NHS and Social Care Funding Debate

11th January 2017

Philip Dunne responds to a debate on the NHS and social care funding.

 

I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) and to be able to close this debate. I thank all 34 hon. Members for their contributions, some of whom—mostly those on the Government Benches—managed to rise above party politics and make some constructive comments.

I join my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in thanking the 2.7 million staff working in our NHS and social care system. As the Prime Minister said earlier, we recognise that they have never worked harder to keep patients safe, with A&Es across the country seeing a record number of patients within four hours in one day last month.

Regrettably, after five and a half hours of debate and criticism from Labour Members, we have heard little, if anything, about how to provide solutions to the challenges that our A&Es face.

Once again, the Opposition have touted more funding as their only answer to solve public sector challenges. In fact, they have pledged to raise corporation tax eight times, promising an unspecified amount from an unspecified source. That will not help our NHS and it will not fool the public. There is much to do to protect the system and ensure a sustainable future, but it is this Government who have plans in place to get through this extremely challenging period and sustain the NHS for the future.

The shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth), spoke for about three quarters of an hour without making a single suggestion about how to solve the problems that face the NHS—not one. He should have stayed to listen—he may have done and I apologise if I did not pay enough attention to his presence in the Chamber.

The former Health Minister, the right hon. Member for Doncaster Central (Dame Rosie Winterton), asked specifically for community pharmacists to be paid for providing minor ailments services. I am pleased to be able to tell her that that is precisely what we are doing. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat), was discussing that only this morning in Westminster Hall, and I regret to say that not a single Labour Member was present to hear what he had to say. [Interruption.]

 

Order. Surely the House wants to hear the Minister after this long debate—with courtesy.

 

We have heard a number of comments from Opposition Members—I am pleased to say that they were outnumbered in this Opposition day debate by Government Members—rehearsing some tired phrases to mislead the public over alleged increasing independent provision in the health service and also misrepresenting what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was saying in his remarks about A&E targets. Having said that, I wish to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins), who is in his place, and the hon. Member for Workington (Sue Hayman), both of whom showed considerable personal courage in explaining the circumstances surrounding the death of each of their fathers, and they did so in an entirely honourable and sensible way, and I am grateful to them for sharing that experience.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Helen Whately) on managing to get her son into hospital to have his appendix treated on Boxing day. As she said, that showed that that service was working well.

The Opposition sought to take the moral high ground in this debate. The hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) challenged Government Members on whether they had visited hospitals over the Christmas period other than on an official visit. Her position was completely punctured by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) who pointed out that she was doing a night shift between Christmas and new year in her role as a nurse—she was not on an official visit.

There have been some impressive contributions. I thank the Chair of the Select Committee on Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston), who was supportive of a more nuanced target for A&E, and for her calm and generally constructive comments, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Sir Simon Burns) for his support for the success regime in Essex and for pointing out that it is not closing any of the three A&E departments in the hospitals there. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Henry Smith), who made a very thoughtful speech and welcomed the opening of an assessment unit in Crawley to help to relieve pressure on the A&Es nearby. Finally, I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) for another thoughtful contribution from the Back Benches.

Of course, the Conservative party and the Government recognise that our NHS faces the immediate pressures of the colder weather and the wider pressures of an ageing and growing population. There were nearly 9 million more visits last year to our A&Es compared with 2002-03—the year before the four-hour commitment was made. That is more than 2 million A&E attendances every month, and our emergency departments are now seeing, within the four-hour target, 2,500 more people every single day compared with 2010.

Will the Minister give way?

 

I will not give way. The hon. Lady did not give way and I have a very short time left in which to speak.

Compared to when the Conservative party came into office in May 2010, in 2015-16 there were 2.4 million more A&E attendances. That is in the context of a much busier NHS overall. The NHS is delivering 5.9 million more diagnostic tests. Some 822,000 more people are seen by a specialist for suspected cancer and 49,000 more patients start treatment for cancer every year compared with the year before we came to office. It is therefore the case that a Government of any colour would be faced with the same problems, but it is this Government who have committed to funding the NHS’s own plan for a sustainable future. Had we followed Labour’s plans, the NHS would have £1.3 billion a year less, which is equivalent to 13,000 fewer doctors or 30,000 fewer nurses.

We remain committed to the vital four-hour A&E promise for those patients who need to be there. We are proud to be the only country in the world to commit to all patients that we will sort out any urgent health need within four hours. Only three other countries—New Zealand, Australia and Canada—have similar national standards, but none of those is as stringent as ours.

Today it is the Conservative party that is the party of the NHS. That is why we pledged more than Labour did and why we are delivering more funding with a higher proportion of total Government spending going into health in each year since 2010. Funding for the NHS will rise in real terms by £10 billion by 2020-21 compared with 2014-15. That sum is front-loaded with £6 billion being delivered by the end of this year, as the NHS asked for. It was this Government who established an independent NHS with an independent chief executive. It was this NHS that came up with its own plan and we were the only party to back it. We agree that the NHS and social care face huge pressure and, yes, there is more for us as a Government to do. However, we entered winter with a more comprehensive plan than ever before, and we have confidence that plans are in place to cope with the current pressures we face—winter, A&E and delayed discharges—and to sustain the system for the future.

I conclude by saying a huge thank you to the 1.3 million staff in the NHS and the 1.4 million people who provide social care. They are the ones who continue to make this possible. We are aware of the pressures they are under, especially during winter. We have increased the number of doctors and nurses, as the Secretary of State said earlier, especially in A&E, and we have launched plans to recruit more doctors and nurses. Without them, we would not have a national health service that provides such a high level of care.

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