Health and Care Bill

I completely agree that the unprecedented threat of the coronavirus pandemic reminded us how vital our health and care system is to all of us. I want to assure you that the NHS will always be free at the point of use, and any proposed reforms will aim to continue to improve the quality of these services and patient outcomes.

As we build back better from this pandemic, it is right and necessary that our health and care services are at the forefront. The pandemic underlined not only the dedication and skill of those in this sector, but also the necessity of a broader, more integrated health and care system. I welcome the intention to develop more joined up, integrated care between the NHS, Local Government and other partners including the voluntary and community sector, which will be vital in tackling the factors that affect the long-term sustainability of patient services. I understand that these proposed reforms will also include proper accountability mechanisms, and give patients and the public the confidence that they are receiving the best care from their healthcare system.

The measures set out in the Health and Care Bill deliver on the NHS’s own proposals for reform in its Long Term Plan. These proposals have been developed in consultation with key stakeholders in this sector, and I am encouraged by the preliminary positive feedback received. In particular, the comments from the Chief Executive of NHS England, who has said that this Bill “will support our health and care services to be more integrated and innovative so the NHS can thrive in the decades to come”, are reassuring.

It is irresponsible scaremongering to suggest that Integrated Care Boards and Partnerships are being used to support privatisation, or cuts to NHS funding. The NHS will always be free at the point of use, and I believe these reforms will continue to improve the quality of NHS services and outcomes for patients. Ensuring every part of England is covered by an Integrated Care Board and Partnership is key to promoting local collaboration.

The Bill includes proposals to give local people, local clinicians and NHS organisations more control over the way health and care services are delivered. However, in a democracy, the public and Parliament, rightly, expect to be able to hold to account the decision makers who oversee the health system and the performance of the NHS, so I welcome measures in the Bill to allow for this. Importantly, I am assured that individual clinical decisions are explicitly exempt from the scope of the powers for the Secretary of State.

NHS managers have played a vital role throughout this pandemic. I am pleased that Chris Hopson of NHS providers, which represents NHS managers, agrees with these reforms that will end the “unnecessarily rigid NHS approach to procurement”. It is also welcome that this White Paper enacts the recommendations of the 2019 Kark Review for stronger measures to ensure that NHS senior managers have the right skills, behaviours and competencies. I understand that there are no plans at this stage to statutorily regulate senior NHS managers and leaders, and I will continue to monitor this closely.

Separately, I wholeheartedly support the Government's commitment to recruit 50,000 more nurses, 6,000 new GPs, and 6,000 more primary care professionals in addition to the 7,500 further nurse associates and 20,000 primary care professionals announced previously. These commitments are vital to ensuring our NHS is fit for the long term. Progress is already being made in this area, with more than 6,500 more doctors, almost 10,600 more nurses and over 18,700 more health support workers compared with a year ago.

I am happy to say that there are approximately 70,000 nurses and midwives in training, including 29,740 who began courses this academic year, an increase of 26 per cent on last year. The introduction of the new Nursing Degree Apprenticeship and nursing associate roles will significantly bolster the nursing workforce in the short term, as we continue to build an NHS workforce for the future.

Further, the NHS Long Term Plan focuses on retaining staff by ensuring that they are well supported and able to develop their own careers; this ethos will underpin all planning for the NHS workforce.