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

Justin Madders Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(3 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), the Chair of the Petitions Committee, on introducing the debate and brilliantly articulating the many issues relating to the recognition and reward of health and social care workers. I thank all those who have signed the four petitions, which have so far amassed some 290,000 signatures between them. By doing so, they have brought this very important debate to Parliament today.

This debate comes at a particularly poignant time, when health and social care workers have been at the heart of the fight against coronavirus, working day and night to protect the NHS and save lives. They, and all the key workers who keep this country going, are the very best of us. I want to take this opportunity to once again pay tribute to the hundreds of NHS and social care staff who have lost their lives to the virus. I hope that when this is over, we can find an appropriate way to remember the frontline staff who gave their lives in the line of duty.

This was a heavily subscribed debate, and it was clear from every Member who spoke that the gratitude the whole country feels for our health and social care workers is replicated in this place. We had some superb speeches from Opposition Members, with good representation from Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) spoke with typical eloquence and highlighted the wise decision of the Welsh Government to recognise the contribution of care workers. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively to my hon. Friend’s request, or at the very least confirm that she is making strong representations to the Treasury about the tax treatment of that payment. We heard a similar point from my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones), who also reminded us of NHS Direct, which was a great innovation from the last Labour Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) rightly said that staff need to be rewarded with more than just applause, and she drew attention through her strong speech to the sorry record we have seen over the last 10 years on the NHS. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Zarah Sultana) spoke with great passion and listed a whole series of ways in which the health workforce is hit with extra burdens in the course of their duties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) drew attention to the scandal of nurses being forced to use food banks. That should shame us all. We also heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier), who made the powerful point that medals do not put food on the table. She brilliantly highlighted how insecure work is a blight on the NHS and a systemic problem that needs addressing once and for all.

As we heard, even before the pandemic our frontline health and social care staff were working in overstretched and under-resourced settings. We must acknowledge that many of our frontline careworkers have been in extremely stressful and sometimes traumatic situations as a result of covid-19—situations that those of us who have not been on the frontline cannot even begin to imagine. Working in these uncertain times, dealing with a new and emerging disease, often without adequate protection, while coping with losing patients and worrying about getting ill themselves or taking the virus home to their loved ones are all contributing factors to staff burn-out and poor mental health. It is vital that we keep them all safe in the event of a second wave.

Yesterday, following the Prime Minister’s announcement of the relaxation of the 2-metre rule and sweeping changes to the lockdown in England, health leaders called for a rapid and forward-looking assessment of how prepared the UK is for a new outbreak of the virus. Those health leaders from the Royal Colleges of Surgeons, of Nursing, of Physicians and of GPs say:

“the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk.”

They also point out:

“Many elements of the infrastructure needed to contain the virus are beginning to be put in place, but substantial challenges remain”,

and they call on the Government to focus on

“areas of weakness where action is needed urgently to prevent further loss of life”.

We cannot have any failures in preparation this time.

We may no longer be gathering outside our homes on a Thursday night to clap for our carers, but our admiration remains. It has been incredible to see the effort from staff in the last three months—staff who, too often, get very little in return. We hope that they are recognised for their true worth now.

Jamie Stone Portrait Jamie Stone
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Will the hon. Member give way?

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders
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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.