In what has been a hugely significant day in a monumentally significant fortnight, we have been discussing issues that are also of huge significance, but I fear that the contributions will be lost amid the historic nature of the events are currently engulfing this place and the whole country.
Let me turn now to the contributions to this debate. Dr Whitford rightly highlighted the uncertainty now facing our staff who have come from the EU. There is also a very real fear that agency costs will go through the roof as a result of the decision that has been made.
My right hon. Friend Joan Ryan spoke with graphic clarity about the problems that a lack of funding has caused the health services in her own constituency. She also pointed to the promises to protect local services that have not been honoured. She talked about the scandal of junior doctors left unsupervised in the North Middlesex hospital A&E. I know that she has a debate in Westminster Hall on that issue next week, and I am sure that some of the matters that have been raised today will get a further examination then.
My hon. Friend Mr Reed, who, as my predecessor in this shadow role, has great knowledge of this area, spoke passionately about the challenges that his community faces in delivering an effective health economy. He is right to be concerned that the Success Regime could indeed turn out to be a Trojan horse.
My hon. Friend Julie Cooper gave a personal and troubling story about a recent case involving one of her constituents. I agree with Kirsty Blackman that all of us as politicians will have to work much harder to restore and retain trust in what we say. My hon. Friend Karin Smyth spoke with the benefit of her own great experience of the NHS and her more recent experiences as a member of the Public Accounts Committee and the many critical reports it has written. I assure her that I have already considered many of them, so I trust I have her permission to watch the football later.
Finally, my hon. Friend Mr Thomas spoke with great authority about the difficulties of his own local NHS trust. I think every Member who has spoken tonight has mentioned challenges in their own constituency, but more significant is the fact that every Member who has spoken tonight said that at least some of their constituents voted to leave the EU because they thought it would mean more money for the NHS.
Those are the Members who have spoken. Who have we not heard from? The right hon. and hon. Members who have spent the last few months spearheading the campaign up and down the country claiming that there was £350 million a week just sitting there, ready to be spent on the NHS. Where are they now? Could it be that because it was a promise that could never be kept and should never have been made, we have seen a collective abrogation of responsibility by people who, frankly, should know better? Make no mistake: those who have associated themselves with such claims will be expected to account for their actions, but let us not allow those wild statements to distract us from the crisis in the NHS caused by this Government.
The challenges we already face in the finances, quality of care and the workforce put the NHS in a precarious position, but be in no doubt: those challenges were there before we voted to leave the EU. It has been clear for some time that the NHS does not have the resources needed to deliver the services that people expect. Only this week, we have heard where the Government’s priorities appear to be, with the Chancellor talking about reducing corporation tax yet again. Is it not interesting that we only hear such extra-parliamentary statements about tax cuts, and not about the extra investment that the NHS patently needs? Indeed, the Chancellor’s last big spending decision on the NHS was to cut £1.1 billion from this year’s capital budget, which came to light only after a study by the House of CommonsLibrary—an approach about as far removed from parading impossible pledges on the side of a bus as I can imagine, but to my mind just as dishonourable.
As we know, the overall deficit in the NHS last year was a record £2.5 billion—a record deficit despite pledges from the Government that the investment needed would be front-loaded now to ensure that the NHS could implement the service transformation needed before the middle years of this Parliament, when the funding increases already announced for the NHS are microscopic. What will the NHS look like a few years down the line if the money that is supposed to be preparing us for the rocky road ahead will in fact be used to plug the black hole in finances left over from the last year? Surely, whatever the implications of the referendum result, the Government must recognise that their existing financial plan for the NHS needs comprehensive re-evaluation.
Only yesterday, we had a report from the Healthcare Financial Management Association that revealed that 22% of the NHS finance directors in hospitals and CCGs surveyed said that quality of care will worsen during this financial year. It does not end there: one in three finance directors fear that care will deteriorate in the next financial year. They warn that waiting times, access to services and the range of services offered are all likely to suffer because of the inadequate funding settlement. I know the Minister will try to reassure us that plans are in place to put the NHS back on an even keel, but I suggest that he listen to the 67% of CCG finance officers and 48% of trust finance directors who have said that there is a “high degree of risk” associated with achieving their organisation’s financial plans for this year.
In addition, only 16% of finance directors have expressed confidence that NHS organisations in their area will be able to deliver the changes required by their local sustainability and transformation plans. Along with the challenges they anticipate in delivering planned efficiencies, finance directors say that continued high spending on agency staff and inadequate funding of social care are pressures that are not going away. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol South mentioned, the Minister will be aware of what the Public Accounts Committee said: that the 4% annual efficiency targets imposed are
“unrealistic and have caused long-term damage”.
None of that will be news to the Minister. It is high time the Government acknowledged that within the current parameters, hard-working NHS staff are being set up to fail.
Across a whole range of indicators, the NHS is experiencing its worst performance since records began, but let me be clear: I do not for a second hold the people who work on the frontline in the NHS responsible for that. Indeed, it is only through their dedication that the health service keeps going, despite the best efforts of the Government to destroy staff morale. Be it the current generation of junior doctors alienated by botched contract discussions, the next generation of nurses deterred from entering the profession by tuition fees, or the thousands of EU nationals working in the NHS who fear for their future in this country, its existing staff, who are at breaking point, see nothing from the Government that gives them confidence that the Government have a clue how to fix this mess.
Let us once and for all nail the myth propounded by Government Members that this Government have been generous in their funding for the NHS. The King’s Fund and the Health Foundation looked into this claim. Despite the oft-repeated mantra that this year’s funding increase is the sixth largest in the NHS’s history, they said:
“We find that…this year it is in fact the 28th largest funding increase since 1975”.
That is the truth. That is the cruel deception at the heart of the Government’s NHS plans.
NHS Providers, the organisation that represents NHS trusts, had this to say about the size of the deficit:
“the combination of increasing demand and the longest and deepest financial squeeze in NHS history is maxing out the health service”.
The fact is that the NHS is halfway through its most austere decade ever. It is getting a smaller increase this year than it got in any single year of the lastLabour Government. Since the health service’s creation in 1948, NHS demand and costs have risen by 3.5% to 4% a year, and on average, funding has kept pace. Now funding will rise, on average, by only 0.9% a year between 2010 and 2020. That is a quarter of the historical average, and well below what is needed to provide the same quality of service to a growing, older population.
I return to my opening remarks. It has been a seismic few weeks for this country. Politicians have been exposed as cavalier with the facts, cynical in their actions and irresponsible about the future of this country. Let us not allow that approach to continue to pollute our politics. Let us have the courage to be honest about the challenges that lie ahead. Let us stop the pretence that the NHS can continue to be the service that most of us want it to be within current Government spending limits.
Let us also be clear that the answer is not to emblazon buses with cheap slogans and then run away from those slogans at the first opportunity. Instead, the challenge for all of us in this place who want the next generation to enjoy the same access to the NHS that my generation has taken for granted is to provide a coherent, credible set of policies and then actually deliver them. On that measure, this Government have fundamentally failed. I therefore commend the motion to the House.