The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Markham) (Con)
I would like to start by giving our side’s condolences to the family of Alistair Darling. I echo the points on him made by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, talked about the cross-party working. Alistair Darling was one of those people who, while clearly a Labour politician, approached things in a very objective, cross-party manner. I know he will be missed by all of us.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for tabling this debate, which has been fascinating. It started off with a very informed and fascinating history of the NHS from my noble friend Lord Lexden, which enshrined the point that the noble Lord, Lord Allan, made: it has given us all that wonderful freedom to go to bed at night and feel secure, and to make life choices about where we work and who we live with without that being a worry. I agree with the basic premise that that is the duty of any Government.
I am also kind of—I am not quite finding the right words to say, but I was really marked by the point that the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Brooke, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, were at the 50th anniversary and took part in these conversations. That is quite humbling, particularly since I found out, strangely enough, that I am currently the longest-serving Health Minister. I am not sure that I will make it to the 100th anniversary, but I will take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Prentis, by trying not to walk in the middle of the road and get hit. If I do make the 100th, I will definitely follow the idea from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, of having a party.
I welcome the debate. While I will try to answer the points raised, given the 75th anniversary, and as others have mentioned, it is important that we try to make this forward-looking and look at the innovation agenda, which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, mentioned.
I will also address squarely and up front the funding point, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, and others. Rather than only putting a nickel into this, we are putting in 11% of GDP—by far the highest amount in history. Tony Blair has been mentioned a lot. I well remember the Wanless review in the early 2000s, which talked about increasing the spend to about 8%—my memory might not be quite right, but it was about 8% of GDP. I do not think that anyone would say today that 11% does not absolutely show our commitment.
It is comparable to all other European countries. In fact, there is only one country in the world which has a significantly higher spend: America. I want to put that record level of investment on the record. As many have mentioned, it is of course important that we allocate that and use those resources as well as possible. I was very struck by the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, made about the productivity conundrum, so to speak, and those that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, made on the technology agenda and innovation. I hope to address some of those points a bit later.
I put all this into the context of our knowing today that a digitally mature trust will be 10% more efficient. We have done quite a bit of work on this; it will be 10% more efficient than other trusts in its output and efficiency. Since a few people mentioned the new hospitals plan, I should say that we know that a new hospital where you unite the best in technology with the best in physical real estate will be 20% more efficient in its output. That is not just in productivity; more importantly, probably, we are also seeing a 20% reduction in the length of stays. The one statistic that has impressed me the most, as I have gone around in the year or so that I have been in this job, is that for every week a patient spends in hospital they lose another 10% of their body mass if they are elderly, so their ability to go home—back to the normal environment—degrades day by day.
We have been talking about what we are trying to do with the technology agenda and the new hospitals programme, but we are all here because we care about patient care. That is vital. We all want people to get back into their home environment sooner. We all know that the problems often come when you are locked in for too long. Then you need a social care space and can get into the downward spiral that we all know about.
As someone actively involved in the new hospitals programme, I assure everyone that there are action steps happening on all 40 of those new hospitals. They are all very real. I will happily talk to anyone about any of them if they should wish it, and show them my photos from visits to many of them as well.
The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, made a very good point: often, it is the short cycles which are hard. One thing that has not been spoken about very much, but was very much part of our new hospitals plan and the announcement in May, was our moving to five-year capital cycles. That will be really important for that long-term planning; work is going on as we speak around having 25-year to 30-year capital cycles.
I am trying to address the points raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Merron, understandably mentioned the waiting lists, as others did. Obviously, that is an area of concern but we have made good progress in the area of two years and are making good progress in the area of 78 weeks. We are focusing on those areas where there is the most impact. Undoubtedly, industrial action has impacted this, which is why I think we are all pleased that we now have a likely deal with the consultants. I am hopeful that it will extend to the junior doctors as well, but we have been working hard on that. We are trying to get on top of it: in terms of supply, there are the 130 CDCs with their 5 million tests. There is also the use of technology, such as patient choice with the app and the FDP, and we will see big improvements in what that does.
Through all this, we have been talking about the 13 years in which Conservatives have been in charge of the NHS in England. Of course, there have been 25 years that one party has been in control in Wales. I noticed that no mention has been made of Wales. While none of us is happy with the waiting lists, I know for sure that they are a lot better in England than in Wales.
I turn to the 62-day backlog for cancer. We all know that time is of the essence in cancer. We are seeing a 27% reduction in that backlog since 2020 and a record level of referrals; we are treating 12,000 people per day. We are starting to hit the 75% target of diagnosing people within 28 days. To put this into context, we are treating 32% more people for cancer than we were prior to the pandemic. We know that fast diagnosis is key.
One of the key differences in inequalities in life expectancy, as raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London, is lung cancer. Of the nine-year disparity, one year is caused by lung cancer. That is why we have things such as mobile screening, which we take on the road to areas where lung cancer is most prevalent—for example, in some of the mining communities. Rather than the majority of people with lung cancer not being found until stage 4, when it is too late, in the areas where they have been doing this we are finding the majority of people in stage 1 or 2. That is so much better in terms of life chances. That is how we will achieve the target of detecting 75% of cancers by stage 1 or 2 by 2028. To give some context to that, we estimate that it will mean that 55,000 more people will be surviving as a result by then.
There has also been talk about waiting times for ambulances and A&E. While they are too high, I am glad to say that they are improving. We have been making sure that we have learned lessons. We are taking action for this winter by increasing supply, with 800 new ambulances, 5,000 more beds to increase capacity and the 10,000 virtual ward beds we will have in place. We are using technology, which I will come to later, to make sure that they are being most effectively used. We are making sure the hospitals are digitised. We have features such as those I saw in Maidstone, such as flight control, where you allow the clinicians to manage the flow of patients right the way through.
Key to all this and to the length of stay is discharge and the adult social care end. Quite rightly, as the noble Lord, Lord Prentis, said, the flow is important. It is vital not only on the social care side, but for the whole hospital and the UEC—urgent elective care—waiting lists. I have seen at first hand the impact of step-down areas. Patients can be put there early on, and everything is organised around that. I have seen the improvements that makes to the flow.
We are trying to learn the lessons of last year by getting the money and commitments out early. That is why we are making a commitment of £600 million extra spend. We told the local authorities and systems that in the summer, so they could plan now rather than hearing about it too late and not being able to impact it then. That is all part of an increase of up to £8.1 billion over the next two years—a 20% increase. Staff are at the centre of that, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. It has been a difficult area, but we are now up in terms of staff versus last year. I accept that there is still a long way to go. My notes show that we have about a 15,000 increase in staff, but clearly, we need more within that.
Mental health is obviously a key part of this. As the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and others mentioned, now more than ever we are seeing a massive increase in the number of young people with mental health issues—we had a good debate on this the other day. As I have said, I am determined that we understand the reasons underneath that. Covid might be part of it, but there are also long-term reasons, such as social media, that we need to understand. As the noble Lord, Lord Davies, mentioned, we need to make sure we diagnose those early, because that is crucial, particularly for young children. As noble Lords know, I have personal experience of the importance of acting early on this.
On the mental health Bill, we are committed, as mentioned, to do as much as we can without the legislation—hopefully we can explain a lot of that when we have the round table. Although getting it in the manifesto might be above my pay grade, I personally agree to make sure that all my colleagues understand its importance today and in a year’s time or so, if we were to win a general election.
Many noble Lords—the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, and the noble Lords, Lord Prentis and Lord Hunt, to mention a few—raised the importance of staffing and how everything is underpinned by it. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, in particular picked out—and I completely agree with them—that it is not just the clinicians but the managers, the admin and the non-clinical staff who are key to this as well.
I am a bit of a data anorak, and one of the things I did when I first came into my post was to try to understand all the differences in hospital performance, looking at certain areas’ demographics and whether they happened to have more funding through a quirk of the formula. I put in all sorts of variables, but we could only ever explain 50% of it—for the data anoraks, I say: the r² never came out higher than 0.5. The only conclusion that I and others could come to from that was—this is not earth shattering—the management and the leadership. I have had the privilege of visiting a lot of hospitals, and when you walk into one you know early on about the leadership—you can tell it on the tour and through the reaction, less from the leaders and more from the staff. You get a vibe about a place. I totally agree about the importance of that.
I come to the specialist areas. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, mentioned optometrists, and, funnily enough, I had this conversation with one the other day, and they mentioned that many of the early, indicating warnings are picked up when they take retina scans. That is why the long-term workforce plan is important, as are the extra training places. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Prentis, said and as I know from my experience with my mother, the other routes, such as apprenticeships, are just as important if we are going to get them there, because you should not need to be a graduate to be a nurse or clinician. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, mentioned, it is vital that it is a rewarding and accommodating profession. Training and development are obviously part of that. I hope to talk more to noble Lords soon about using the estates for a lot more housing, because we know that can be a key recruitment and retention tool. Then there are things such as flexible rotas—hopefully, we will be able to use technology for that.
In terms of talking and working with the staff, I have to say that is something that is early days, but we are seeing the style and the engagement of the Secretary of State already and it is very welcome. Underpinning the long-term workforce plan, which many noble Lords have mentioned, is the move away from hospital treatment and into primary care and prevention. We know that that is the first line, and we are now close to achieving the 50 million increase in appointments—but we know, given the demand, that that is still not enough. That is where the Pharmacy First scheme will make a material difference, in expanding the supply of places where you can get the advice and treatments that you need.
I have seen some great examples of prevention, also mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. Funnily enough, just yesterday I was talking to one of the doctors—I am sure that many of you know him—Sam Everington from east London. He was talking about how he was taking type 2 diabetes treatment totally out of the hospital environment, and the difference that it is making there. I have mentioned before the Redhill frequent flyers, looking at the people who are having the most hospital treatments and how they can get upstream of it all. Screening is important to that, which is exactly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, was making about the HIV screening programme. That needs to be welcomed—making sure that many more people are seeing that and understanding it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, talked about an active and healthy lifestyle and its role in social prescribing, which I completely agree with. I know that all noble Lords are on the same page here. The anti-smoking legislation that we are talking about is the biggest single thing that we can do towards that active lifestyle going forward.
I have mentioned it a few times, but I really believe that what we do in terms of technology and the app will be key to this, in terms of people’s access to primary care. People can use the app as their front door, from which they will be guided to the right service—to the 111 service—and then directly make an appointment, be it with a doctor or nurse or with a pharmacy. We have seen already that because people are reminded on the app, the numbers of “do not attend” have gone down by 10%, when people make their appointments digitally in that way. Of course, that means a much more effective use of time. Talking of time, I notice that I am out of it, so I shall quickly finish up. I see massive ability in the app for people to take control of their health and give us that sort of data, so people have the information and trust behind it.
I could have written the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, myself—and I quickly acknowledge everything that he said about the problem. He said that we have great examples of innovation and really difficult cases of how to scale that up. I am exaggerating slightly to make a point, but when they have a great example in one place, they say, “Fantastic, it works in X hospital, how can we get it elsewhere?” It is like, “Here’s the telephone directory with 140 trusts and the buyers—good luck”. A lot of what I am trying to do, as the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, mentioned, is to look at how we scale that up, and have a way to buy sensibly from the centre and get that spread out. In the area of digital therapeutics, that is obviously vital.
Given the time, it is probably time for me to sum up, as I say. As ever, I shall write to noble Lords in detail. I have not answered the points that the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, raised about international cosmetic operations, and others. Likewise, I have not addressed the fracture liaison services, and the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, so I shall make sure that that is properly followed up in writing.
I finish by echoing what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, was saying, which is to try to take this out of the Punch and Judy and make it as cross-party as possible—