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Volume 660: debated on Thursday 16 May 2019

10. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the effect on the NHS of the UK leaving the EU. (910929)

11. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the effect on the NHS of the UK leaving the EU. (910930)

12. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on the effect on the NHS of the UK leaving the EU. (910931)

Nearly 500 people working for Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust are from the EU. The Royal College of Nursing tells us that 7,000 EU nurses have left the register since the referendum. With the number of trained nurses declining, what will the Government do to ensure that quality of healthcare in my constituency does not suffer if and when the UK leaves the EU?

If the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) gives me a moment, I will answer with some specific numbers on recruitment. As a former Health Minister whose portfolio covered the workforce, I have always taken an interest in this area, so if he gives me a moment to get past the first two words, I will try my best to respond. It is not a widely known fact that, since the referendum, there are 700 more doctors from the EU27 countries working in the NHS and over 5,200 more EU27 nationals working in NHS trusts and clinical commissioning groups.

The hon. Lady is right that we need to do more on nurse recruitment. The Department is doing a huge number of things, including on the apprenticeship levy, looking at the skills mix and professional qualifications and investing up to £20.5 billion extra a year in the NHS, a lot of which is targeted at improvements to the workforce. She is right that we need to look at how to strengthen nurse recruitment, but it is misleading to keep presenting to the House the fiction that, since the referendum, there has been a fall in the number of EU staff working in the NHS, when 700 more doctors are working in it since then.

Some 64% of medical professionals think that the NHS will get worse after Brexit. They have not been fooled by a slogan on the side of a bus. Can the Secretary of State explain why the Government are struggling to convince those who work for the NHS that there will be a Brexit dividend?

I suspect that this constant drumbeat of negativity around it does not help. The fact is that we have committed to a 10-year plan. The hon. Lady should listen to people like Simon Stevens, the former Labour adviser and the chief executive of NHS England. She should look at the 10-year NHS funding commitment that this Government have made, with up to an additional £20.5 billion a year. She should look at the areas of improvement to care and stop talking down our NHS. In terms of Brexit, there are things, if one looks at the October 2017 paper, to protect the NHS, but it is time to stop talking down the NHS and look at the funding commitment this Government have made.

I should declare an interest: I have several family members working in the NHS. As we have heard, there is huge concern about the lack of nurses—particularly specialist nurses—coming from the EU. The NHS used to have a recruitment programme in Portugal, where the training is excellent, particularly in intensive and post-operative care, and there is good care but not enough jobs. The NHS can no longer do that. In addition, medical research teams are in despair because they cannot exchange specialist researchers to further medical science. Can the Secretary of State reassure the medical profession that this is keeping him awake and that he has a response to it?

It is quite remarkable that the hon. Lady makes no mention of the five new medical schools that this Government have committed to, of the record expansion in doctor training that this Government have committed to or of the lifting of tier 2 visas for not only doctors but nurses, so that we can recruit around the globe. The Opposition seem to think that recruitment into the NHS stops at Europe, but we recruit talent for the NHS from around the globe, and we have lifted tier 2 visas to facilitate that. This constant drumbeat of negativity from the hon. Lady does not reflect the reality of this Government’s commitment to our NHS.

I declare an interest: many members of my family work in the NHS. The NHS depends on tax and national insurance revenues. What is the Government’s assessment of the impact of leaving the European Union on those tax and national insurance revenues?

My hon. Friend is right to say that we need a strong economy to have a strong NHS. The option set out in the economic analysis that was published by the Treasury in November makes it clear that the Prime Minister’s plan is the one that will deliver the strongest economy and enable us to make that record, 10-year commitment of up to £20.5 billion more a year to our NHS. That is a sign of the Conservative party’s commitment to the NHS, and for the majority of years that the NHS has existed, it has been run by a Conservative Government.

I hope the hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) will take it in the right spirit if I say that it was most solicitous and courteous of her to notify us that her family members work in the national health service, but for the avoidance of doubt, it is not necessary to declare an interest simply because one visits a doctor from time to time.

I was going to say that both my parents were nurses, as was the shadow Secretary of State’s mum, but I obviously do not need to. I remember being accused of negativity, as the Secretary of State has done repeatedly today, when we warned of the dangers of privatising the probation service, and look how that worked out. It is our job to challenge the Government. They might not like it, but that is one reason we are here. Public health is potentially at risk from Brexit. Chlorinated chicken is a public health risk.

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman take that up with the right hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove). How can we trust this Government to protect our public health or our NHS in any trade deal with the United States when they cannot agree within Cabinet? The Environment Secretary says that chlorinated chicken will be banned, but the Secretary of State for International Trade says it will not be. Who speaks for the Government on that issue?

The hon. Lady is right that it is her job to challenge the Government, and unfortunately for Government Members she usually does that more effectively than we would like her to. On this issue, however, I disagree with her. Labour policy is that it wants a say on EU trade policy, even though EU treaties do not allow that. For many years, Conservative Members have been told by the Labour party that we cannot go into things such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership because that will be a threat to our NHS—that is what Labour Members have said repeatedly. Now they say that they want to pass control of our independent trade policy to the EU, but that that will not be a threat to the NHS. Once again, Labour Members say one thing when it suits them, and another thing today. There is no consistency in their trade policy.