Thank you for contacting me about the Health and Care Bill.
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.
The intention is 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.
The Bill will make permanent some of the innovations we have seen as a result of the pandemic. 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 positive preliminary feedback has been received; in particular, the comments from the former 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.
Not only is the Government providing the NHS with £33.9 billion in funding by 2023/24, the largest, longest funding settlement in the history of the NHS, an additional £36 billion will be made available for health and social care over the next three years. The NHS Long Term Plan also commits £4.5 billion in primary and community care to help strengthen local healthcare networks.
It is irresponsible scaremongering to suggest that Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) 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 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 a key way of promoting local collaboration.
Service provision by the independent and voluntary sectors has been, and continues to be, an important and valuable feature of our healthcare system, which I fully support. That said, I do appreciate that there are concerns about private sector involvement in ICBs. It is important that people are assured that the work of ICBs will be driven by health outcomes, not by profits.
The Bill does not allow private sector providers to influence, or to make, decisions on spending, and the Government has committed to putting that beyond doubt. They will bring forward an amendment at the next stage of the Bill’s passage through Parliament to protect the independence of ICBs by preventing individuals with significant interests in private healthcare from sitting on them
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, individual clinical decisions are explicitly exempt from the scope of the powers for the Secretary of State.
Those in the system are telling Ministers that they are ready to implement the reforms and there should be no delay, and so I am satisfied that now is the right time to proceed.
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.
Additionally, 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.
I reiterate my comment above that the NHS will always be free at the point of use, and I believe that these proposed reforms and innovations will continue to improve the quality of our health and social care services and patient outcomes. I will continue to monitor developments closely.
Thank you, once again, for taking the time to write to me.