My contribution from Wednesday’s debate in Parliament regarding NHS and Social Care Funding. The Government must do more.
It is important to talk more widely about the NHS—about its importance and its funding and perhaps about its organisation, too—but the purpose of today’s debate is to highlight the current crisis in many parts of our national health service and to ask the Government to do something about it.
Our national health service is undoubtedly highly valued, has dedicated staff and provides excellent services. In many parts of the country it is under pressure, however, and today’s debate calls for specific actions to address that crisis. It calls for more funding for social care now, and for an improved settlement for both the NHS and social care in the next Budget. So in our general discussion about how things might be reorganised and changed in the future it is important not to lose focus on the current problems, and those are the reasons for today’s debate.
There has been a lot of discussion about what is happening in hospitals—that will inevitably be the case, as in many areas there is a crisis in A&E and great pressure on hospital services—but reference has also been made to services provided by our NHS outside hospitals, in the community. It is important that we focus on those as well, not just because they are important in their own right, but because if they are working effectively they can prevent hospital admissions from occurring and improve people’s health. Those services include community health services, which involve GP practices, which is the bedrock of our NHS, and the nurses, physios and pharmacists. They also include social care, where the NHS has some responsibility, although local authorities, which are under ever-increasing pressure, are primarily responsible.
I am extremely concerned about the cuts that the Government have imposed on community pharmacists. Pharmacists are essential to our NHS. They are part of the NHS, but in the main are privately run. They offer advice as well as specific services, and where pharmacists can give proper advice and services they can often prevent people from having to go to their GP, let alone to hospital. It is a matter of great concern that the Government’s plan for cuts to community pharmacies will put pharmacies in areas such as mine in Liverpool at risk. I also deplore the reduction in independent pharmacies, which provide an excellent service. I ask the Government to think again about their cuts to community pharmacies, which form a vital part of our health service. Once they are closed, it will be far too late. The Government should act now. They should not go ahead with those cuts, which will have a dramatic effect in Liverpool and elsewhere in the country.
I also ask hon. Members to think a little more about what is happening in social care. In Liverpool, we are facing a major crisis in social care, as local authority funding has been cut severely and is to be cut again. Liverpool City Council’s budget has already been cut by 58%, and £90 million of further savings have been demanded over the next three years—half of that to be achieved in the next year. One result of that has been a severe reduction in social care provision: 40,000 social care packages have been reduced to 9,000, and there are many more cuts in the pipeline.
Providing social care is essential not just to enable people to leave hospital when they are healthy enough to do so—although that is important—but to enable them to live a constructive life. Many people are now fearful of possible cuts to their social care packages. They believe that they will be unable to lead a reasonable life in their own home if their essential services are cut. I ask the Government to think again about what they are doing. They tell us that the better care fund is an answer, but that is simply not the case. In Liverpool, £39 million has been proposed for the social care fund for the coming years, but that will simply scratch the surface of the problem. In poor areas such as Liverpool where it is difficult to raise money, a 1% increase in the council tax fund would raise only £1.4 million. Neither of those measures, either singly or put together, will address the looming and very real crisis in social care. I urge the Government to look again at this, rather than offering platitudes about other funding being available. That funding is not there, and there are no plans for it to be there. A new approach needs to be taken to this urgently; something needs to be done.
The subject of mental health has been raised by a number of Members. I should like to mention two instances from my constituency. The first involves someone who can live a reasonable life at home with some assistance, but that assistance has now been withdrawn. Among other things, it involved helping the person to open letters in order to deal with normal queries, but that has now gone and she is facing great problems.
The second example involves Mr B, who faces very serious mental health conditions. Indeed, he has an incapacitating condition, which means that he cannot work. He was promised specialist help at the Tuke Centre in York, but that offer was withdrawn because it was made in error. That is unforgivable. I have followed this through, and Mr B was promised local treatment, although it was unclear whether that treatment would be appropriate. However, that treatment is not now being offered in the way that was previously suggested. I have followed that up, but 14 months on from the time when Mr B was first offered help for his incapacitating and extremely serious mental health condition, nothing has happened. That is simply not good enough, and I shall be pursuing the matter further.
Those are just two illustrations of how the cruel cuts in mental health services are affecting individuals. I agree that we should perhaps look more generally at funding for our national health service, but the crisis in local services is happening today. The Government are responsible now, and they must act.