The speech made by Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the House of Commons on 21 June 2022.
I welcome this chance to come to the House to discuss primary care and dentistry, but I have to say that the audition by the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) did not go very well. I hope that he can see the irony—some might even say the hypocrisy—of his sudden interest in access to public services, today of all days. It is thanks to the strikes that he has been so vocal in supporting the fact that people right across the country cannot make their appointments, that GPs and dentists cannot get to work and that patients do not have access to the treatments they desperately need.
Several hon. Members rose—
I will take some interventions in a moment.
The hon. Gentleman has had every opportunity to do the right thing, to put patients first and to condemn these unjustified and reckless transport strikes, yet at every turn he has chosen to back his union paymasters.
Catherine West rose—
I hope the hon. Lady will condemn the strikes.
The Secretary of State speaks about opportunities. In this House, we had a number of opportunities to get workforce reform, workforce numbers and a plan for our health service into the Health and Care Act 2022. Why did he miss those opportunities?
We are seeing record investment in the workforce, and we are seeing record increases. For the first time ever, the NHS is also coming up with a 15-year long-term workforce strategy, which I hope the hon. Lady welcomes.
The Government have always been on the side of patients and the people who care for them. I pay tribute to everyone working in primary care and dentistry for the difference they make day in, day out to their patients’ lives. I know that the pandemic has brought some unimaginable pressures, and equally I know that many of those pressures have not gone away now we are living with covid.
The hon. Member for Ilford North talks as though he does not know where the pressures have come from—as though he has had his head under a rock for two years. The NHS has said it believes that between 11 million and 13 million people stayed away from the NHS, including their GPs and dentists. Rightly, many of those people are now coming forward for the treatment they need—and I want them to come forward.
When the Secretary of State does the much-needed manpower review, will he ensure that a fast-growing area such as Wokingham with lots of new houses gets proper provision for that growth? Will the manpower plan also address how we recruit the doctors we have authority to get?
I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend’s important point. In fact, I met my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) about that last week, and I agree with them both.
Hilary Benn (Leeds Central) (Lab)
Last month, a constituent contacted me who had developed severe dental pain. He phoned 40 dentists and not one of them could take him on as an NHS patient. It got so bad that he phoned 111 but was told that he was not eligible to see an emergency dentist. What advice would the Secretary of State give to someone in those circumstances? Many other hon. Members on both sides of the House will be able to tell similar stories. In the end, my constituent had to pay to go private, but that should not have happened. Why are our constituents being placed in that position?
I am sorry to hear about the right hon. Gentleman’s constituent. If he will allow me, in a moment, I will come on to the pressures that dentistry is facing and, most importantly, what we are doing about them.
Those pressures have come about for two reasons. First, there was a fear of infection, which was understandable in a context where 10 minutes in a dentist’s chair during the pandemic could have meant 10 days in self-isolation or, perhaps, worse. Dental practices were almost uniquely at risk of spreading covid, so their activity was rightly severely constrained across the world—not just here in England and across the UK—by the infection prevention rules that were necessary at the time. Despite all the innovations in dentistry over the last few years, dental surgeries do not have a Zoom option.
Secondly, the British people stayed away because of their innate sense of responsibility during the pandemic. As all hon. Members saw in their constituencies, people understood our critical national mission. Our GPs were doing their duty vaccinating people in care homes and in thousands of vaccination centres up and down the country, protecting the most vulnerable and working hard to keep us all healthy and safe.
When omicron struck—we all remember that period, which was not that long ago—I stood before this House and asked GPs to stop all non-emergency work once again. I did not take that decision lightly, but we were faced with a stark choice of having more lockdowns or accelerating our vaccine programme. We chose to accelerate, with help from all corners of the NHS and with the backing, at that time, of the hon. Member for Ilford North. I remember him standing at the Dispatch Box pledging his full support for that effort and rightly stating that the Government were acting
“in the best interests of our NHS, our public health, and our nation.”—[Official Report, 13 December 2021; Vol. 705, c. 795.]
He recognised that it was the right thing to do then; he has now conveniently changed his mind. I wonder why.
Mike Amesbury (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
But people like Mark in my constituency cannot find an NHS dentist. This is not about covid; it was happening before covid. The investment just is not there. He is in pain; he is in agony. The Secretary of State needs to step up, step in and get things right.
We are putting record amounts of investment into the NHS, including more funding into dentistry—I am about to come on to that right now—which will help with those pressures.
Covid is just a pathetic excuse, because even if it was the sole reason, the Secretary of State should have been planning for when we came out of it, but nothing he has said explains why we had record numbers of patients on waiting lists even before covid started.
I think that many people working across the NHS will be listening to the hon. Gentleman and realising that he has no idea about the pressures that covid has created for everyone working there, especially those on the frontline.
Emma Hardy (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)
Excuse me for raising this issue, but I want to draw attention to the fact that there has been news released that the Secretary of State’s Government have declined to introduce mandatory reporting of complications resulting from mesh. In the context of problems with waiting lists, and wider issues, if we do not introduce a mandatory reporting scheme to identify problems with a medical product, more people will end up requiring medical intervention and medical treatment, so I urge the Government to look again at their declining to introduce mandatory reporting.
The hon. Lady raises an important issue. That is why the Government commissioned an independent report. We have responded to that report. We are still listening to what hon. Members such as herself and others are saying on this important issue, and then we will do a follow-up of the report within a year, so that will be later this year. I know that she will take an interest in that.
Paul Bristow (Peterborough) (Con)
Does my right hon. Friend agree that a lot of the issues with primary care services are about leadership? In my constituency, we have the brilliant Thistlemoor surgery with Dr Neil Modha and Dr Azhar Chaudhry, who serve 29,500 patients, 80% of whom do not have English as a first language. Same-day, face-to-face GP appointments are the norm in that practice. In contrast, a Thorney surgery has just temporarily closed a surgery in my constituency due to a lack of admin staff, which is not the fault of the admin staff themselves. Will he back my campaign to make sure that that GP surgery is open again serving local people as soon as possible?
My hon. Friend is campaigning passionately for primary care services in his constituency, and he points to some fantastic practices. I congratulate all the people involved in delivering that and support him in his work with his local commissioners to make sure that they are getting even better local primary care.
Dr Andrew Murrison (South West Wiltshire) (Con)
Does my right hon. Friend recognise that the crisis in NHS dentistry, which affects my constituency as it does his, well predates the pandemic, and indeed goes back to at least 2006 when the then Labour Government changed the way in which dentists are paid? Will he undertake to look at the units of dental activity system, which disincentivises dentists from providing dental work particularly in the most disadvantaged communities?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right in his analysis, and I can give that undertaking. I will say a bit more about that in a moment.
If the hon. Member for Ilford North wants to talk about funding for the NHS, I am happy to oblige. Under the last NHS long-term plan, before the pandemic, we made a historic commitment of an extra £34 billion a year. Because of the pandemic, we then necessarily put in £92 billion of extra funding. At the last spending review, we increased funding still further so that the NHS budget will reach £162.6 billion by 2024-25, supported in part by the new health and social care levy.
We have made sure the NHS has the right level of resourcing to face the future with confidence, but we must also be alive to the consequences. The British people expect every pound spent to be spent well, and they expect us to be honest with them that every extra pound the hon. Gentleman calls for will be a pound less spent on education, infrastructure, housing and perhaps defence. I believe in a fair deal for the British people, and especially for our young people. We will be making plenty of changes alongside this funding.
One of the major problems we face in Wales and across the UK is the need to replace retiring GPs and dentists. There has been a welcome increase in the number of international medical graduates training in Wales, but the British Medical Association informs me that very few GP practices and dental practices in Wales are registered as skilled worker visa sponsors. Will the Secretary of State raise this with the Home Office to see what can be done to help GPs and primary care practitioners retain those international graduates to work in Wales and across the UK, if they so decide?
We are working with our colleagues in the Home Office on this and other skills and healthcare issues, so I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. He talks about the major problem he is facing in Wales, and that major problem is a Labour Government. I hope he agrees—[Interruption.] He is nodding.
Look at the performance of Labour in Wales, whether on health or education: the median waiting time for outpatients in Wales is almost double the median waiting time in England. People in Wales are waiting more than three years, whereas the longest wait in England is more than two years. Thanks to the covid recovery plan we set out in this House a few months ago, the number waiting more than two years has been slashed by more than two thirds in just four months, and it will be almost zero next month.
Thousands of people in Wales are waiting two or three years. In fact, one in four patients in Labour-run Wales are waiting longer than a year. In England it is one in 20, which is far too high and will be lowered, but in Wales it is one in four. It is not surprising the hon. Member for Ilford North had nothing to say about his colleagues in power in Wales.
Kate Hollern (Blackburn) (Lab) rose—
I would like to hear what the hon. Lady thinks of the Labour Government in Wales and their abysmal performance when it comes to healthcare.
There is much better performance from the Welsh Government than from the UK Government. The Prime Minister promised 6,000 more GPs, which has not happened.
I wrote to the Secretary of State about Blackburn having only 33 GPs per 100,000 people, whereas the south-west has 73. I wrote to him about a young man whose cancer was misdiagnosed, but I have not had a response. I would say Wales is doing much better than the Secretary of State.
That is a very strange comment about the hon. Lady’s colleagues in Wales. Either she does not know or she is deliberately saying something she does not quite believe. Perhaps I can make her aware of the facts in Wales, where the number of people waiting more than two years for treatment currently stands at more than 70,000. That is more than three times the figure in England. That is more than three times the figure in England. It is at 70,000, and the hon. Lady seems to be very comfortable with that. I am surprised—it tells us all we need to know about Labour’s ambitions for government if she thinks that is acceptable.
Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab) rose—
Maybe the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) can tell us whether she agrees with her hon. Friend the hon. Member for Blackburn (Kate Hollern) on Wales.
The Secretary of State knows we are having a debate about the whole UK, but I am asking him specifically about England and his responsibility. Can he answer the original question from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Kate Hollern), which was about the Prime Minister’s 2019 commitment to 6,000 extra GPs? We know there are 1,000 newly qualified foreign GPs who are about to be deported by his Government, plus students who are unable to complete their studies because this Government are not providing them with the money for the final years. Under the management of the Secretary of State’s Government in the last decade, we have lost 4,500 GPs. Can he talk about what he plans to do to replace them?
I am happy to talk about that. Because of the record funding this Government have put in, both pre and post pandemic, we are seeing record increases in the workforce across the NHS. When it comes to GPs, since March 2019 we have seen an increase of some 2,389. On top of that, we have seen a further increase of more than 18,000 full-time equivalent staff working in other important primary care roles. That is in England—I am talking about England numbers.
Of course, we are working hard towards the targets we have set. We are also seeing more GPs in training in our medical schools than ever before, with more medical schools operating than ever before. I hope the hon. Lady will welcome that result and that investment.
Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con)
We are talking about GP and dentistry services today, but the wider primary care family includes community pharmacy and ophthalmology, the vast majority of which are not NHS providers but operate under contract providing NHS services. In my excellent right hon. Friend’s second year in the Health Secretary job, will there be a ruthless focus on the wider primary care landscape? When it comes to prevention, surely those people must be the front door of the NHS to ensure that the system is sustainable in the long term.
Yes, absolutely. I know my hon. Friend speaks with great experience in this area. I am just about to come on to some of the changes we will be making to primary care, which I am sure he will welcome.
When the Secretary of State goes back to the Department, will he have a quick look at how it is that, in Leeds, north-east Lincolnshire, Fylde and Wyre and Stockport in the past six-and-a-half years, we have increased the number of GPs by between 18% and 22%? I am curious to know whether there are any lessons we can draw from those areas for the rest of the country. Will he ask his officials to look into that to see whether there are useful points for us?
I will, and I will get back to my hon. Friend on that issue with more detail. I hope he welcomes the investment we are seeing and the record numbers of doctors and GPs in training.
I know my right hon. Friend is coming on with some more ideas, but from talking to GPs across my constituency, one of the issues I have found is that, as we have diversified primary care staff beyond GPs to paramedics and others, the role of what might be called receptionists and telephonists has moved far more into triage. It is now a more complicated role. Is he attracted to the idea in the Policy Exchange document of creating an NHS gateway to provide more medically qualified staff at that first point of entry to GPs, but on a nationalised basis, available via internet, telephony and the cloud?
Yes, I am. I have seen the report my hon. Friend refers to and have discussed aspects of it with its authors, so the short answer is yes.
Imran Hussain (Bradford East) (Lab)
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will later.
In terms of the changes we are making, let me first turn to primary care. The hon. Member for Ilford North, in his motion today, is calling on me to
“urgently bring forward a plan to fix the crisis in primary care”,
as he puts it. That is his motion. He is probably too busy supporting the strikers to have read my speech to the NHS Confederation last week. Had he bothered to listen to or read what I said in that speech, or the similar words from Amanda Pritchard, the chief executive officer of NHS England, he would have heard me acknowledge that our current model of primary care simply is not working. I have made no secret of that, or of my desire for change.
We are now working on a plan for change and, based on today’s motion, I will be glad to count on the hon. Gentleman’s support when we bring those plans forward, because what he has asked for, we are already doing. Our plans, for example, include a much bigger expansion in what our fantastic pharmacists can do. In fact, on the very day that I made that speech in Liverpool, we also announced a new pilot scheme to allow people with signs of cancer to be assessed and referred by pharmacists. That is yet another example of how we are working hard to enhance the role of our brilliant pharmacists and thereby freeing GPs to spend more time with their patients.
Thus far, if I have got this right, the Secretary of State has told us that there have been record levels of investment across our NHS services, including GPs and hospitals, and that any minor concerns that have arisen are because of the covid years. Does he think that the British public have been asleep for the last 12 years? Does he think that the British public will buy this? The stark reality on our streets—the Secretary of State may want to go and have a look—is as dire as it has ever been.
As I said—I am glad that the hon. Gentleman was listening—there have been record levels of funding in the NHS, and, as we set out in our spending plans, that will continue. But that is no thanks to the hon. Member for Ilford North and his colleagues, who all voted against that record funding. They wanted to deny those resources to their constituents. He should reflect on the impact of that had their wish gone through the House.
On the changes that we are making, we are going further, from improving telephone services to letting others such as nurses and pharmacists complete fit notes. Appointment numbers are already exceeding pre-pandemic levels—for example, in April, GPs and their teams were delivering 1.26 million appointments per working day. That is a phenomenal achievement, which the hon. Gentleman should be commending, not castigating.
The hon. Gentleman raised Wakefield and primary care. He was using dodgy numbers, so he was corrected by my hon. Friend the Member for South West Bedfordshire. He also gave out further dodgy information by somehow claiming that the King Street walk-in centre was under threat. I do not know if you have seen this in the by-elections, Mr Deputy Speaker, but the Labour party has a history of just making things up and creating fake news to scare local people. That is the respect that they show for local people. The walk-in centre has never been under threat. The local clinical commissioning group has confirmed that it has never been under threat. If he had any decency, he would stand up and withdraw his remarks. I give him that chance.
I would have thought that the Secretary of State would have learned by now that it is silly to give way to me when he makes these facile points. It is absolutely the case that the walk-in centre’s future was in jeopardy. It is absolutely the case that Simon Lightwood campaigned to save it. If that is what Simon Lightwood can achieve as a candidate, imagine what he will do as Wakefield’s next Labour MP.
The hon. Gentleman is now using the past tense. A moment ago, he claimed that it was under threat. He clearly has no issues with giving false information in this House. The truth is that, if Wakefield wants a better future, as everyone in Wakefield deserves, only one by-election candidate can provide that, and that is Nadeem Ahmed.
We intend to go much further to build a truly 21st-century offer in primary care. That includes Dr Claire Fuller’s independent review, which I found to be extremely valuable, and the changes that will stem from that as well as the many others that we will bring forward shortly. We will work with the population and the profession alike. The hon. Gentleman was right to focus on the importance of the profession, but he did forget to mention, as I referred to earlier, that since March 2019 we have more than 2,380 additional GPs in primary care, record numbers of doctors in training and more than 18,000 additional primary care professionals.
Let me turn briefly to the important steps we are taking in dentistry. Urgent care has been back at pre-pandemic levels since December 2020, and the 700 centres for urgent care that we set up to provide treatment for patients during this difficult period have helped thousands of patients across the country. At the start of this year we put an additional £50 million into NHS dental services, which boosted dental capacity by creating 350,000 extra appointments. Dentists are currently required to deliver 95% of pre-covid activity, and we are planning to return to 100% shortly. I commend all the dentists who are already achieving that.
Paul Blomfield (Sheffield Central) (Lab)
The Secretary of State referred to an additional £50 million. As he knows, the way in which that was framed made it difficult for dentists to draw down the money. Will he tell the House how much of it has been drawn down and used?
I do not have the exact figures to hand, but I know that millions of pounds were drawn down and used to deliver tens of thousands of appointments across the country. That made a huge difference to a great many people.
Greg Clark (Tunbridge Wells) (Con)
The urgent care centres are an important innovation, but it is also important for them to be accessible throughout the country. There are seven in Kent, but the one nearest to my constituents is 33 miles away. Could my right hon. Friend intervene with the NHS in the south-east to bring about a more even distribution?
My right hon. Friend’s point is important and well made, and I will look at the issue closely and get back to him, if I may.
As we have already heard today—but it is such an important point—the challenge for NHS dentistry predated the pandemic. It is not just about the number of dentists in England, but about the completely outdated contracts under which they are working, which were signed under a Labour Government. [Interruption.] Labour Members do not like it, but it is true. These contracts mean that we are operating almost with one hand tied behind our backs. They do not incentivise prevention, they hold back innovation, and they mean that hard-working families cannot get the dental services that they deserve. However, we will now be changing that; our work with the sector, along with the work of Health Education England on recruitment and retention, will be vital for the future.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will in a moment.
If there is one thing that unites all our work on primary care and dentistry, it is this. We are shifting to a new mode of operating—one that is about helping the whole population to stay healthy, not just about treating those who ask for help. We need to get to a place where we are healthier for longer, because freedom is hollow without our health.
Our new Health and Social Care Act 2022 is an important step in that ambition. Statutory integrated care systems will be responsible for the funding to support the health of their respective areas—not just treating people, but helping people to stay healthy in the first place. The Act also allows us to make safe and effective public health interventions such as water fluoridation, and we will set out further plans for that shortly.
Prevention, personalisation, people and performance: those will be our watchwords for modernising NHS services. They will sit at the heart of everything to come, from the health disparities White Paper to the update of the NHS long-term plan. While the Opposition continue to go off the rails, we remain firmly on track, laying down our plans to deliver a truly 21st-century offer for the profession and, most of all, for patients.