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Written Statements

Volume 741: debated on Tuesday 28 November 2023

Written Statements

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Education

Schools, Colleges and Universities: Minimum Service Levels

Today I am announcing the launch of a consultation on minimum service levels in schools, colleges and universities that would apply during strikes. Every day out of education is a missed opportunity, and absences have a significant impact on attendance, attainment, wellbeing and mental health.

This announcement follows a series of talks my Ministers and I have held with trade unions in the schools and further education sectors on a voluntary agreement. Unfortunately, we were not able to achieve significant progress during these discussions to ensure that protections for children and young people are in place for the next academic year. During the consultation period, I remain open to further conversations with the education unions and to discussing any proposals they may have to safeguard our children’s education in the event of strike action, providing a fair balance between the right to strike and children’s right to access education.

Subject to the consultation, I intend to use powers in the Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act 2023 to make regulations to set minimum service levels in the event of strike action.

I know that many schools and colleges did their best to keep children and young people in face-to-face education during strikes. However, I believe there are benefits to having a formalised set of standards for children, young people and parents, supporting consistency across the country and clear expectations during strikes.

The consultation we are launching will provide us with information on the best solution for pupils, students and parents. However, I remain committed to ensuring any minimum service level balances the ability of individuals to strike with the rights of children to receive an education.

The consultation launches today, 28 November 2023, and will be open for nine weeks, until 30 January 2024.

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Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) has been appointed as a full representative of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly in place of the hon. Member for Bristol South (Karin Smyth).

The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) has been appointed as a substitute member of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) has been appointed as a substitute member of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly.

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Health and Social Care

NHS Consultants: Pay Offer

After several weeks of constructive negotiation with the British Medical Association and Hospital Consultants and Specialists Association committees, I am pleased to inform the House that, on 27 November, I made a formal offer to both unions, which includes a package of reforms to be applied from January 2024. If accepted by their members, this would end damaging strike action, benefit patients and deliver for consultants by reforming outdated aspects of their contracts.

The Government’s position is that the headline pay uplift for 2023-24 was settled through the pay review body process. This offer builds on that and focuses on reform. All parties strived to find a fair deal for NHS consultants that acknowledges the wider economic pressures facing the UK and the need to continue to bring down inflation. We have heard the concerns consultants have raised about outdated pay scales that have poor equalities outcomes. This offer would invest in modernising the consultant pay scale to reduce the number of pay points and the time it takes to reach the top.

As part of this reform, we would also be introducing more consistent performance gateways so that there is a clearer link between pay progression and evidence of skills, competencies and experience. This would make it faster for consultants to progress and help mitigate the gender pay gap, which was expressly highlighted in the independent review into gender pay gaps in medicine in England. To enable these reforms, unions have agreed to end local clinical excellence awards—an employer-level bonus scheme that has been seen to contribute to pay inequalities.

In addition, the Government will work with the unions to review the operation of the Review Body on Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration. This work will extend to looking at the process for the appointment of members to the DDRB, the timing of the round, the data provided to the DDRB, and changes to remit letters and the panel’s terms of reference.

The Government have listened carefully to the concerns of consultants, their representatives and employers, particularly around retention, motivation and morale. This offer has been carefully balanced to meet those concerns while also ensuring value for the taxpayer. Together, this represents the biggest transformation in the consultant contract in 20 years. This offer, should it be accepted, will improve the working lives of consultants while ending damaging strike action that has had a detrimental impact on patients and the NHS.

The BMA and HCSA will put this offer to their members for a vote in the coming weeks. No further industrial action will be called while this happens.

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Fuller Inquiry Report

Today the report of the independent inquiry into the issues raised by the David Fuller case has been published. Sir Jonathan Michael updated the victims’ families earlier today.

This report follows two years of work by the independent inquiry, led by Sir Jonathan, investigating David Fuller’s shocking and depraved actions in the mortuaries of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust.

I am very grateful to all those who provided evidence to the independent inquiry, especially the families who found the courage to share their experience of what happened to their loved ones.

The report makes for harrowing reading. It sheds a light on the circumstances surrounding David Fuller’s abuse, which regrettably meant that his crimes went undetected for a long period of time.

I want to profoundly apologise on behalf of the Government and the NHS and commit that lessons will be learned. We fully welcome the report, and will ensure that there is a full response to the recommendations in spring 2024 and that lessons are learned across the wider NHS so that no family has to go through this experience again.

A lot of work has already been done to review mortuary safety since these crimes were first revealed. NHS England required all NHS trusts with either a mortuary or a body store to review practices and ensure they are compliant with the requirements set out in the Human Tissue Authority’s standards and guidance. NHS trusts were asked to take action to ensure all access points to mortuaries or body stores are controlled by swipe card security access, ensure there is effective CCTV coverage monitoring access to and from mortuary areas, undertake risk assessments of mortuary security and ensure consistent application of appropriate levels of Disclosure and Barring Service checks for all trust and contracted employees.

However, we should not be complacent. It is important that the whole system remains alert and accountable at all levels and that any concerns are swiftly identified and escalated through the appropriate governance processes.

The report will be published on www.gov.uk and is available in the Vote Office (HC 310).

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