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  • NHS Queen’s Speech Debate: 23/10/19

Originally been scheduled for the previous week, but delayed due to the UK Government trying to bring back their Brexit deal, the Queen’s Speech Debate on the NHS was finally called for 23rd October. As SNP Shadow the Health and Social Care Spokesperson, I lead on this for the SNP Group and I took the opportunity to highlight and challenge some of the content in part of the Queen’s Speech on health, which is effectively the UK Government’s Programme for Government for the coming Parliamentary session.

I began my speech by factually correcting the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who claimed that in Scotland the Barnett consequential are not passed on. I assured him they are but,  because Scotland spends £185 more a head and £157 a head more on social care it works out as a smaller percentage.

I also suggested that the NHS should not be advertising non-essential operations to people, which is currently happening in parts of NHS England, and that if a patient is in need of a surgery, it should be offered free of charge by the NHS. If they do NOT need the surgery, they should NOT be able to buy it!

Other issues I highlighted included whistleblowing, hospital contracts, European insurance comparisons and NHS collaboration.

Below is a clip highlight of my debate, and further down is the full speech, including the interventions from my Honourable colleagues, with the text underneath.




Text from Hansard.

Philippa Whitford

Before I start my speech, I would like to factually correct the Secretary of State, who claimed that Barnett consequentials in Scotland are not passed on. I reassure him they are all passed on. He talks about the figures as a percentage. Scotland spends £185 a head more on healthcare and £157 a head more on social care. Of course it is a smaller percentage but, in actual cash, Barnett consequentials are all passed on. I would be grateful if he would either improve his maths or stop repeating this narrative.

I really welcome some elements of the Queen’s Speech, particularly the Health Service Safety Investigations Bill. I was asked to serve on the Joint Committee, which I felt did an incredible job, but we completed that job last July; approaching a year and a half on, sadly, the Bill has still not come forward. I hope it will not be too tardy from this point.

Matt Hancock

It is in the other place at the moment.


Philippa Whitford

Okay; I welcome that. However, I would suggest that the Healthcare Safety Investigations Bill is about looking at mistakes after they have happened. I invite the Secretary of State again to look at the Scottish patient safety programme, which is more than 10 years old and has reduced hospital deaths, including post-surgical deaths, by over a third because the aim is to prevent harm in the first place.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s reference to whistleblowers, but it is not just about having guardians in hospitals. It is critical that the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 is reformed. Only 3% of employment tribunals are successful. All Members who have dealt with any cases on this issue will know that the wreckage of whistleblowers’ careers acts as an absolute brake on people coming forward. You can say what you like, but they are faced with the question, “Do I speak up and risk my career, my family income and my home?” It is not just a matter of paying lip service to this issue; we actually need change.

I welcome the ending of the private finance initiative, which was originally brought under a Conservative Government, but was really accelerated, I am afraid, under Gordon Brown. We are now facing the fact that £13 billion-worth of hospitals in England will have cost £80 billion by the time they are paid off. I call on the Secretary of State not just to end the PFI going forward, but to look at whether these contracts could be ended and renationalised to avoid another £55 billion having to be paid over the next 30 years. This problem is UK-wide, so we were saddled with these contracts in Scotland as well. There are health boards across England that are spending up to 16% of their income on their PFI contracts, and that obviously undermines patient care.


The hon. Lady is making a perfect point. I had the honour of being the roads Minister, and I desperately asked my officials to look at the PFI contracts on motorways around the country, including the M25. They found that the cost of coming out of these contracts is so formidable—simply because these companies’ lawyers were frankly a lot better than Gordon Brown’s lawyers when the contracts were written—that no Government would do it, so we are trapped. Some trusts—not least the trust in Romford, which also has a polyclinic—are trapped in debt from the private sector, which makes them completely inefficient.


Philippa Whitford

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that point. Of course, Governments can borrow at a much lower interest rate than any private business. Money is being sucked out of the NHS through the PFI across the UK, but there are also other ways in which money is being sucked out of the NHS, particularly NHS England—for example, through outsourcing under the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Private companies have to make a profit. Their chief executive is bound to make profit for the shareholders. They are not bound to deliver quality of care. We have seen clinical commissioning groups get trapped in this way. Six commissioning groups in Surrey tried to bring community care back into the NHS—they were not breaking a contract—but Virgin did what Virgin always does if it does not get a franchise renewed. It sued the CCGs. It is all hidden behind a commercial veil, but we know that at least one of those commissioning groups paid over £300,000 to settle out of court, and six groups together means that the figure was likely to be well over £2 million.


Mr Sheerman

I agree with almost everything the hon. Lady says about PFI contracts. We got a terrible PFI contract in Halifax and Calderdale. It is still a millstone around our necks. When I chaired the Education and Skills Committee, we looked at PFI contracts. The fact is that they are financial agreements, and some were better than others. But a lot of very clever City types came to places like Halifax and ran rings around the trust, so it got a bad deal. That is the truth of the matter.


Philippa Whitford

That is true, and this obviously applies to the process of bidding and tendering for delivering services. An NHS orthopaedic department will not be able to compete with a major multinational with regards to its bid team, its tendering team and its ability to put in loss leaders. The problem is that all this money is being lost in a circular reorganisation that has been going on in NHS England literally for the last 25-plus years, with people being made redundant and given a big package, but then someone quite similar being re-employed or the same person being re-employed somewhere else with a different title—health authorities to primary care trusts to clinical commissioning groups. It is a huge waste of money, which is being sucked away from patient care, and that is where we want the money actually to go.

Mike Gapes

The right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) mentioned the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust in Romford. Queen’s Hospital in Romford is part of that trust, as is King George Hospital in my constituency. There is an independent treatment centre on the site of King George Hospital, and several years ago it was proposed that the centre be brought back in-house. But the company involved went to court and the NHS had to concede that it would remain as an independent treatment centre. These things are very damaging to the finances and integrity of our NHS.


Philippa Whitford

Well, I am afraid that it was the Labour party that set up independent treatment centres. I am a surgeon, and one of the issues was that such centres were sucking away the routine elective work that contributes to training future surgeons, and leaving the NHS to deal with the complex, chronic, expensive cases. Before the Health and Social Care Act, the NHS usually managed to find enough money down the back of the sofa that, at the end of each year, it would have about £500 million left. After the changes, it was £100 million in debt, £800 million in debt, and then £2.5 billion in debt. That is because money is sucked out in all these different ways, leaving a lack of funding that leads to rationing, which is pushing people to have to pay for more of their own care. We are hearing about that with co-payments—paying for a second cataract operation or for a second hearing aid. My Choice, which the Health and Social Care Act also brought in, raised the cap from 2% to 49% of income that an NHS hospital could earn through private patients. The highest amount at the moment is over 27%.

The idea that that does not impact on NHS patients is nonsense, because surgeons have limited capacity in terms of who they can operate on during the day, so if someone is able to jump the queue within the NHS, they are taking someone else’s place. As we saw with Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, price lists have been pinned up in clinics suggesting to people that they might want to pay £7,000 or £8,000 for a hip or knee replacement, and there were also a lot of cosmetic and minor operations. I would gently suggest, as a surgeon, that surgery is not a sport. Either the patient needs an operation clinically, in which case it should be provided by the NHS, or they do not, in which case they should not be able to buy it from the NHS. Under the principle of My Choice, hugely high thresholds are being set. In the case of some CCGs, a person has to have had two falls before they can have a cataract operation, or they have to be in pain, even in bed, to get their hip done. That is driving families to club together to address that. That is not right. If someone needs it, the NHS is meant to provide it free at the point of need, and if they do not, every single operation is a risk and should never be done to attract income for an NHS trust.

I value the hon. Lady’s comments about how money is being sucked out of the NHS. In Scotland, we have a particular issue with a large showpiece hospital in Edinburgh that should have been opened in 2012, seven years ago, that is sucking money from the NHS—millions of pounds annually over the past six or seven years. She may wish to comment on that.


Philippa Whitford

Well, it has not been sucking money for the past six or seven years because it was only declared open in February. I totally agree that it is a huge setback that, due to a failure within the health board’s tendering process for the build, it did not recognise the need for the level of ventilation in an intensive care unit. I would gently suggest to the hon. Gentleman that I do not think he would have wanted our Cabinet Secretary to simply go ahead putting babies and children in an intensive care unit where the ventilation was not considered safe.

In Scotland, so far our funding for the NHS has doubled in the past 10 years and will actually increase further next year. But it is not just about funding; it is about structure. What is happening in NHS England is fragmentation. It is not just that NHS hospitals are competing with private companies; they are competing with each other, and that undermines collaboration. We need to have collaboration, with the patient at the centre. Anything that fragments or undermines that collaboration is weakening the quality and safety of care.


The hon. Lady is speaking very powerfully on many issues, as usual. I would be interested in her point of view on other health providers, because as she knows, having worked around the world, many of them do things differently, particularly around Europe, for example, where many of the hospitals are not owned by the state. Many of those hospitals compete and services are provided by different bodies—private companies, charities or community groups. Will she comment on how that works, because the French and Germans seem extremely happy with their healthcare?

As people in the Chamber may know, my husband is German and therefore I know that system in Germany relatively well. I would point out that the hospitals do not collaborate there either. As it is about income for the hospital, surgeons and clinicians will not always refer a patient on even though they know there is an expert down the road. I would not particularly defend that. I lost my sister-in-law two years ago, and the bills were still coming in for almost a year. That is quite a stressful and upsetting system. Not everything is covered. Patients still, as in many insurance systems, have to cover a gap, which can be significant and quite painful for them. These systems could not generate the epidemiological data, or anything like the treatment and outcome data, that is generatable in all four of the UK health services, because they do not have a nationwide system.

When I was back on the Health Committee for a short time this spring, we heard talk about the changes to the Health and Social Care Act. It is critically important that those go ahead, because there are perverse incentives within that legislation. At the moment, the tariff is paid to a trust only if patients are admitted. That is a perverse incentive against managing people in the community, or even prevention. It is important that section 75 is done away with completely so that there is not pressure on commissioning groups to put things out to tender, because that is a wasteful process. I remember reading about £500 million wasted in Nottingham, where there were preparations for a tender, then the private company did not go ahead and then it did go ahead.

All this is taking money away from patient care. That is the basis of the argument about publicly provided services. I am sorry, but the quips about drugs and so on by the Secretary of State were childish. Was he suggesting that nurses and doctors go into the North sea to drill for oil, or that that is the suggestion from the Opposition Benches? It is not the suggestion from anyone on the Opposition Benches that drugs would not be purchased. It was just a childish response. Having private companies pulling NHS England apart undermines it, fragments it and makes it not patient-centred, and being patient-centred should be the goal of every single health service across the UK.

About the author 

Heather Knox

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