24 November 2016
My Lords, as I have said before, the National Health Service is Britain’s national treasure, yet it is an institution that is constantly under challenge and pressure. It is the largest employer in the country and the sixth largest employer in the world. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, for initiating the debate.
We have heard that there is a shortfall between the numbers of staff that the providers of healthcare services said that they needed and the number of posts, with huge gaps in nursing, midwifery and health workers. In 2014, there was a 50,000 shortfall, yet the Government continue to insist on this net immigration target, to bring it down to the tens of thousands. How will they achieve this when in the NHS and care sector alone, as we have heard, there are over 130,000 just from the EU alone?
We know that in 2015, the NHS recorded its largest deficit ever, of £2.4 billion. And yet, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has just said, there was no mention in the 72-page Autumn Statement document of the words “NHS”, “mental health”, “public health” or “social care”. May I ask the Minister why was the NHS missing from the Autumn Statement?
We know that the NHS needs more money; we spend less as a percentage of our GDP on health compared with many of our European Union counterparts. Of the original 15 EU countries, we are 13th in healthcare spending. There were some figures released today in the press. In terms of doctors per 1,000 people, we come 25th in the EU, with 2.8; the EU average is 3.5. For hospital beds per 1,000 people, we are 25th with 2.7; the EU average is 5.2 and Germany has 8.2. Our average maternity stay in days is 1.5; the EU average is 3.2. What does the Minister have to say about these rankings?
More than 30,000 doctors from the EEA are currently registered with the GMC to practise medicine in the UK. According to the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health,
“In paediatrics, 5.6% of consultants and 5.5% of speciality and associate specialist … grade doctors qualified in EU nations outside the UK … 30% of paediatric consultants and 45% of specialty and associate specialist grade doctors in the UK qualified from other non-EU overseas countries”.
I am chancellor of the University of Birmingham and we have one of the highest-rated medical schools in the country, and one of the largest—we take in almost 400 undergraduates per year. The Secretary of State has said that the Government’s intention is to introduce 1,500 new undergraduate medical school places to make the NHS in England self-sufficient by 2020. Are 1,500 new places going to make us self-sufficient? I do not think that that is possible. Can the Minister confirm that this is the reality?
The Royal College of Nursing, in talking about priorities, says that we have 33,000 EU-trained nurses. There are 58,823 staff with EU nationality working in NHS hospitals and community health services, of whom 10,000 are doctors, 22,000 are nurses and health visitors and 1,369 are midwives. One in three nurses is due to retire in the next 10 years. Clare Marx, the president of the Royal College of Surgeons, said that:
“Twenty-two per cent of registered surgeons trained in European countries, with a further 20 per cent from outside the EU … the main risk of any changes to migration rules is not to highly qualified medical professionals—which the Government has already pledged to protect—but to the tens of thousands of administrative, clerical, and support staff from overseas that the NHS and social care fundamentally rely on for delivery of the service”.
If you look at the statistics it is in every area: in medicine, 14% are from the EEA and 20% from the rest of the world; in something like obstetrics and gynaecology, 40% are non-EU and 15% are from the EEA—that is over 50%. That is how reliant we are on foreign staff and doctors in the NHS.
While we are waiting for Article 50 to be triggered, all our research funding is under threat, as was mentioned earlier. The thing about our research funding is that it is not enough for the Government to say that we are going to compensate for the lack of research funding because we will not be paying into the EU. It is the power of collaboration that we will lose. At the University of Birmingham we collaborated with the University of the Punjab, and during the Prime Minister’s recent visit to India we highlighted that when we do research on our own, the factor is about 1.6 and for the University of the Punjab it is about 1.3; when combined, it is 5.3. When we do combined research with Harvard University, it is 5.6. That is the power of collaborative research that we risk losing if we leave the EU. Higher education and research and the translation of that research into commercial breakthroughs and drug discoveries is huge. All that is under threat.
Elisabetta Zanon, the Director of the NHS European Office, said that:
“A prolonged economic fallout could indeed have a chilling effect on the NHS budget, which in turn could impact on patient care. It could potentially lead to longer waiting times, or reduced access to innovative, expensive medicines and health technologies, or in a lowering of quality”.
This is really serious. The scale of deficit, as we have heard, is up to £2.7 billion. The Institute of Public Care has forecast that the number of people aged over 65 who are unable to manage one or more self-care tasks will increase by 44% by 2030. Are 1,500 extra doctors going to cope with this? Eighty-four thousand of England’s social care workforce are EEA migrants. Head Medical, the largest UK-based international firm specialising in doctors, has said that overseas doctors are deciding not to work in the UK since the country voted to leave the EU, with an increase in the number of EU doctors rethinking their plan to come here. This is really serious.
When I was in India at the time of the Prime Minister’s visit there, she spoke of returning people from here to India. She did not mention higher education once. She did not even meet the 35 higher education leaders who were there with Jo Johnson at the time of the visit and did not even talk about international students. The Indian Prime Minister spoke about the importance and mobility of Indians and Indian students and of foreign education. I remind the House of the fear that arose when nurses who did not earn £35,000 within six years were going to be thrown out of the country. The public backlash was so strong that the Government rowed back on that.
Reducing migration will damage this country. The race and hate crime which I personally have experienced is absolutely shocking. I have met many people who voted to leave the European Union because they believed that slogan on the back of buses which said:
“We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead”,
and that hugely misleading Vote Leave campaign film which ended:
“Every week the UK pays £350 million to be part of the EU. That’s £350 million that could build one new hospital every week, £350 million that could be spent supporting our doctors and nurses. Now is your chance to take back control and spend our money on our priorities, like the NHS”.
Those were absolute lies. We contribute to the EU £150 million net a week, which is £8 billion a year. That is 1% of our government expenditure.
In conclusion, this debate is so serious and crucial because it is about the NHS and the care sector. However, it is also about immigration, our vital research, and about what lies at the heart of what makes this country so great, which is in threat and jeopardy.