A debate on Health was held this week in the House of Commons instigated by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham in response to the Queen’s Speech. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt defended the reforms introduced by the Government as leading to savings while servicing more people and attacked Labour’s record in Government, while Burnham attacked him on waiting times. Hunt praised the Basildon Hospital’s performance which led to its exiting special measures imposed on it, while reaffirming his commitment to joined up health and social care through the Better Care Fund, as well as the need for safety improvements and the imperative to transform the NHS for the future while never “turning back the clock” on the Francis reforms. Hunt also expressed his agreement with Simon Stevens over the significance of community hospitals.
Burnham began his speech by criticising the lack of NHS-related measures in the Queen’s Speech, in particular legislation to regulate doctors and nurses and speed up the handling of complaints, as proposed in the Francis Review. Prompted by Labour MP Barry Sheerman, Burnham, reiterated his recent points on attempts to “privatise the NHS through the back door” and “softening it up for accelerating privatisation”, later adding that waiting times for treatment have risen and that should be a clear indicator of the effect the Government’s reforms had. After covering extensively the issue of A&E units, Burnham went on to focus on the Bill concerning redundancy payments for public sector employees, which, in his view, led to significant waste, with people made redundant and then rehired.
Burnham devoted part of his speech to mental health services, citing in particular bed shortages and cuts to this service, while highlighting the lack of understanding of who is in charge, with NHS England taking a direction different to that of the Department of Health, before moving on to his points on competition in the NHS, reiterating his comments from last week on the burden of competition lawyers on the NHS. He also repeated Labour’s announcements on ending the 15-minute consultation culture and securing a GP visit within 48 hours.
Elias from PSI: As we are moving well into General Election period, the Labour Party are likely to continue trying to put the NHS high on the agenda, attacking the Health and Social Care Act and criticising the introduction of competition in the system, while the Conservatives are expected to try to defend the positive effects of their introduced reforms and attempt to keep the issue out of the spotlight. As expected, there were no health-related measures announced in next year’s legislative agenda, with Jeremy Hunt saying that this will be a year of implementation and settling into the regime introduced by the Health and Social Care Act.