The NHS and social care need to work together

NHS and Social Care organisations need to work together if we are to have better, more affordable and more sustainable healthcare. I made these points in a House of Commons debate, read what I said below or click to watch a video.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate and to follow hon. Members who have made very thoughtful contributions. Thangam Debbonaire spoke about loneliness, which is a problem across the country, and the very important work that is being done on that. It is also a pleasure to follow colleagues who have spoken about their personal and family experiences. My hon. Friend James HeappeyToby Perkins, who is no longer in his place, and Sue Hayman spoke about their experiences, both good and bad, of the national health service.

I, too, have personal experiences both good and bad. Three years ago, I spent Christmas day night in A&E with my son, who was five at the time, and who had his appendix taken out first thing in the morning on Boxing day. He had absolutely exemplary care and was home within two days, eagerly making up for the quantity of sausages that he had omitted to eat on Christmas day because of his tummy ache. Last Christmas, my grandmother, then aged 100, was in hospital—she was there for several months—and she had a much, much worse experience; it was not the NHS at its best. We all have good and bad experiences to draw on. We hear from our constituents, as well, about these good and bad experiences. It is important to recognise what the NHS does well, and is doing well, but also where the system is failing, and to focus on supporting the good and tackling the bad.

I very much understand why this debate has been called, because there is no question but that the NHS is under extraordinary pressure this winter. We have heard that last week it had the busiest week ever. However, I am quite disappointed by the tone of some of the contributions and more significantly by the lack of proposals from those who just said that that there is no money and made no suggestions as to where the money will come from. That is fundamentally unhelpful.

This is set against a backdrop of Labour, in 2015—less than two years ago—not committing to fund the NHS with the money that it was asking for, as this Conservative Government are now doing. Labour is in rather a shocking position.

I want to seize this opportunity to say a very heartfelt thank you to all members of NHS staff—nurses, doctors, allied health professionals, porters, care assistants—and those in social services, particularly those in and around my constituency in Kent, who I know are working extremely hard to deal with the pressure on the frontline. I also thank patients and their families who are being thoughtful and taking care to make the best use of the NHS.

We know that there is great variation in how the NHS is coping. I have just been told that the waiting time in Maidstone A&E is—as we speak—only 37 minutes, so Maidstone is coping pretty well right now, but at the nearby William Harvey hospital in Ashford it over four hours, so there is variation. I do not say that so that people listening can divert from where they are going; there may be a case for that and for greater transparency, but that is for another day.

We talked earlier about money. There is no question but that this issue is partly about the need for more funding and more staff, but the Government are doing exactly that: they are giving the NHS more money and investing in significant increases in the workforce. However, money is not the whole answer. If the NHS just continued doing all it does in the way that it does without any change, we would find ourselves with a system that was unaffordable and that used a proportion of GDP for which there would not be public support. We know that we have an ageing population—people are living longer and have multiple complex conditions—and that high-cost treatments are becoming available that people want, so the NHS itself recognises that this is not just about more money but about changing the way in which services are delivered.

Such changes are being worked on and are actually happening at the moment. Earlier today, I spoke to the hospital trust chief executive who is the lead for the Kent and Medway sustainability and transformation plan. STPs have come up several times today. As I have seen, under him and the group around him, there has been a coming together across Kent and Medway of NHS organisations that have not tended to work closely together. The coming together of the NHS and social services is so important, so necessary and so right if we are to work out how to provide a better health service in a more sustainable way. We need to break down the barriers between organisations as it just does not make sense to have a split between the NHS and social care in who provides what. We should look at how we can genuinely move care out of acute hospitals and closer to home, which we know is good for patients. It is exactly what the hon. Member for Workington hoped for her father and what we wanted for my grandmother as she neared the end of her life.

We need to enable people to be looked after closer to home or preferably at home, and to improve prevention and—I feel particularly strongly about this—mental health care. The Prime Minister has taken a personal lead on mental healthcare with her announcements on Monday. In the light of the pressure on A&E, I particularly value the commitment to psychiatric liaison in A&E departments, which we know is helpful in the prevention of suicide, is good for people who go to A&E with mental health problems and helps A&Es look after the people who need to be seen for physical health problems. I welcome the fact that my area of Kent is looking at bringing that forward and having psychiatric liaison in all A&Es by 2018. Really important work is therefore going on at local level.

I encourage Labour Members not to make the knee-jerk or even tear-jerk speeches that some have made, but to take a longer view of the situation. That would help us to have a more mature conversation about what the NHS needs, and to talk about policies and concrete proposals, rather than just about having more money, to solve the problems. It would also enable us to get behind what the NHS is doing at local level, where the NHS and local authorities are coming together to draw up plans across their areas for better care for patients in an affordable and sustainable way.