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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:19 am on 19th March 2019.

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Photo of Lisa Cameron Lisa Cameron Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Mental Health) 10:19 am, 19th March 2019

It is an absolute pleasure and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank my hon. Friend Brendan O’Hara for his thorough and passionate account of why a clear focus on the health and social care system is so important. That will be true beyond Brexit, but Brexit is our immediate concern, which is why we must give it serious attention.

The NHS does fantastic work. I had the privilege of working for four years in Argyll and Bute, covering the hospital there as a forensic psychologist. Rural hospitals in Argyll and Bute are excellent and innovative in their practice. Even 10 to 15 years ago, when I was working there, we were grappling with the internet and how to engage in therapy on timescales that would best suit patients. The use of technology in those rural areas was innovative, and I commend the NHS staff I worked with, many of whom still work there, for their work to provide fantastic patient care.

Two weeks ago there was an extraordinary meeting when seven all-party parliamentary groups came together to look at health and social care. I am fortunate enough to have been the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on disability since the 2015 general election. The chairs of the all-party groups were there and we brought in carers and service users to speak about their concerns. There is growing concern in Parliament about the NHS, and about the implications of a no-deal Brexit, particularly on medicines regulation and our ability to staff hospitals and provide excellent care, as we always have. It was an important and informative meeting and I suggest to the Government that a further meeting might come out of it, with the all-party group chairs, to hear the views of the service users and carers who attended, and to take forward some of their recommendations. They are on the frontline and know what happens day to day in our services. I am sure that they will be extremely informative and constructive if they have an opportunity to meet the Minister.

When I was a member of the Health and Social Care Committee, we conducted an inquiry into Brexit, medicines, medical devices and substances of human origin. A particular concern was raised about our ability to lead on research trials, and about patients’ ability to participate in trials, particularly on diseases that are perhaps less common but where there is a need to pull in subjects or participants from a huge area such as the EU. Currently, patients here can participate in such trials, and we can also lead on some of them. That has brought some of the best scientists and researchers to the United Kingdom. I would be interested to hear from the Minister how we will ensure that continues. Also, how will our constituents continue to have access to such important trials, rather than having to wait until some way down the line to get new and innovative medications?

During that inquiry, the Select Committee urged the Government particularly to look at regulatory alignment and the implications of no deal. We raised concerns about the lack of references to Brexit in the Department’s single departmental plan. It would be useful to have an update from the Minister on that work, which I am sure is ongoing. There was also some concern about protecting the UK’s position globally in relation to pharmaceuticals. On the matter of full membership of the International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use, reassurance was sought that that matter would be taken up at the earliest opportunity. It would be extremely helpful if the Minister gave an update on that.

The Select Committee recommended negotiating a close relationship with the EU, including associate membership of the European Medicines Agency, and supported the Government’s intention in that respect. Our report stated:

“Failure to achieve an ongoing collaboration would signal the triumph of political ideology over patient care.”

I say firmly to everyone involved, from all parties in Parliament, that patient care must be placed firmly before political ideology. The NHS is one of our most prized institutions—for everyone across the United Kingdom—and must remain so. Our overriding message was that almost all the evidence received suggested that

“the UK should continue to align with the EU regulatory regimes” for medicines and devices. An update from the Minister would be helpful.

Mr Cunningham, who is not currently in his place, made an interesting intervention about predatory procurement. I understand that we do not want to be alarmist in Parliament, but patients bring such concerns to us, so reassurance from the Minister would be helpful. John Howell spoke eloquently about his constituency and talked about diabetes and cystic fibrosis. Many constituents go to their Member of Parliament seeking reassurance about the implications of Brexit for their medicinal needs. The hon. Gentleman also spoke about mental health, which we cannot speak about enough in Parliament, because for many years it was never broached. I am the Scottish National party’s spokesperson on mental health, so I thank him for raising it, because I consider it important for it to be mentioned in as many debates as possible. It has an impact in every part of our lives, and if we are to provide holistic care it must have parity with physical health in all we do.

My hon. Friend Patricia Gibson spoke about medicinal isotopes. There is a huge pharmaceutical industry presence in my constituency, and I have been in touch with those business in the past month. There continue to be grave concerns about alignment and regulation for the industry. I think it is the continuing uncertainty that puts such a burden on businesses.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran also said that one in five GPs are EU nationals and talked about our heavy reliance on workers from the EU, who do a fantastic job in the NHS. A number of witnesses to the Health and Social Care Committee told us just the same. We of course do not want to lose their valuable skills and expertise. They have built bonds with patients—or, if they work in the social care sector, with the people they care for—over a long period of time, and that cannot be overestimated. We must never undervalue their contribution. They need their place to be secure. Many of those workers do not earn over the £30,000 threshold, so we need a specialist case to ensure that the expertise stays in the country to support those vulnerable constituents of ours who need it.

Something that was repeatedly raised with the Select Committee—Jim Shannon also mentioned this—is the fact that we have come to rely on high levels of staffing from the EU and elsewhere. It has been mooted that if we cannot attract staff from the EU, we could attract them from India or perhaps Africa. Those places in particular need their trained staff, and something must be done about training for young people in this country who want to go into health and social care settings.