The focus this week has been very much on the health service and supporting the NHS to provide the services the UK needs. I was able to intervene on the Urgent Question raised in Parliament on Monday about the NHS England’s Funding Announcement. It is clear that our NHS needs much more support. Waiting lists are now the longest we have ever seen, plus there are the 7 million people who did not come forward during the pandemic. That means that the validation of the lists is a mammoth task. The clerical validation is quite simple—phoning people up to see whether they still live at the relevant address, whether, sadly, they have died or whether they have moved on—but the clinical validation is now really important. I wanted to know what conversations the Secretary of State is having with clinical leaders about the criteria being used to validate these lists, and, crucially, how are local people going to be involved in how and why clinical decisions are being made about who will be treated and in what order. Our NHS staff have been phenomenal during this pandemic and we need to support them in the best way, and that means putting the power to make decisions in local hands.
I have been continuing my work on the Health and Social Care Bill Committee this week. We have been discussing cooperation and the need for organisations within the NHS to work together and share information and through a joined-up system ensure real accountability for patients and their families. We need to be working on improving a culture of cooperation, delivery, and implementation that works efficiently for patients. We also looked at the recuperation of money for the NHS from overseas patients. This is an incredibly complicated area but the collection of payments in the health service where they are due is very weak. I am struggling to understand how the Government expect the NHS to manage this operationally. In discussing various impact assessments, I was hoping for the Minister to discuss the work has been done in the Department to understand the impact on the service, and how people who are providing treatment are to understand where we have reciprocal arrangements and where we do not, and who is entitled to that treatment.
I was pleased to have a chance to discuss the amendment that I have put forward on the Health and Social Care Bill that would ensure greater transparency of decision-making by NHS bodies. Transparency is really important; it allows patients to understand what is happening in the NHS, what decisions are made and how they are made, it allows for greater cooperation between different bodies because they can understand what is happening elsewhere, and ultimately, it demands greater accountability for decisions made. The health service is a public service and in order to properly serve those it is there for, we need transparency and the accountability that comes with that.
The Budget this week was very weak on health commitments and fails to recognise the impact of 10 years of austerity on our health service. The NHS is short of almost 40,000 nurses and there are now 1,100 fewer GPs now than in 2016. There has been so much criticism of our hard-working NHS staff in recent weeks – complaints over telephone and zoom consults and the length of waiting lists. While it is important that people who need to see a doctor are able to do so and that waiting lists are worked through as quickly as possible, if the Government are not willing to provide the resources – the funding, the training schemes, finding doctors and nurses to staff the services – then the NHS cannot hope to achieve those ends. We have nothing but vague commitments of ‘more staff and spending more on doctors and nurses’ but without more detail, it is difficult to see how this will improve things on the frontline.
To continue the theme of vague commitments that are weak on detail, the Government has reiterated its pledge to build 40 new hospitals and to upgrade over 70 with £4.2 billion over the next 3 years. However, only 4 have actually been started and there are worrying reports that the Government have ordered NHS Trusts to describe any major refurbishments, new wings, and units as “a new hospital” in order to deliver this pledge. This smoke and mirror attitude to the NHS is damaging. The NHS needs real investment and real support to recover from the pandemic and to recover from the decade of austerity imposed on the country and the NHS by the Conservatives.
Following the news of a British trawler being seized by French authorities this week, an Urgent Question was granted to ask the Secretary of State or Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs to make a statement on the UK’s efforts to avoid a trade dispute with France. I used the opportunity to call for Lord Frost to resign or to be removed from his post. He continues to damage the relationship with Ireland, our nearest neighbours. The Falkland Islanders still don’t have an agreement about their tariffs because of a lack of agreement with the Spanish. And now this long-running marine dispute with France is continuing and escalating. This Government talk about constructive discussions, but clearly with Lord Frost at the helm continuing to destroy these relationships, constructive discussions are not possible. We left the EU. We did not leave our geographical position or our long-standing strategic partnerships. We remain a part of Europe and it harms our interests to be at loggerheads with our closest trading partners. We can build a new partnership with the EU now that we are no longer in it, but it will require discussion and efforts to mitigate the very real damage that Brexit has caused in our relationships. Brinkmanship and antagonistic comments towards our European partners help no one.
During Business Questions I was able to call for a debate on governmental environmental illiteracy and the impact of people on Bristol South and Somerset, given the sorry lack of interest in this issue in the Budget and even, with the reduction in passenger duty on domestic flights, the undermining of our climate responsibilities. On Thursday, you could buy a flight to Edinburgh for £29.99; the train would cost £97.20. This is appalling. I know so many constituents who are concerned about the climate and who want to ‘do their bit’ to help – the Government should be supporting climate responsible behaviour, invest in our rail infrastructure, and ensure that consumers are not priced out of taking the train rather than flying or driving.
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