My Lords, the country deserves credit for the high level of people coming forward to get vaccinated. As we move forward to the spring booster kicking in on 30 June, will the Government ensure that we maintain the high level of vaccinations? Will every individual who has received a vaccination then receive a letter informing them of their spring booster, either from their GP or the NHS?
The noble Lord makes a very important observation about the programme and it is very important that we learn from that. One of the difficult issues was that, quite often, when you publicise the fact that there is a vaccine, a certain number of people come forward but, after that, there is hesitancy in different communities. Sometimes we have to show a bit of humility in Westminster or Whitehall; we are not always the best people to connect with some of those communities—so we have worked with various local community and civil society organisations. There is also innovation: certain places have a jab cab, a bus goes around Merseyside encouraging people to get vaccinated and there is often encouragement to get vaccinated at music festivals, local community festivals, mosques, gurdwaras, temples et cetera.
Absolutely. It is really important that we have a duty of candour and that people can be open. We saw this during the passage of the Health and Care Act, with HSSIB. Although there might be an initial reaction to find the culprit, or whatever the issue is, it is really important that we learn from mistakes made. It is a difficult balance, but we have to make sure that we have an open environment and culture so that people feel safe to come forward and explain what happened, and to make sure that these services learn from what went wrong. We have been absolutely clear that there is a cultural issue that has to be addressed, but also that NDAs have no place in the NHS.
My Lords, we really must learn the lessons, having witnessed this cover-up in one of the most deprived parts of the UK. I say to the Minister that he should not look at the case, for example, of the ambulance drivers in isolation. Will the Government announce now that they are prepared to have a proper workforce plan for the NHS?
I take the noble Lord’s point that you cannot look at things in isolation; we have to take a systemic view. Are these issues confined to the ambulance service or is it the wider NHS or the wider trust? These are all issues that have to be looked at. On the workforce plan, I assure the noble Lord that I have tried, but clearly there are issues. Health Education England has been mandated to come forward with workforce strategies, and there are workforce strategies at trust level as well.
Abuse directed towards nurses is unacceptable, and we are determined to tackle this. NHS England has established a violence reduction programme to address deliberate violence and aggression towards NHS staff and to ensure that offenders are punished quickly and effectively. This includes implementing the NHS violence prevention and reduction standard, which requires employers to implement plans to tackle violence in the workplace. In addition, the Government are legislating to double the sentences of those who are violent towards NHS staff.
I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. He is clearly aware of the problem, which is indeed growing. Nurses and other NHS staff are abused daily and many are being reduced to tears. As the retention of nurses is at a critical stage, with abuse being a key contributing factor, what specific plans have the Government to tackle this problem as a matter of urgency in trying to build up the key respect in which the general public used to hold NHS workers?
The noble Lord is absolutely right that we have identified the issue, and the NHS is working on a number of plans. All of us abhor any abuse of nurses or indeed any other NHS staff. The NHS has looked into this and has seen that many cases of violence against NHS staff are committed by individuals who are in a mental health crisis, or suffering from dementia or other neurological conditions, rather than the classic perception of attacks on staff by the public. The NHS has not only the violence prevention and reduction programme but a number of other initiatives to try to tackle this unwarranted issue.
The Government are committed to increasing nurse numbers in the National Health Service in England. We are on target to deliver this commitment by the end of the Parliament. We are increasing domestic recruitment, expanding nursing apprenticeships, increasing ethical international recruitment and taking action to improve retention across the NHS. Nurses employed by NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups have increased by over 10,900 since October 2020, to almost 310,100 as of October 2021.
My Lords, I very much welcome that increase in the number of nurses in the NHS but it is not enough, as the Minister knows. If we are to meet the needs of the NHS, we shall have to look at our dedicated and committed workforce to see if we can increase the level of retention among them. I know that the Minister talks to nurses and I am sure he hears the same as I do: almost every one will say that every day they are on the wards, they face abuse from patients. Can the Minister look at the best practice, which some hospital authorities may be pursuing, to see whether that can be applied more widely across the NHS?
I thank the noble Lord for giving us the opportunity to thank the nurses, and indeed all medical staff, for the incredible work that they do for us, day in, day out. On retaining staff, since 2017 NHS England and NHS Improvement have supported trusts with an intensive retention and support programme. There is also emotional, psychological and practical support for NHS and care staff. It is really important that we not only recruit new staff but retain the great staff that we have.
There was an unseasonal surge in RSV activity during the summer of 2021, which peaked in late July at about 15.7% swab positivity and a hospital admission rate of 2.5%. But, following the summer surge, RSV activity declined and positivity currently sits below seasonally expected levels. As a consequence, the RSV hospitalisation rate has declined since the summer surge.
My Lords, thankfully, influenza is low again this winter, largely on account of the most effective way to counter flu: hand washing, covering one’s mouth and vaccination. The House will recognise that those are the identical solutions for fighting Covid. So I urge the Minister and his colleagues to keep hammering those three simple messages in their anti-Covid approach, because at the same time that will reduce many deaths by keeping flu down.
The noble Lord makes a very important point that we should acknowledge. The fact is that the preventive messages against Covid are equally valid against influenza. Indeed, the reduction in social contact since the pandemic has led to a reduction in seasonal flu, as we would expect, compared with previous years. I take the noble Lord’s point and will make sure that I repeat it when I can.
One of the reasons for the backlog is poor patient flow. The key exit block is from hospitals into care homes, and the problem is the lack of staff being attracted into those homes. Will the Government look at some unexpected ways of dealing with this issue—possibly even offering a bonus to members of staff of care homes and the NHS who spend several months working for their service?
The noble Lord raises an important point about making sure that patients are released earlier from hospital into care homes, and into their own homes as well. I have answered questions previously on what is being done to make sure that it is as joined-up as possible. Some 75% of patients on the waiting list do not actually require surgical treatment but are waiting for diagnostics. The Government have invested in rolling out 100 new diagnostic centres. Some 80% of patients who require surgical treatment do not actually require an overnight stay in hospital, while 20% of people waiting for surgery are waiting for musculoskeletal or eye-related surgery. In many ways we know what the issue is—it is targeting.
I am sure that noble Lords agree that it is appropriate that GPs register as many patients as they are able to see, and that their patients, whatever their needs, can access our great system of healthcare in this country. I would indeed be concerned if there were barriers to accessing GP services.
My Lords, the cost of locum doctors to the NHS is £6 billion a year, much of it in primary care surgeries. Does the Minister feel that this is good value? What are the Government doing to try to get back to having regular doctors?
The Government recognise that it is important that people can see GPs and, as much as possible, invest in making sure that there are more full-time equivalent GPs. We have done that and we will continue to do so.
In our conversations with the NHS, we are talking about the workforce plan. We are looking at ways to improve the way in which the NHS and social care plan for their workforce. We have committed to continuing to reflect very carefully on points made by noble Lords across the House. honourable Members in the House of Commons and many stakeholders. It is important that we value the workforce of doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers whom people often forget about. We should also value all those other workers who have provided services to us during lockdown, such as delivery drivers, postal workers, Amazon workers et cetera. They have all played a vital role, and we should not forget the role of civil society organisations.
My Lords, we all recognise that the NHS and care staff are working under intense pressure. To attract additional members is vital. With that in mind, will the Government be more welcoming to individuals from overseas by easing further their entry conditions for those willing to come and work in the NHS and care sector, including a reasonable period of time for them to remain here?
Immigrants have always played a vital role in our country. If we cast our minds back to the post-war period, there were massive shortages in healthcare but also other public services. Indeed, my own father came over to work on the railways and buses. It shows the importance of immigration and immigrants to this country from across the world.