Tuesday 2nd June 2015, House of Commons, Health and Social Care Debate
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for giving me the chance to make my maiden speech in this debate, as it is on a subject about which I have strong feelings. I congratulate the other new Members on both sides of the House who have made their maiden speeches today. I particularly appreciated the prominence of mental health in several of the messages.
It is an immense honour to be speaking in this Chamber, and I do so with some trepidation, no doubt shared by others finding their feet here. There are many sources of courage in this House. My courage comes from my constituents; from the trust they have placed in me to represent them and give them a voice.
My wonderful constituency, Faversham and Mid Kent, stretches from the edge of Maidstone across the North Downs to Faversham, a historic port with a rich mercantile and maritime heritage, and on across fruit farms, marsh and ancient woodlands to Boughton-under-Blean and Hernhill.
Faversham is known as the market town of kings, and the constituency is proud of its royal heritage, although it has also imprisoned a couple of monarchs and the bones of another have been somehow misplaced. One of its treasures is Leeds Castle, and if I may make full use of the custom that I may speak without intervention, I shall say that Leeds is well known as the most beautiful castle in England. If you head south from Leeds, you rise up Greensand Ridge to see a breathtaking view of the weald of Kent extending for miles into the distance, and then down in the weald itself you reach the lovely village of Headcorn, the southern tip of my constituency
The area is renowned for agriculture—fruit farming as well as hop farming, which continues albeit on a much smaller scale than in the past. Britain’s oldest brewery, Shepherd Neame, thrives in the centre of Faversham. It is the constituency’s largest employer and provided a good reason regularly to seek refreshment during the election campaign.
My constituency is a truly great place to live and work, but all is not as it could and should be. While unemployment is low, some people cannot get jobs, and there are too many people on low wages. We have excellent schools, including outstanding grammar schools, but some children leave school without good qualifications. Most people get excellent healthcare most of the time, but local hospitals face serious problems, GPs are overwhelmed and the future of Faversham cottage hospital is an ongoing worry. Residents of villages earmarked for development are fearful of the impact of new houses on their communities, although everyone recognises that we need more homes. During the election campaign, I promised to tackle these problems, and I will keep that promise.
I am fortunate that two of the area’s past MPs, Sir Roger Moate and Sir Hugh Robertson, both live in the constituency and are great sources of wisdom, albeit sensitive to the fact that the job is now mine to do. I have lost count of the number of people who have told me how hard it will be to live up to the standard set by Sir Hugh, and that is just in his role as constituency MP. On top of that, he served as Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, and Minister for Sport and the Olympics, an event which we can all agree was an outstanding triumph for this country.
Sir Hugh brought to this House his military experience and put it to good use. I hope that I, too, bring valuable experience. I come from a family of doctors, and I nearly followed in their footsteps, but time spent in hospitals as a teenager—not because I was ill; I just did lots of work experience—triggered a different ambition. I wanted to improve the national health service itself. After a stint in telecoms, I spent nearly a decade working in healthcare.
My work with the NHS has been about improving care—the quality of care for patients. The last few years have seen immense progress, especially in respect of improving safety and paying attention to patient experience, but I believe that the NHS must now focus more on the third dimension of quality, which is improving clinical outcomes. How well is the NHS actually doing in helping people to get better? We should all be able to answer that question about the hospitals that care for our constituents, so we need more transparency.
The NHS workforce must be set up to succeed. People talk a lot about doctors and nurses, and we certainly need to train and retain more of them, but I would particularly mention healthcare assistants, who are a vital but often undervalued part of the healthcare workforce.
As we hold the NHS to account, we must get the balance right between scrutiny and support. Aneurin Bevan famously said that the sound of a bedpan dropped in a hospital in his constituency would reverberate in Whitehall; the counterpart is that what is said here reverberates across the country. I have worked in hospitals under intense scrutiny, and I know what it is like. We should be mindful of the impact of what we say on staff morale.
Staff in the NHS hate to see it treated as a political football. In October last year, there was a moment when it seemed that we might have moved on. All three main parties—as they were then—signed up to NHS England’s own plan, the Five Year Forward View. The plan is ambitious, and putting it into practice will involve difficult decisions. I hope that when we in the House are faced with taking a position, we will all avoid the temptation of political opportunism, and will always be sure to pick the side of the patient.
Let me return briefly to my constituency. Faversham is one of 24 towns that own a rare official copy of Magna Carta dating from 1300. This 800th anniversary year of the original Magna Carta is a special time for the town. Looking at Faversham’s Magna Carta recently was, for me, a profound reminder of the history of the rights and freedoms that we enjoy today. I also read several updated charters written by local schools, which brought the concept of rights bang into the 21st century. They reminded me of my duty not just to serve my current constituents, but to do my utmost to ensure that Faversham and Mid Kent is a wonderful place to live for generations to come.