’s Bill will almost certainly fall because of a lack of time. I felt that I owed something, not just to those organisations, but to the most vulnerable in our society: those with disabilities; children and young people; older people; unpaid carers; those living with long-term health conditions; and those who rely on the vital contributions made by the highly valued EU citizens who provide for our health and social care needs right across these islands. Their voices are not being heard, or their views properly considered. I felt that I owed it to those people to ensure that the very serious issues that the health and social care sector will face post Brexit are examined and discussed in this place so that, 18 months from now, no one can claim not to have known what the sector or the service users were saying.

Every one of us knows that there is already a crisis in social care across the United Kingdom, with a seemingly relentless pressure on funding. Our population is ageing and has increasingly complex care needs, and we face major challenges in the retention and recruitment of the workforce required to meet those needs. One would have thought that, in the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum in June 2016, the Government would at the very least have made a top priority of safeguarding the health and care of their citizens. Guaranteeing a secure supply of the vital medicines that are manufactured in the EU, or that have to be transited through it, would have been a good starting point, particularly as the Department of Health and Social Care’s own estimate states that two thirds of the medicines that we use in the UK come from or via the European Union.

One would have thought that securing access to the essential pool of labour that we require now, and will increasingly need in future, would have been at the top of the to-do list, or thereabouts. Yet in March 2019, just 10 days from possibly crashing out chaotically, we are still discussing the dangers that the weakest and most vulnerable in our society will face as a result of Brexit, and particularly the type of Brexit that the UK Government have chosen to pursue. It is one in which their ideologically driven, self-imposed red lines will deliberately sever the essential link between the health and social care sector and the pool of labour on which it depends. Exactly two years ago, Professor Ian Cumming, the chief executive of Health Education England, said:

“Our biggest risk in the short term, as a result of Brexit, may be in the non-professionally qualified workforce across health and social care”.

Without exception, every single organisation that offered me support for this debate or prepared a briefing ahead of it highlighted the enormous damage that Brexit, and particularly the end of freedom of movement, would do to their ability to deliver care and undertake essential medical research—every single one. They include Cancer Research, CLIC Sargent, the Local Government Association, the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action, researchers from the University of Birmingham, Macmillan Cancer Support, the British Medical Association and Age UK, to name but a few. They have all said that the health and social care sector values and wants to retain its EU staff, and wants nothing to stop it recruiting more of those hugely valued and important staff members in future.