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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:31 am on 19th March 2019.

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Photo of Julie Cooper Julie Cooper Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) (Community Health) 10:31 am, 19th March 2019

The hon. Lady makes a really important point. I would be the first to speak up for the skills of community pharmacists, but that measure is a passing of the buck. It does not put the interests of patients and their safety first and foremost, which is very worrying.

I move on to the life science industry and research, which several Members have touched on. The UK is a world leader in life sciences and a major centre for research. The sector employs 220,000 people and attracts some of the finest research talent in the world. Four of the world’s top six universities for the research and study of clinical and health topics are based in the UK. Biotech company clusters and partnerships are found across the country, making up the largest biotech pipeline in Europe. It is a fact that the UK has been the recipient a bigger share of EU research funding than any other EU nation. It is hard to overstate the importance of the EU to the biomedical sector in the UK and the health outcomes for British patients. Shared initiatives—such as the “New Drugs for Bad Bugs” programme, which aims to tackle antimicrobial resistance—in which pharmacologists from across the EU work together for mutual gain are incredibly important for the future. As we leave the EU, we risk losing the benefits that arise from being a hub for world-class research. The investment, the talent and the infrastructure, including jobs, are all at risk. The removal of those benefits has begun, and arrangements are already in place to relocate the European Medicines Agency from London to Amsterdam.

Time is short, and there are many issues of concern about this subject. One key concern is workforce. I agree with Dr Cameron, and I thank our NHS staff for the tremendous work that they do. I pay tribute to the excellent service that we still enjoy, in spite of the many challenges. It is because of that excellent service that we feel so passionate today; we do not want to lose it. I also put on record my thanks to the care workers, especially those who have helped me to look after my mum. It just so happens that they come from Poland and Latvia, and they are amazing, but their status is at risk.

Hon. Members have talked about the existing challenges in the workforce, and rightly so. We already have a workforce crisis in the NHS and in social care. There are many reasons for that, including some that have already been mentioned: we do not train enough staff; we put up barriers to training, including the removal of bursaries; and working conditions and pay are often not what they should be, as Jim Shannon said. There is no doubt that making it more difficult for EU health professionals and EU carers to work in the UK will not help the situation we face.

The scale of the contribution from the EU cannot be underestimated: 5.6% of the total NHS workforce come from the EU. In addition, we already have 100,000 care workers from the EU working in this country, and we know to our shame that we currently have 1 million vulnerable people with unmet care needs. I appreciate the points that the hon. Member for Henley made about the excellent work in his constituency, but I point out to him that the majority of care for vulnerable people is delivered in their homes—or not delivered, in many cases, which is a massive problem for us.

To replace the EU NHS staff and the contribution that social care workers from the EU make would be extremely costly to the NHS. It certainly will not be a saving to the nation. The worst situation we could face would be if the Government failed to prevent a no-deal situation. There are ways of coping with all the other areas, given time and a transition period. I am keen to stress to the Minister that this is not about scaremongering, but about sensible concerns and a reassurance that sensible provision is in place.

I want to touch on future trade deals. People rightly raise concerns that many of the current problems experienced in both health and social care have arisen as a direct result of the fragmentation and privatisation of provision following the Health and Social Care Act 2012. There is a risk that future trade deals will add to the problem of privatisation.

In the months leading up to the referendum, the people of this country were promised that there would be a Brexit dividend for the NHS, and the figure of an additional £350 million per week—surely the biggest exaggeration of the Brexit campaign—was irresponsibly promoted. However, the reality is that in the light of the Government’s own predictions of low economic growth, there will be less funding for the NHS after we leave the EU. The Government are also very clear that if we leave the EU next week with no deal, the economic cost to our nation will be even greater.

It is our duty to respect the result of the referendum, but as public servants it is our highest duty to ensure that our constituents’ standards of health and wellbeing are protected. The NHS is regularly cited by the British public as one of the greatest achievements of—I have to say—a Labour Government. Brexit was sold as a way to protect the NHS, and no matter how misguided that promise was, as servants of the people we must deliver on it. Protecting the NHS is also the will of people, as they have shown in many elections.

To protect the NHS and to respect the will of the people, can the Minister provide assurances on the specific points that have been raised today? Can he confirm that the Government will rule out no deal and minimise the potential for negative impact on the NHS and social care sectors? Can he demonstrate that he is not ignoring the legitimate concerns raised today and out there in the community, from Members of this place, from patients and their representatives and from healthcare professionals? Can he demonstrate that the Government are listening and have sensible provisions in place, and that they will take every step to avoid a no-deal Brexit next week?