Defending Public Services

On the Monday of last year’s Queen’s Speech debates, at almost exactly this time, I made my maiden speech. Twelve months on, I am delighted to see legislation being brought forward to implement so many parts of the manifesto on which my colleagues and I were elected. This Queen’s Speech is about improving life chances for all. It is about securing our economy so that we can provide the excellent public services on which our constituents, and we ourselves, depend. It is about delivering a truly seven-day NHS and about making our promise on parity of esteem for mental and physical health into a reality.

I depend on the national health service, as do my family. When we needed it most—when my children were born and when my wife was taken ill—the NHS was there for us. I am proud of, and will always be grateful for, the fantastic care provided in our health service, but I have also seen how the level of healthcare available varies depending on when you have to go into hospital. My daughter turned eight a few weeks ago. When she was born, there were complications during labour but, as this was in the early hours of the morning, consultants and some specialist staff who would normally have responded were not available. Fortunately, with the support of the excellent midwives on duty, everything turned out okay. Surely we have a responsibility, however, to do everything we can to reduce those risks, regardless of what time it is or which day of the week you go into hospital.

The Conservative manifesto promised to ensure that people could access good quality healthcare seven days a week in our NHS. This was a key commitment and I am pleased that legislation is being brought forward to allow for it to be delivered. People will be able to see a GP in the evenings and at weekends to suit modern life. Making it easier to see a GP should relieve pressures on other parts of our national health service, while those patients who need urgent or emergency hospital care should have access to a similar level of consultant-led assessment, diagnostic tests and treatment seven days a week. Under the new proposals, they will be seen by a consultant and have diagnostic tests available, and the most critically ill patients will be seen within the hour.

This can be done only because of the extra money that is being invested in the NHS, and that is achievable only because of our strong economy. The chief executive of NHS England said on “The Andrew Marr Show” yesterday that when the economy suffers, the NHS suffers. However, this Government have put rebuilding the economy and protecting our NHS first. In Dudley, my local hospital trust’s income last year was £64 million higher than it had been five years previously. That has allowed us to have 60 more doctors and 192 more nurses, midwives and health visitors in Dudley than there were in 2010. That is an example of a stronger economy leading to a better-resourced national health service.

That includes mental health care—a part of the NHS that has too often been viewed as the Cinderella service. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 introduced a commitment to parity of esteem between mental and physical health, and I am delighted to see the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb), who did so much to bring about that legislation, in his place tonight. This Queen’s Speech includes further measures to turn that commitment into a reality for everyone in the country who needs mental health care.

In response to the mental health taskforce, the Government announced an additional £1 billion. This will fund all the taskforce’s priority recommendations. With the increased funding going into mental health services, the focus how now rightly shifted from treatment to prevention. Members might not be aware that one in 10 children between the ages of five and 16 have a mental health problem. We need to intervene early, instead of simply throwing money at prescription drugs or treating the symptoms at a later stage. It is a false economy if we do not tackle problems early, before they end up becoming much more expensive and, more importantly, before they cause even more distress and human cost to the individual and their family.

While we are increasing NHS funding, we have a responsibility to ensure that the available resources are focused on services for all our citizens who depend on the NHS. It is right that people who come to Britain for elective healthcare should cover the costs of their treatment rather than expect British taxpayers to pick up the bill. This Government were the first to act to tackle health tourism and the abuse of our NHS, and I am pleased that the Government are to go further with the Bill announced last week, extending the rules on charging people who come here for non-emergency treatment.

I am proud of our NHS. Of course, it is not perfect, but the NHS provides a generally excellent service, free at the point of use. Our NHS has remained so great because of its ability to change and adapt. It has not attempted to preserve whatever was right for 1947 in aspic. Instead, it has responded to changing needs and demands. The measures in the Queen’s Speech will allow our national health service to continue to respond to the challenges of today and of tomorrow, offering the best chances for everybody at every stage of their life.