We have committed an additional £1 billion this year to increase elective activity and tackle the backlog, doubling the £1 billion already provided through the elective recovery fund. Over the next three years, we plan to spend more than £8 billion to fund the biggest catch-up programme in NHS history, which comes atop, of course, the record £33.9 billion increase in funding and the health and social care levy.
Before asking my question, may I make a declaration of personal interest, namely, my age? People of my generation and older are finding more and more delays in elective procedures, but the response of the Government, as we just heard, appears to be to just pump more taxpayers’ money into the bottomless pit of the NHS, resulting in ever more waste and lower productivity. Why do the Government—this Conservative Government—not use innovative private sector solutions to relieve some of the pressure on the NHS? Why do they not do what the Major Government did—hardly right-wing extremists—and give tax relief for private health insurance?
I have known my right hon. Friend for a long time and he is eternally youthful. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State set out, the record investment that we are putting into our NHS, particularly to address the elective procedure backlogs, goes hand in hand with innovation and reform.
To the specific point of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh), the NHS is utilising the independent and private sector to carry out procedures for NHS patients. As he would expect me to say, however, tax breaks or similar are matters for the Chancellor, not me.
The thresholds of the elective recovery fund have a perverse impact, so hospitals with the least capacity are more unlikely to have the money to build their capacity. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that my constituents in York have funding from the Government to help build that capacity and have the elective surgery they need?
In respect of the elective recovery fund and the thresholds, the hon. Lady recognised that they are an additionality alongside the record extra investment that we are putting into our NHS. We are putting more resources in, alongside reform and innovation, to deliver that increased capacity. The elective recovery fund is also designed to stimulate activity and to reward additional costs over and above that activity. We believe it is the right approach to generate that increased activity.
The elective procedure backlog requires appropriate capacity for recovery and rehabilitation, much of which is provided by community hospitals, especially in rural areas. Is the Minister aware that on Friday, NHS Shropshire announced the imminent closure of Bishop’s Castle Community Hospital for patient safety reasons due to a lack of qualified nursing staff? Will he work with me to put pressure on the local NHS to develop a plan to recruit suitably qualified nurses and reopen the hospital as soon as possible?
In the context of elective surgery recovery, my right hon. Friend makes an important point about the role that community hospitals play in helping to drive down waiting lists. I am grateful to him for drawing that to my attention and I will look into the specific situation he raised. It is important that, alongside providing a service, it is a safe service. I am happy to work with him to see what can be done in that situation.
Delays in procedures are causing increased pressure on our adult social care system. In September, East Riding of Yorkshire Council told my constituent that there was not a single carer to be had for her mum in the whole of the East Riding, and that the family’s options were to put their mum into residential care or to deal with it themselves. I spoke to those on the Conservative-led council to check whether that was true, and they said yes. They are facing a huge shortage of carers and they asked for my support in lobbying their Government for increased funding for social care. Will the Government give East Riding of Yorkshire Council the extra funding it needs to raise the wages of carers and try to attract some of them back to the profession?
The hon. Lady is right to highlight that, essentially, social care and the NHS go hand in hand; they are two sides of the same coin. That is why we have made ambitious proposals, and will bring forward further proposals, for furthering the integration of those two sides.
The hon. Lady raised a specific case to illustrate her point. I, or perhaps more appropriately the Minister for Care and Mental Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Gillian Keegan), would be happy to meet her to discuss the details of that situation.