The speech made by Wes Streeting, the Labour MP for Ilford North, in the House of Commons on 8 June 2022.
I give a huge thanks to NHS staff and leaders for the work they are doing against the most extraordinarily difficult backdrop. I also thank General Sir Gordon Messenger and Dame Linda Pollard for carrying out the review. Its seven recommendations are sensible, and I am pleased the Secretary of State has already committed to implementing them.
As this is a rare example of decisiveness from the Health Secretary, can he tell us when he intends to publish his implementation plan? All too often, the senior leadership of the NHS still does not represent the diversity of the population it serves. Instead of throwing red meat to his Back Benchers, for reasons that will probably be obvious to everyone, I would like to hear how, in particular, he intends to ensure that equality, diversity and inclusion will be improved, so that the best leaders are incentivised into the most challenging roles and are able to provide inclusive healthcare for the breadth of diversity in our great country. Can he explain why the review has not covered leadership in primary care or social care in any detail? Surely this is a missed opportunity. Let us face it: although he is trying to dress this up as the biggest shake-up in history, I am not sure that giving staff an induction on joining the NHS is a revolutionary development, and it hardly meets the scale of the challenge.
The NHS faces the biggest crisis in its history. NHS staff are in a system under pressure like never before, and there are simply not enough of them. There are currently 106,000 vacancies across the NHS, and staff are leaving in droves. In some specialties, such as midwifery, they are leaving faster than we can recruit them. I do not know how the Health Secretary expects NHS managers to demonstrate good leadership and deliver the best outcomes for patients when there are no staff to lead. For an organisation the size of the NHS, one of the biggest employers in the world, not to have a plan for its workforce is unbelievably negligent. What is the NHS meant to do until he eventually delivers his long-term workforce strategy, which he has been promising for some time? How are managers meant to lead effectively when instead of thinking about patient care as their primary driver, they have become buildings and facilities managers, because the ceilings are falling in? The only place where more than 40 new hospitals really exist is in the Prime Minister’s imagination.
The Health Secretary said that we should accept only the highest standards in NHS management, so let me ask him not about the generalities, but about the specifics. Last month, it was reported that North East Ambulance Service bosses oversaw cover-ups of negligence, leaving about 90 families not knowing how their loved ones died. He said yesterday that he is still considering whether to launch a review. Is he seriously considering protecting managers who cover up bad practice, instead of standing up for grieving families? Staff in that service were reportedly paid to sign gagging clauses, and I understand that attempts to get them to sign such clauses are still under way. In a written question, I asked how many non-disclosure agreements had been signed in the NHS since the Government said that they would be banned in 2014. He does not know and he is refusing to investigate the use of gaging clauses in the NHS. So how can he claim to be shaking up NHS culture and dealing with bullying when he has no interest in what is going on under his nose?
Of course the NHS needs good leaders, but when it comes to examples of poor leadership in the NHS, the Health Secretary did not need the Messenger review; he just needed to look in the mirror. This is the man who described the NHS as Blockbuster Video
“in the age of Netflix”,
as if it was the greatest revelation since Moses received the 10 commandments. Who has been in government for the past 12 years? On his watch, on this Government’s watch, we have the highest waiting times in the NHS’s history; the lowest patient satisfaction since 1997; longer waiting times for cancer in every year since 2010; heart attack and stroke victims left waiting for about an hour, on average, for ambulances; and patients at risk of serious injury because the hospital is crumbling around them. He kicked off his own Health Week expecting applause for the fact that, despite his best efforts, there are still 9,000 people waiting for more than two years for treatment. He knows, I know, NHS staff know and the public know that with this Government, NHS staff are lions led by donkeys, wanting and inadequate.