Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward Debate

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Department: Department of Health and Social Care

Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward

Helen Whately Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department of Health and Social Care
Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders - Hansard

I am sorry, I will not have time to give way.

Many of our NHS and care staff are exhausted and fearing burn-out. They need our support now, which means safe staffing ratios, adequate PPE and decent fair pay, because for them the hard work is not over—it is only just beginning. They will continue to give their all as they begin to tackle the backlog in non-covid care. The millions of routine operations, screening tests, treatments and therapies that were suspended or cancelled during the pandemic will now have to restart. Those challenges cannot be met without the staff.

As we know, there are well over 100,000 vacancies in the social care sector, and systemic insecure work and low pay are not the answer to resolving that issue. We know that prior to the covid-19 outbreak there were also 106,000 vacancies across the NHS, including 44,000 nurse vacancies. Those vacancies matter. They mean that NHS services were already under extreme pressure due to the ongoing staff shortages, before being further stretched by more shortages due to sickness or caring responsibilities during the pandemic. That, in turn, has put all healthcare staff under intolerable and unsustainable levels of pressure.

On top of those staff shortages, healthcare staff have had to work in unfamiliar circumstances or in clinical areas outside their usual practice, and of course they have had to work in very difficult circumstances. A survey by the Royal College of Nursing found that half of nursing staff felt under pressure to work without the levels of protective equipment set out in official guidance, and a survey by the British Medical Association of 7,000 doctors found that 45% were experiencing stress, exhaustion and burn-out. We need to listen to what the staff are telling us.

Just last week, we learned that student nurses who joined the frontline six months ago as part of the coronavirus effort are seeing their paid placement schemes terminated early, leaving them with no income and no guarantee that they will not face extra costs for completing their studies. That is no way to treat student nursing staff who have put their studies on hold to join the fight against coronavirus, and who are at the start of what we hope will be a long career in the NHS. They deserve better.

The Government still have not quite resolved the issue of the immigration health surcharge, where NHS and social care staff coming from abroad and working on our frontline are required to pay a surcharge of hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds just to use the NHS themselves. It was welcome that, after considerable pressure, the Government announced last month that the surcharge would be abolished, but, as we have heard, there are still reports of people being charged. I would like an update from the Minister about what is happening in respect of that.

In conclusion, no one hearing this debate would be in any doubt that our health and social care workers are appreciated, admired and respected, but warm words are not enough. A clap on Thursday night is not enough. It is time for action, and for the Government to finally recognise the monumental contribution that health and social care workers make. No more poverty pay. No more “work until you drop”. No more sending people into work inadequately protected from exposure to a deadly virus. That cannot happen again.

The Government were too slow to recognise the need for PPE, too slow to protect the social care sector, and now they are too slow to properly reward our brave health and social care workers, who have literally put their lives on the line for us all. It is time we put that right.

Helen Whately Portrait The Minister for Care (Helen Whately) - Hansard
25 Jun 2020, midnight

I welcome this debate, because our NHS and care system is only as strong as the people within it. Throughout the pandemic, NHS and care workers have taken centre stage; we have all seen the dedication and care with which they approach their work, and the esteem in which they are held by the public, as these petitions demonstrate. This debate has also demonstrated the esteem in which they are held by hon. Members. I am determined that we should look after our health and social care staff, just as they look after us.

First, I will talk about pay, as that is the focus of the petitions. I want to reinforce that we have already delivered multi-year pay and contract reform deals for over 1 million NHS staff, in partnership with trade unions. In the past three years, nurses have seen their starting salaries increase by more than 12% and the vast majority of nurses have seen their pay increase by at least 6.5%, while the starting salaries for healthcare assistants have also increased by 16%. We have also increased pay for junior doctors to recognise the huge contribution that they make to our NHS. By the end of their four-year deal, junior doctor pay scales will have increased by at least 8%.

My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Dr Mullan) referred to the Government’s commitment to increase the number of doctors and nurses in the NHS, and he rightly said that recruitment and retention is not just about pay, but about experience. I am determined that we must improve the experience for the NHS workforce.

The shadow Minister spoke about vacancies in the NHS. I hope that he will welcome the good news that we heard today in the latest NHS workforce statistics that the number of nurses in England has gone up by more than 12,000 in the past year and we have over 6,000 more doctors. Compared with 2010, we now have 23,100 more doctors and 22,200 more nurses in the NHS. We want to recruit more, however, so we are providing financial support for nurses to train, and from this September, new and continuing nursing students will be able to get a maintenance grant of at least £5,000 per academic year.

Our social care staff have also played an incredible role during the pandemic. I am always blown away by the compassion that is shown by our care workers, who look after people who are at their most vulnerable. That was articulated so well this afternoon by my hon. Friends the Members for Peterborough (Paul Bristow), for Watford (Dean Russell), for Beaconsfield (Joy Morrissey) and for Rother Valley (Alexander Stafford) and many other colleagues.

Hon. Members will be aware that the Government do not set pay for social care workers in England. However, we are committed to raising the profile of our social care workforce and giving them the support they need. At a recent meeting of the Health and Social Care Committee, we heard from care workers about how some of them felt underappreciated by the public as a whole, and that is something we need to fix. After all, this is a job where staff have a chance to make a difference to people’s lives every single day that they go to work. As a start, we have adopted the CARE brand, for which I thank Care England. We have taken that on in order to build recognition of care workers.

Since the pandemic hit us, we have put in place support for care workers who have been at the frontline during this time. We are providing mental health support and bereavement support commissioned from Samaritans and Hospice UK. We have launched the care workforce app to bring together resources and guidance, and we are providing funding of £3.2 billion and then a further £600 million for local authorities to pass on to care providers so that they can provide full pay to staff who are isolating. We have made it clear to local authorities and providers that we expect that to happen.

One of the petitions that is in front of us today is entitled:

“We would like the government to consider social care as equally important to NHS”.

That is something that I passionately believe in. Social care is, absolutely, equally important. I know my colleagues in Government agree. As we heard in this debate, that sentiment is shared by many hon. Members, and we rightly now talk about health and social care workers in the same breath.

In the months ahead, as we pledged in our manifesto, we will be looking at how we can build a long-term solution for social care, so that in the long term care workers get the rewards they deserve, and—as argued for by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), in particular—so that everyone can have the dignity and security that they deserve.

Finally, I want to raise the contribution of our overseas staff. The NHS has benefited from the contribution of so many people from all over the world. I would like to take a moment to thank all our overseas NHS staff. I know that this has been a difficult time for many of you, especially as we have learned that BAME communities have been disproportionately impacted by the virus. We are so grateful to you for your hard work, and I want the system to do all it can to protect you.

On 21 May, the Prime Minister announced that NHS and social care workers would now be exempt from the immigration health surcharge. NHS and care workers who paid the surcharge from 21 May will be refunded, and we are getting on with the arrangements as fast as we possibly can. We are also continuing to provide free visa extensions and auto renewal of visas for workers who are eligible, and we will be introducing a new fast-track healthcare visa to make it quicker and easier for health and care staff to come and work in our health and social care system.

Our NHS and social care workers do a truly wonderful job delivering world-class care to so many. I would like to thank everybody who signed the petitions for making their voice heard. I would like to end by encouraging everyone who is thinking about joining our health and care system to do so. Caring for others is one of the greatest and most important vocations. We will do everything in our power to protect and support health and social care workers during this pandemic and beyond.

Catherine McKinnell Portrait Catherine McKinnell - Hansard
25 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I thank everybody who has contributed to this debate. It is vital that the voice of petitioners is heard in Parliament and we have all played a part in ensuring that today. This is a very important issue, which petitioners have clearly prioritised in great numbers having experienced and witnessed the enormous contribution our health and social care workers have made to our national effort to fight covid-19.

I have to say that I am disappointed with the Minister’s response. I do not think it fully acknowledged the question put by the petitioners that we do not yet have full recognition and reward for our health and social care workers in the way that we would like to see, but, as I said in my contribution at the beginning of the debate, I hope that this is the beginning of a conversation on how we can arrive at that point. I am sure that hon. Members will support that conversation continuing and action to follow. Above all, I want to put on record once again our gratitude, from this House and from the Petitions Committee, for the service that every health and social care worker has made to this country in the weeks that have passed and will continue to make in the weeks ahead.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petitions relating to the recognition and reward of health and social care workers.