Parliament has, in the past week, debated a major new Health and Care Bill and I was pleased to make a contribution.
Drawing on my experience, I highlighted the need to address long term structural gaps in staffing to back up commitments made in the NHS ten-year plan and to tackle the NHS Covid backlog. We have years of workforce challenge to face.
I called for a requirement - on the face of the Bill - on the Government to publish modelling of the future supply of the entire health and care workforce. And I reiterated my belief in an immigration policy that recognises, not curtails, the unique circumstances across health and social care.
On primary care, I welcomed the formal creation of new Integrated Care Systems (which will remove the silos that exist within the NHS, while supporting it, Local Authorities and the wider system to join up services) and said we need them to realise their potential fast.
What do I mean by that? Well, in part, General Practice needs to embrace the wider primary care family and that means realising the potential of community pharmacy, ophthalmology and dental services as vehicles of prevention as much as treatment.
And moving upstream of the Bill, I was clear it has to be all about prevention. We hear regularly now talk of a waiting list touching 13m people – and we must tackle that – but we hear less of addressing poor health at source. So I enthusiastically support measures in the legislation to face up to the obesity challenge; driving as it is incidence of cancer, heart disease and diabetes among others.
It’s no use throwing the ‘nanny state’ line at proponents of this argument anymore, as regularly happened to me when I was the Minister. We have a Government that has, until recently, made it illegal to leave the country and took a view on whether you could dance at a wedding – to protect the NHS - so don’t tell me we can’t help people live healthier lives through a focus on prevention. That is how you really protect the NHS.
Obesity is one example, smoking is another. It remains the biggest preventable killer in our country today and kills some 90,000 people this year – next year - every year. We can wear a mask around a virus in a largely vaccinated population but we sell cigarettes over the counter every day and some people make a lot of money as a result.
We need a revised and updated tobacco control plan alongside these health reforms or we will never realise our SmokeFree ambition by 2030 as per the policy I set back in 2017.
And finally, I have been very active in Parliament and on the media scrutinising the (sort) end of lockdown as we moved past 19 July and Step 4 of the Roadmap.
In my opinion the real issue, one of the issues of our time going forward, is not this law or that regulation / piece of advice; it is whether we really mean it when we say we must ‘learn to live with Covid’.
I predict many battles to come as some find it harder to let go of the almighty state telling us what we can and cannot do than they might like to admit.
As I said in the House of Commons earlier this week, either we believe in our Covid vaccines (with their 90%+ efficacy) or we do not. We should tread carefully for sure but it’s time to end the ‘pingdemic’ that is often illogical – seldom fair – and the opposite of following the science.
Steve Brine MP