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

Patrick Grady Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department of Health and Social Care
James Daly Portrait James Daly (Bury North) (Con) - Hansard
25 Jun 2020, 12:09 a.m.

I wish to begin my remarks by paying tribute to two people who personify the extraordinary commitment of those working within our NHS and care sectors to the communities they serve. Dr Saad Al-Dubbaisi worked at the Garden City Medical Practice within Holcombe Brook in my constituency for 20 years. During this crisis, he sadly passed away. This tribute was among the many that were paid:

“A loving a kind man who gave everything for his community.”

In remembrance and in recognition of his service, hundreds of members of our community lined the streets to pay their last respects to a doctor who spread kindness and warmth over two decades within Bury.

Carol Jamabo was a care worker in my constituency. She served the public as a key worker for more than 25 years. She was popular, caring and compassionate. A relative commented that she will be remembered for her “uplifting, joyful and enthusing” personality.

There are doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, porters, cooks, receptionists, ambulance service staff and drivers. There are just too many people to mention, but all are working in NHS and care services in Bury, Ramsbottom and Tottington. All have made immense sacrifices to help those affected by coronavirus. They are all heroes and heroines. I cannot mention them all, but we shall forever be in the debt of kind, compassionate, caring individuals such as Marie Sharp, the manager of Bankfield care home on Gigg Lane, and Dr Afzal Hussain of Walmersley Road medical practice.

The NHS long-term plan outlines the next step in the Government’s vision to support staff not just through headline pay but through improving their working lives, giving them the reward and recognition they deserve for always putting patients first and providing the high-quality care that all Members in this House have seen throughout the covid-19 crisis. They will forever be heroes to us all.

I will conclude by associating myself with some of the remarks of my hon. Friends. I have had the pleasure and honour of speaking with all care home managers and workers in my constituency. My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Tom Hunt) called them the best of the best and they truly are. They deserve recognition for their highly skilled work and for the care they give to some of the most vulnerable in our community, and as a House we must do everything possible to recognise that skill and to reward their immense contribution to our country.

Patrick Grady Portrait Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP) - Hansard
25 Jun 2020, 12:02 a.m.

I congratulate the Petitions Committee and the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) on opening the debate and securing the time for it. I also congratulate the Members who made thoughtful and, in some cases, personal speeches. One hundred and forty five of my constituents signed the main petition that is being discussed today and a proportionate number signed the others. It is important that they have the opportunity to hear that their voices have been heard. They and all of us joined in the 10 weeks of the clapping for carers, but all recognised, as others have said, that clapping is not enough and that there must be action and they demonstrated that by signing these petitions.

I would just note that there was another petition during lockdown that achieved 1.2 million signatures, but, because it did not come through the e-petition site, it is not available to be debated in the House in quite the same format, but I know that many Members would want to have the behaviour of the Prime Minister’s special adviser discussed on the Floor of the House.

When this crisis is over, the UK Government must find a way of honouring the amazing heroes in our NHS and care sector who are continuing to work tirelessly to help us all to defeat the coronavirus. The Scottish Government—the SNP Government—remain committed to passing on all Barnett consequentials for health spending to the NHS in Scotland. Throughout this time, and for many years now, all NHS staff in Scotland have been paid the real living wage, not the pretendy living wage implemented by the Tory Government. Nurses across all bands are paid better in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK, and the Scottish Government are delivering the highest pay rise for NHS agenda for change staff anywhere in the UK. Employees will receive at least a 9% pay rise for the three years from 2019.

The Scottish Government spend about £130 per head more on social care than is spent in England, and they are the only Government in the UK to fund free personal care. Also, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) said earlier, they have already brought forward a 3% pay rise for social care workers in recognition of the work that they are doing at this time. Recognising the particular challenges presented by covid19, the Scottish Government, with cross-party support in Holyrood, are working to establish a sick pay fund as a matter of urgency to ensure that care workers whose employer terms and conditions fall short and who test positive for covid-19 receive sick pay above the current statutory level of £95.85 a week. As we know, that is one of the worst sick pay legal frameworks anywhere in Europe.

The Scottish Government were also the first in the United Kingdom to announce a death in service provision for covid-19 deaths among NHS staff. That benefit mirrors what is available in the NHS pension scheme: a lump sum and ongoing survivor’s benefit. However, it is unacceptable that some social care workers’ contracts of employment offer no cover for death in service, so the Scottish Government are putting in place that kind of cover for when any social care worker dies without death in service cover in their contracted pension arrangements. The Scottish Government will provide a one-off payment of £60,000 to a named survivor, and this will be retrospective. That is important because, as of 23 June, the Scottish Government have been informed by health boards or the Care Inspectorate of seven deaths of health care workers and 12 deaths of social care workers related to covid-19.

I have some experience of this. The Wyndford Locks care home in Maryhill was one of the first in Scotland to experience the death of a staff member due to covid-19. Also, one of my constituents, Christine Gallagher, lost her beloved son Michael to the disease. He was providing frontline care, employed by an agency, in central Scotland. His loss is keenly felt by his family. Too many families across the country are feeling such losses. His mother told me that she could not attend his funeral because of public health restrictions. She had to stay at home with a photograph of her son and light a candle. I want to pay tribute to Michael for the love and support that he showed to so many in his care, and express my condolences to his family and all the other families who have experienced tragic losses due to covid-19. May they all rest in peace.

This is why it is so important that the healthcare and social care workers, whether in the NHS or private sector, have the pay and benefits that they and their families deserve for the work they do to keep us all safe. That includes healthcare workers who have made their home in Scotland, even if they began their lives or careers elsewhere. So, while we welcome the principle of scrapping the NHS surcharge, it does not appear to have happened in practice yet. Perhaps the Minister can tell us when it will come into effect, because we are still hearing of healthcare workers being told by the Home Office that the surcharge is still payable and there is no guarantee of a refund.

In too many cases, the hostile environment continues despite all these warm words. Even in the middle of the pandemic, we see cases of NHS staff being told that they are no longer welcome. I have a constituent, Jessica Forsyth, an Australian national on a youth mobility visa. Her visa expires at the end of July and she has been told by UK Visas and Immigration that she cannot apply because she is deemed unskilled and earns below the £30,000 threshold, even though she is providing essential services to the NHS. She has made Scotland her home and built her life here, and I hope the Minister can help me to solicit the reply I am waiting for from the Home Office about her case.

It is clear that, while all this work has been taking place, we also have to ensure that we are planning for the next phase. We must learn the lessons and use the coming months to ensure that PPE is fully stockpiled, that supply lines are in place and that procedures are changed where necessary, so that as the second wave hits, there will be a vastly improved level of preparation. As we open up the health service to wider services, that must be done using an evidence-based, cautious and phased approach, for the sake of both staff and patients.

I think that many in the NHS and social care would echo the words of the declaration of Arbroath—it is not for glory, nor honours, nor riches that they fight. But that does not mean that they do not deserve them, and when all this is over we have to make sure that they are properly rewarded and recognised.

Justin Madders Portrait Justin Madders (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab) - Hansard

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.