Francis Report Debate,
House of Commons,
Wednesday 5th March
Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Champion!
Grahame M. Morris: Thank you very much, Bob.
I want to make three points. First, I want to consider the context of the Francis report. I have the honour of serving on the Health Committee; we have held several inquiries and had the opportunity to meet and question Robert Francis on several occasions, so I am pleased to participate in this debate to consider where we are, one year on.
I also want to touch on mental health. As often happens when one speaks at the tail end of the debate, that has been raised by other hon. Members, but the issue is close to my heart. The third issue I want to discuss is the impact on social care. Although the Secretary of State kept implying that Francis is about acute hospitals, in fact his recommendations extend across the spectrum. The ideas and proposals in the 290 recommendations are just as valid for mental health and social care as they are for acute hospitals.
Clearly, the failings at Mid Staffs were absolutely shocking. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House who believe in the values of the NHS will, like me, have been appalled by those terrible events, but it is important not to conflate those terrible events with a wider diagnosis of the state of the NHS. We should think of the tremendous dedication and effort put in by the hundreds of thousands of NHS staff—I think the NHS is the biggest employer in Europe outside of the red army; it is a substantial employer—who make it such a national treasure that is ingrained in our psyche. I want to place on record the thanks of Labour Members, and, I think, the whole House, for their efforts.
Bob Stewart: I’ll intervene on that point.
Grahame M. Morris: Well, that’s very kind of the hon. Gentleman.
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. The hon. Member for Beckenham has only just come in. He perhaps ought to hear a little bit more of the debate to get the flavour of it before he intervenes. That would help his good self.
Grahame M. Morris: We should remember that most hospitals provide very high standards of care, and have dedicated and compassionate staff. I am not just talking about doctors and nurses, but ancillary workers, cleaners and support staff. I worked in a pathology department as a medical scientific officer for a number of years. We should remember that the NHS is an integrated service that relies on all of its elements to perform at a high level and deliver a high-quality service.
Clearly, what happened in Mid Staffs was alarming. There were unacceptable practices, including, as other Members have said, professional failings. The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), in a terrific speech that was considered, thoughtful and non-partisan, alluded to those professional failings. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Kevin Barron), a former Chair of the Health Committee, made the point strongly that many Labour Members feel there should be a duty of candour on individuals. That is one of the recommendations of the Francis report that was rejected by the Government but could well make a difference. There were clear signs that changes needed to be made and we need to ensure that failures are never repeated elsewhere.
When care failures are uncovered, the priority above all else is to make a candid assessment of what went wrong and what needs to be done to fix it. Francis was clear on the need for cultural change. That is exactly what happened in the wake of the Mid Staffs scandal. Despite attempts by some Government Members to undermine Labour’s commitment to the NHS, for the record we should be aware that it was the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who is now in his place, who called in Robert Francis to lead the initial review into what had happened so that we could find out what went wrong and learn lessons for the future.
I accept the point made by the hon. Member for Stafford that we should not hark back to previous Administrations, but my recollection, as a relatively new Member from 2010, is that that was not something we engaged in. It was a huge issue for Labour, and for me personally, that people were dying due not to lack of care in a hospital setting, but to the length of waiting lists—people were dying on waiting lists. After 1997, the NHS was transformed. Spending had tripled to £104 billion when Labour left office. Under Labour, 100 new hospitals were constructed, and the Labour Government employed 89,000 more nurses and 44,000 more doctors than had been employed in 1997. The transformation of the NHS under the last Government was reflected in public satisfaction with the service, which rose from record lows before 1997 to record highs.
There was a bit of contention during Prime Minister’s Question Time, and subsequently during the opening speeches in the debate. The Secretary of State suggested that the number of nurses had risen, but my information from the Royal College of Nursing and FactCheck indicates that that is not the case. I hope that the record can be corrected, because staff numbers are a key issue. A number of Members have referred to it today, and Sir Robert Francis cited staffing as a causative factor.
It would, I think, be irresponsible to assume that a combination of implementing the Francis recommendations—even all of them—and talking down the last Government will be sufficient to ensure the provision of high-quality care throughout the NHS. The truth is that the combination of cuts in alternative services—I am not just talking about the replacement of NHS Direct with the 111 service, the reduction in the number of walk-in treatment centres, the difficulties in gaining access to GP services and, indeed, the cost and disruption caused by the top-down reorganisation—is more likely to contribute to failures in care. It will certainly increase the pressure on accident and emergency departments.
The Francis report made clear that the “overwhelmingly prevalent factors” in the failures at Mid Staffordshire
“were a lack of staff, both in terms of absolute numbers and appropriate skills”.
It was made clear that ensuring that our hospitals are adequately staffed is key to ensuring that standards of care are high. That point was made by the hon. Member for St Ives (Andrew George), who I know has been campaigning on the issue for some time. A year on from the Francis report, a survey found that 39% of nurses believed that the staffing position had become worse rather than better, and 57% said that their wards remained dangerously understaffed. I hope that the Minister has noted that, because it must be cause for concern.
The hon. Member for Stafford told us that when he was first elected the NHS trust was running a deficit of £10 million, and the focus of the hospital management was on reducing the deficit in order to secure foundation trust status. What went through my mind then were figures given to the Select Committee, according to which nearly a third of NHS trusts are predicting deficits towards the end of the current financial year, and the possibility that similar pressures will be applied as a result. We are now seeing the spectre of clause 119 of the Care Bill, which we are to debate next week on Report and Third Reading. If it paves the way for rapid hospital closures—Labour Members fear that predatory private health care interests may seize the opportunity—that will be very dangerous. We must examine that issue very seriously.
According to evidence from the survey conducted, I think, by the RCN, not only are hospital wards increasingly understaffed, but nurses are being burdened with work that is preventing them from doing their jobs. I am sorry to fire statistics at the House, but, according to that evidence, 86% agreed that the amount of non-essential paperwork had increased in the last two years. There has thus been an historic recent increase in administrative duties. That has been keeping nurses in their offices or at their nurse stations, standing in front of computers or photocopying machines, instead of being available on the wards providing the TLC—that direct health care—that patients require.
Just this week the president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists warned the Government that the mental health sector is heading towards its own Mid Staffs-type scandal. I am very concerned about that. The figures for that field were given earlier, but the fact that the budget for mental health services is reducing in real terms should be a cause for concern. This Government gave a commitment to parity of esteem as between physical and mental health. That was promised and loudly trumpeted as a significant step forward, but in truth it has failed to materialise. There is a clear funding imbalance between acute providers and non-acute trusts, which will disproportionately impact on mental health services in the wake of the Francis report.
I also want to touch on the tariff reduction. In 2014-15 there will be an overall reduction in the tariff price—essentially, the price that hospitals are paid for procedures and operations they perform—of 1.5% for acute providers and 1.8% for non-acute trusts. A third of NHS trusts are predicting they will be in deficit at the end of the financial year, and this tariff reduction will only compound that problem. This means the efficiency target for mental health and community trusts is in practice a fifth higher than for acute trusts, so perhaps it is no wonder that we have a chronic bed shortage, highlighted by various newspapers and the BBC, with children and adolescents travelling long distances to access appropriate care and sometimes temporarily being put in police cells. This is not acceptable, and there are real concerns that programmes introduced by the last Labour Government to make talking therapies available to people with mental health conditions are not getting the priority they deserve. Last year half of all patients referred for counselling did not see a specialist, with a third giving up entirely because the waits were so long.
As I mentioned in an earlier intervention, 1,700 mental health beds have been lost over the last two years, and services are under such pressure that people with mental illnesses are ending up either in police cells or presenting at accident and emergency departments, as the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow) said. Those are completely inappropriate locations.
I want to mention the cuts to social care and the impact they are having on the ability of the service to deliver quality care in the light of our review of the Francis recommendations. We should not forget that since 2009-10 some £1.8 billion has been cut from local authority budgets for adult social care. The cumulative spending power of my own local authority, Durham county council, is being reduced by 17.3% under this Government.
Areas like mine with a legacy of coalmining or industry have higher care needs. These are the areas that are being hardest hit by cuts to local government. It is simply not possible to make cuts of this significance to local government without it having an impact on standards of care. Some 76% of community nurses agree that social care cuts have resulted in increased work pressures, with just 15% thinking that patients are receiving adequate support from social care services. Cuts mean that an increasing number of those with care needs are going without any support—the figure I have seen is about 800,000—and those receiving support are not even having basic needs met. We know about the 15-minute visits, and councils are now having to introduce or increase charges for services that may well have been free before or might be free in other parts of the country.
Care in the home and in the community is declining, and people are turning to their local hospitals—this is the point I am trying to make—as the default option. That means that those who should be taken care of at home are staying unnecessarily in hospital beds. Accident and emergency is the coal face—the pressure point—and any failures in the system show up there, putting even more pressure on an already burdened system. In “The Francis Report: one year on”, Robert Francis said that there needs to be
“a frank discussion about what needs to be provided within the available resources…It is unacceptable to pretend that all can be provided to an acceptable standard when that is not true.”
I agree with him. It is no good telling people that care standards will be improved or maintained while removing the support that is required to provide high standards of care, particularly social care. In conclusion, I agree with the Health Committee that legislation and regulatory bodies can only do so much to ensure that care standards are met if the necessary staff and resources are not available.