Caroline Johnson – 2022 Speech on the Future of the UK

The speech made by Caroline Johnson, the Conservative MP for Sleaford and North Hykeham, in the House of Commons on 16 May 2022.

It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah), although I must disagree with her because I believe that this country is the best place to grow up and grow old—although that does not mean there is not work to do to make it even better, and I look forward to supporting the Queen’s Speech in that regard.

To grow up and grow old well, you need a healthy pregnancy and a healthy birth, and I look forward to the women’s health strategy in that regard. Childhood needs to be filled with opportunity, and the schools Bill and the higher education Bill will provide us with that opportunity. We need to have better sport provision and better mental health services, again covered in the Queen’s Speech. We need to look at the impact of loneliness on social life, which now has a huge impact on elderly people. I was pleased to organise with my team a senior citizens’ fair last week in North Hykeham, where many people came along to hear about the clubs, activities and other support available for older people in the region.

I want to touch on two things. The first is the impact of covid on the national health service. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a doctor. The impact of covid means that a lot of people are waiting for treatment. I was somewhat perturbed to read that we want to eliminate waits of a year by 2025, because a wait of a year is a long time and 2025 is not particularly soon for someone who is waiting and in pain. However, I am pleased that we have community diagnostic services opening around the country to help to improve this. I am particularly pleased that one is opening in Grantham and will serve many of my constituents, and that two new operating theatres are being built at Grantham and District Hospital, which will also improve elective activity in the area. There are going to be 17 million more tests in the next three years. We are going to have an increased capacity of 9 million extra treatments and procedures and an increase in elective activity of 30%.

All that is very good. It is especially good to see the Government focusing on output and actions that benefit patients—treatments, tests and procedures; things that make them better—and not just inputs, as the Opposition do, of £X billion or £Y billion. I have noted in my career in hospital medicine that the amount of senior staff has increased, but demand, expectations and the number of administrative and managerial staff have increased, too. If we are to deliver for patients and not simply spend more money, we need to ensure that the extra money is spent only in those areas of clinical care that improve patient outcomes. In that regard, I support calls for more medical students and more nursing students. I would also support a relative increase in remuneration for nurses providing direct clinical care so that those roles are not disincentivised. I appreciate that the NHS is operationally independent, but I look for ministerial reassurance that we are linking all the extra money that we are taking from our constituents to improve clinical care and clinical delivery.

The second thing I want to touch on is education and opportunity, which are inextricably linked. Conservative Members share the view that talent is uniformly distributed but opportunity, sadly, is not, and I welcome the Government’s commitment to levelling up in that regard. I am lucky that we have excellent schools in my constituency and that some have seen huge investment this week, including Carre’s Grammar School in Sleaford, which is receiving over £1 million to improve the structure of its buildings. That is fantastic news for all the successful schools involved in that bid.

The schools Bill offers us an opportunity to look not only at how we educate children in maths, English and science, but at how we contribute to a positive childhood. The MacAlister report, due out very shortly, will help to guide us on safeguarding improvements. In doing so, I hope the Education Secretary will protect children’s lives and wellbeing by focusing on evidence. We often talk in the Select Committee about his focus on the evidence, so I hope that he will be looking at the evidence on how we can improve things for children, not just adding to the bureaucracy that teachers face.

I would like to see curriculum measures to improve sport, particularly girls’ sport. Many teenage girls do less sport as they get older and throughout their secondary school experience. Children’s sport is crucial to physical development. It is crucial to bone health and preventing osteoporosis in the elderly even. It is important to fitness, to mental wellbeing and to improving academic outcomes as well. I look forward to the Government bringing forward their schools Bill, where I hope to see an increase in minimum participation and the encouraging of more sport as a priority. I look forward to voting for the Queen’s Speech when that opportunity arises.