We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Norman Lamb's speech to Autumn Conference

September 17, 2016 4:02 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

Liberal Democrat Health Spokesperson Norman Lamb will announce plans today for a 'New Beveridge Group' of independent health experts to consider the case for a dedicated NHS and care tax.

Speaking to party members at the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference in Brighton, former health minister Norman Lamb will call for "honesty and straight talking" on the cash crisis facing the health and care sector, raising the possibility of an extra penny on a new dedicated NHS and care tax. The proposal builds on his previous calls for the introduction of a separate health and care tax which would be marked out on people's payslips.

The expert panel will report its recommendations to the party in six months' time.

The full text of Norman's speech is below:

So let's get straight to the point.

Where is it? Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liam Fox?

Where is the £350m per week which you, Boris Johnson, said would be available to the NHS if we left the EU.

And you kept repeating it even after the UK Statistics Authority had responded to my complaint stating that it was misleading. ​

The truth is that you lied. You deceived the British people. You knew it couldn't be delivered.

Yet you cynically peddled the myth.

And we won't let you forget about it. We will hold you to account, now that the commitment has been dropped.

So we are left now with no hope of extra funding - and the NHS and the care system on its knees.

Sometimes there's a danger that news stories of growing financial strains with talk of deficits running into billions can mask the effect of all this on ordinary people.

Yet the personal stories are deeply distressing.

The man who came to see me on my village tour whose wife had been stuck in hospital for four weeks after being declared ready for discharge - because they had been unable to sort out a care package.

Not just distressing but poor care with her physical and mental health deteriorating.

A nine year old constituent whose parents were told they would have to wait nearly three years for a diagnosis of possible autism - a waiting time repeated all over the country.

The little boy wrote a letter for his mum to read out to health leaders when we met them. It included these stark, distressing words:

"When I wake up there's this horrible feeling down inside me.... I could just kill myself and I wouldn't have to face today". 9 years old.

Faced with this interminable wait, they did what any family would do if they could. The wider family clubbed together to raise the money to pay privately for a diagnosis.

But many families can't do that.

I don't want to live in a country where you can get a diagnosis - or you can get care - if you can afford it but, if you can't, you are just left waiting.

Or take the new maximum waiting time standard we introduced for people who experience a first episode of psychosis - something I'm personally very proud of.

The evidence is so clear. If you intervene quickly, you can often stop the development of the condition in its tracks. You can give that person the chance of a good life - the sort of life that the rest of us take for granted.

But if you neglect the condition, that person is likely to have a tough life, a life on benefits, a life with difficult relationships. We cannot let that happen.

Early intervention makes sense economically as well. For every pound you invest, you save £15 over the next ten years. Reduced use of the NHS, reduced benefit claims, taxes paid.

So the moral and the economic case for investing in this treatment is overwhelming.

Yet what has happened around the country is that most places have failed to invest sufficiently to provide the full evidence-based treatment programme. It's like saying to someone with cancer: 'You can have the chemotherapy but you can't have the radiotherapy.'

It's outrageous. Yet up and down the country, treatment is being rationed because the finances are so tight.

And remember the £1.25bn that Nick Clegg secured for children's mental health? Well in the first year, the children of this country were short-changed. Instead of £250m it was less than £143m.

We must not let them get away with it.

We live in a country with the sixth largest economy in the world.

Yet we are letting people down so badly. Surely we can do better than this.

But the Government seems in complete denial. Again and again, they claim that they are giving the NHS more than it has ever had - an extra £10bn by 2020.

Treat these claims with extreme caution.

The Health Select Committee says the real increase was about £4.5bn - against a gap of around £30bn by 2020.

With a gap in social care funding another £6 or £7bn this is nowhere near enough.

In fact the Government's plans will result in a reducing percentage of our national income being spent on health and care - at a time when demand is rising by about 4% a year.

Whatever your politics, this just makes no sense. And it's the human consequences which are so disturbing.

Cancelled operations - causing enormous strain for people waiting anxiously;

People stuck in hospital long after they were due to go home;

People waiting ever longer for treatment;

A fourfold increase in delays of over two hours handing patients over from ambulance to A and E.

An increase of 20% in serious incidents reported by ambulance trusts in the last two years.

This is about people. People in their hour of need. When the NHS should be there for them.

And it is my clear view, that the root cause of this most damaging dispute with the junior doctors is the Government's determination to stretch an already over-strained resource too far.

Now we are told that, magically, extra doctors will be trained - all paid for out of the extra £10bn extra - a sum of money that has already been stretched in many different directions.

No-one believes it's possible.

So how do we turn things around?

I have argued that this is of such importance that we should be prepared to come together to come up with a new settlement for the NHS and care.

That great Liberal, William Beveridge, first proposed the NHS. But the needs of today are so different. It is time for a new Beveridge for the 21st century. A new long term settlement for the NHS and care.

We need a national conversation about what sort of service we are prepared to pay for.

For my part, I am clear. I don't want a hollowed out, bargain basement service where people are routinely let down and where people with mental ill health still suffer outrageous discrimination in terms of access to treatment.

We should surely aspire to have a modern, efficient, dynamic NHS and care system which treats mental and physical health equally;

which ensures that elderly people and those with disability get kind, generous support;

which seeks to prevent ill health;

a health system which delivers the best outcomes for patients.

I want an NHS that embraces innovation - ground-breaking science, modern medicine, digital technology.

Just look at recent breakthroughs in genomics. By looking at a person's unique genetic information, we can now diagnose certain cancers and rare diseases more accurately than ever before.

And scientists are discovering new, personalised treatments which target the specific cause of illness in ways we could previously only dream of.

And we are still a long way from realising a digital NHS. You walk onto some hospital wards and see staff - who are already rushed off their feet - buried under mountains of paper files, with fax machines beeping in the background. It often seems as though time has stood still.

Imagine what we could achieve by making the most of digital technology. Better information-sharing so that doctors and nurses can make important decisions about our care without unnecessary delays or bureaucracy.

An NHS that is safer, more efficient, less wasteful, where patients can have more control over their own healthcare - an essential liberal principle.

But while we wait for the Government to wake up, we must do our own thinking.

It's no good just condemning the Government for its failure to invest in the NHS and in social care. We have to come up with solutions. We must lead the debate.

That's why I want this party to consider a dedicated NHS and care tax.

Health and care are different to other public services. Across the developed world, costs just keep rising. We are all living longer.

Survival rates from cancer have risen dramatically. New, expensive treatments are developed.

Over a ten year period the number of people living with three or more chronic conditions will rise by over 50%.

This is all a triumph of man and woman's ingenuity. But there is a cost attached.

Paying for all of this out of the general tax pot results in real distortion of other priorities. Simply protecting health spending during tough economic times means that other vital services like education take a disproportionate hit.

And the uncomfortable truth is that we are falling further behind other European countries in how much we spend on health and care.

So let's look at the case for a dedicated NHS and care tax, shown on your pay packet.

Let's look at whether we could use National Insurance as a basis for such a tax. We need to consider how we could make it more progressive. We need to think about fairness between the generations.

My belief is that if people could see that their money was going directly to the NHS AND, critically, social care, then they would be prepared to pay a bit more if it was clear that it was needed.

Of course, we must also demonstrate that the money the NHS receives is spent efficiently and effectively.

Be in no doubt that every time there is an example of rewards for failure for NHS leaders, it undermines people's confidence in the system.

No longer can we tolerate organisations like Southern Health shifting their under-fire chief executive sideways into a job, which a fortnight ago wasn't deemed necessary, with a remuneration package totalling something close to a quarter of a million pounds.

I worked with the mother of Connor Sparrowhawk, who tragically lost his life whilst in the care of Southern Health. I know how the Trust treated Connor's parents in the aftermath of his death - holding them at arms length, not engaging with them so that lessons could be learnt.

So the NHS must always strive for the highest standards of both care and conduct.

But be in no doubt: the funding crisis is real and overwhelming.

And we must be honest with the British people.

If we believe that more money is needed. If we conclude that we all need to pay perhaps an extra penny in the pound then we must be prepared to say it.

And it's my view that people are crying out for honesty and straight talking on this, the most important of subjects for every family in our land.

So today, I am announcing that we will establish an independent expert panel to advise the party on the case for an NHS and care tax.

And I am delighted to confirm that we have an amazing group of people taking part including Clare Gerada, former President of the Royal College of GPs - and let me say how thrilled I am that she has joined the party.

Also the former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, and current President of the World Psychiatric Association, - yes we're going global - Professor Dinesh Bhugra;

And Peter Carter, the former General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing;

And Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association;

Professor Nick Bosanquet, and Professor Paul McCrone, two eminent health economists.

And our very own immensely able young candidate, Amna Ahmad

It speaks volumes that such a high powered group of people have agreed to help us in this way. They all understand just how high the stakes are. They understand the urgency of the situation.

I'm immensely grateful to them all.

I have asked them to report back in about six months. We can then consider their recommendations.

Liberal Democrats, we are proud of the National Health Service.

It has served this country so well. It is, in so many ways, the envy of the world. But it is heading for a crash. And real people, citizens around our country, will suffer the consequences of that.

It's ok if you have money. You can opt out. Sometimes it's ok if you know how to fight your way through a bureaucratic system. But what about those who can't fight, who don't have financial power?

That's not the sort of Britain I believe in.

When a loved one needs help:

A teenage girl with an eating disorder, parents desperately worried;

An elderly relative who suffers a stroke waiting interminably in a state of great anxiety for an ambulance to arrive;

The mum with post natal depression who can't get access to specialist help quickly enough and who feels suicidal.

This is the day to day reality for families across our country.

And remember also the strain on staff. The paramedics in Norfolk who regularly work long shifts of up to 18 hours battling to save lives but feeling exhausted.

We can and we must do better than this.

If the Government won't act, and if Labour remains silent, we will lead the way.

We will be straight with the British people. We will demonstrate how we can give the people who work in this great service hope again, how we can sustain, cherish and preserve our NHS and vital care services.

Our ambition is the nation's ambition. A brilliant, compassionate, modern, effective NHS - and care services that protect and support our most vulnerable.

That is our cause.