Thank you for contacting me about the Health and Care Bill and the NHS and care workforce. I fully share your concerns with this Bill and have therefore written to the Secretary of State on your behalf. Please visit my website to see this letter and follow progress with my response to the Bill: https://www.louisehaigh.org.uk/policy/2021/09/28/health-and-care-bill/
This Bill represents a rushed, top-down reorganisation of our NHS. It will fail to integrate health and social care, erode local accountability, and give powers to the Health Secretary to hand major contracts to the private sector without scrutiny. Along with my colleagues, I voted against the Bill at second reading.
The Government says the Bill builds on the NHS’s own proposals for reform, aiming to make it less bureaucratic, more accountable, and more integrated. Like many in the health sector, I agree with the objective of more integrated health and care services. But I believe this is the wrong Bill at the wrong time.
Health and care staff have been at the heart of the fight against coronavirus, working day and night to protect the NHS and save lives. They do so much to make our health service one to be proud of and they deserve our respect, admiration, and full support.
Despite their remarkable efforts, I remain concerned that a decade of poor planning and short-term thinking by the Government has left services struggling to cope with chronic staff shortages.
The truth is that the NHS and its staff have been systematically underfunded for years due to this Tory Government. This has become strikingly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the need for proper funding and fair pay. We entered the pandemic with 100,000 vacancies across the NHS and 112,000 in social care. Years of pay freezes and pressures are affecting hard-pressed staff, work-related stress has increased, and mental health is consistently the most reported reason for staff absence.
A cross-party report published in June said workforce burnout across the NHS and social care has reached an “emergency level” and poses a risk to the future functioning of services. The NHS Confederation warns that, without the much needed investment in the workforce, NHS trusts across England will be unable to recover lost capacity or address growing backlogs of unmet clinical need.
The Health and Care Bill, which is progressing through Parliament, provides an opportunity to address high rates of vacancy, inadequate levels of retention and workforce terms and conditions. Yet the Government has failed to bring forward a long-term strategy.
I supported an amendment to the Bill that would have required the Government to publish, every two years, a full and transparent assessment of current and future workforce requirements in health and social care.
The amendment was an opportunity for Ministers to show their commitment to a strategic, long-term approach to health and care workforce planning. Sadly, Government MPs voted against it and it was defeated. I share the disappointment of health charities and Royal Colleges who campaigned tirelessly on this issue.
Despite pledges and manifesto commitments, there is still no plan from the Government to address workforce shortages, and at the recent Budget and Spending Review Ministers failed to provide certainty about the budgets for staff education and training.
I urge Ministers to bring forward a credible plan to recruit, retain and train staff needed. Health and care services must have the workforce they need to deliver safe high-quality services now and in the future.
I am committed to upholding the NHS’s founding principles as a comprehensive, integrated, and public NHS that is there for all of us when we need it. I will continue to resist any plans to allow further privatisation.