Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward Debate

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Department: Department of Health and Social Care

Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward

Alex Davies-Jones Excerpts
Thursday 25th June 2020

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department of Health and Social Care
Alexander Stafford Portrait Alexander Stafford
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25 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Paul Bristow) for his kind words. I thank all the people who work in the NHS. Without their dedication and experience, we would not be in the position we are in today. The British people owe those heroes an eternal debt of gratitude. Thanks to them, and to the Government’s strong and decisive actions, Britain is recovering day by day.

I pay tribute to the health and social care workers of Rother Valley. Once again, they have risen to the challenge and proven themselves to be the backbone of our community. Likewise GPs, such as those at the Stag medical centre and the Swallownest health centre, have been working hard to continue to treat people throughout the pandemic. I was moved by a recent letter from one of my constituents, Graham Makin, notifying me of the phenomenal work carried out by the care workers at Waterside Grange care home in Dinnington, who are looking after his wife during this crisis. Graham writes:

“the outstanding dedication and incredible expertise that all the staff give to the residents. It is very close to a ‘family’ environment. To them this is not a job—certainly not for the money they earn—it is truly a vocation and a passion.”

Graham is of course right. He goes on to urge a better deal for those in the care sector. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has made social care a priority and pledged to consider social care as being of equal importance to the NHS. I know that everyone in this House and across our nation wants us to get social care done.

However, we must not forget that behind our health and social care workers there are many others in the community who have helped the NHS. Robert Holland, an engineer from Dinnington, offered to use his engineering expertise to convert tyre inflation equipment to hospital ventilators. Cawthorne’s Travel has been laying on free buses to take NHS workers to Rotherham General Hospital. Local groups, such as the Thurcroft coronavirus action group, led valiantly by Cath MacCartan and Diane Oxley, have been doing such great work for our community. Those selfless actions are just the tip of the iceberg in Rother Valley.

I ask the House how best we can recognise and reward health and social care workers, but also those who have done so much to help the NHS. People in Rother Valley have already taken this matter in their own hands. For example, coaches, parents and players of Laughton FC’s under-11s have already been fundraising for hampers for NHS workers. Mark Kelsall from Maltby has been creating wonderful oil paintings of local NHS staff. Shaun and Halle Salmon created an amazing Lego superhero mural that is now in the reception of Rotherham Hospital. Those are just a few ways that the people of Rother Valley have given back. For my part, I am proud to have instituted the Rother Valley hero awards for this very purpose.

I contend that nationally we must do the same by rewarding campaign medals to our British heroes who have fought the virus. My constituent Andrew Gardner of Thurcroft suggested to me that we should hold a memorial event for health and social care workers, which would take place in Whitehall much like the events on Remembrance Sunday. I believe that that proposal merits serious consideration and should be taken forward. Ultimately, it is of the utmost importance that the House pursues all avenues, including looking at pay and rewards, in recognising and rewarding the heroism of our health and social care workers, and the selflessness of those who have helped the NHS both in Rother Valley and across the United Kingdom. Without them, we would not have been able to pull through this crisis.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones (Pontypridd) (Lab)
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25 Jun 2020, midnight

I rise to speak on behalf of the 434 residents in the Pontypridd constituency who have signed the petitions relating to the recognition and reward of health and social care workers. It is clear that the creation of the NHS is undoubtedly the Labour party’s greatest ever achievement and one which I will always personally champion. I hope colleagues on all Benches will indulge me as I also use today’s debate to celebrate the 20th birthday of NHS Direct Wales, which is taking place this week.

It is all too easy to reduce the NHS workforce to doctors and nurses, but given that there are around 400 different job roles in our NHS, it is important that all NHS staff are given the credit they deserve for their incredible work all year round. Among many others, the porters, cleaners, caterers, healthcare assistants, allied health professionals and the many invaluable volunteers who give up their free time truly are the unsung heroes of our NHS. The coronavirus pandemic has provided a unique opportunity to truly show our thanks and appreciation. Call me old-fashioned, but I am not sure that a handclap or a medal quite cuts it. I wonder whether the Minister would be satisfied with a handclap or a pat on the back instead of receiving her additional ministerial salary—something tells me the answer is no.

Naturally, as a proud Welsh valleys woman, it would be wrong—rude, even—for me not to take the opportunity today to highlight how different things are across the border thanks to the fantastic Welsh Labour Government. As my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) said, the Welsh Labour Government are leading the way in the response to the coronavirus pandemic. They say that where Wales leads, England follows, and I am more than inclined to agree.

Thanks to the Welsh Labour Government, social care and domiciliary care workers in Wales, including agency workers, and support staff in care homes such as kitchen workers and cleaners will soon receive a diolch or thank-you payment of up to £500—a payment that will be available to 64,600 care home workers and domiciliary care workers throughout Wales. That comes after the Welsh Labour Government have already pledged to commit an incredible £40 million of extra funding for adult social care services, to help meet the extra costs associated with the response to the pandemic.

Clearly, that payment is a reward in recognition of the unprecedented circumstances and strain that have been placed on all our NHS staff across the Union, from Pontypridd in south Wales to Perth in Scotland. It is even clearer to me that this payment should be exempt from income tax and national insurance contributions—something that the Welsh Labour First Minister and colleagues in the House have been calling for. So far, Her Majesty’s Treasury has point-blank refused—talk about a kick in the teeth for workers who have literally put their lives on the line to keep us all safe. NHS workers in Pontypridd and throughout Wales deserve better.

Colleagues will be aware that, thanks to another fantastic Labour-led campaign, the Prime Minister was forced to U-turn again this week. He is running in circles. If the Minister needs any information on Wales and how we can best tackle the coronavirus pandemic, I am more than happy to offer my services; she knows where to find me. I hope that where Wales leads, England will follow.

Dean Russell Portrait Dean Russell (Watford) (Con)
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I want to place on record my thanks to the pharmacists, GPs, hospital staff and everyone in between across Watford for the amazing work they have done recently and over many years. I sit on the Health Committee—now the Health and Social Care Committee, importantly—which has given me great insight into the challenges that the health and social care sector has faced over the past few months. Over the past 10 or 11 weeks, I have also been a volunteer at Watford General Hospital, literally on my knees cleaning Zimmer frames at times and carrying water to staff. I have been proud to be part of the volunteer hub there, alongside people like Monica, Theo, George, Denise, Linda and so many more who are offering their time for free to help our brave NHS staff as they tackle this terrible pandemic. The hospital has also been working closely with Watford football club, which has provided amazing facilities, including a sanctuary for staff’s mental health.

During this time, I have also been listening. One of our jobs as parliamentarians is to listen. What I have been hearing is that the pandemic has shown how this Government are trying to be innovative, trying to use technology in different ways and, ultimately, trying to unbind the red tape that has held back so many people on the frontline. For so long, we have been stuck in a process of looking at points and targets, and we have forgotten what frontline workers really want. They want respect. They want trust. They want us to cut through the red tape, so that they can get on with their jobs across the health and social care sector. I am hearing loud and clear that, during this pandemic, we have enabled that to happen because we have had to, but we need to continue that.

We also need to listen to what staff really want. I had an eye-opening moment when I was delivering sandwiches to one of the wards, and the nurse said, “Don’t worry about the sandwiches—we’re getting fed over at Watford football club. We get delicious pizza over there, so we probably won’t eat those.” That really opened my eyes to the fact that, while salary is critical, it is also about what life is like on the frontline day after day.

We need to listen to what staff really want, and that is partly about career pathways and opportunities such as sabbaticals after 10 years of working in the same job. It is about corporate discounts, working with the private sector to enable not just NHS staff but social care workers to have free opportunities and discounts and go to the front of the queue. It is also about innovation and the use of data and technology. I believe that, if we look at all those things, although it may not happen overnight—it might take years, perhaps even decades—we can really make a change for the better for all our brave staff and be, not just the biggest employer, but the best employer in the world.

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Jamie Wallis Portrait Dr Jamie Wallis (Bridgend) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak in this debate on behalf of the many vital careworkers and NHS staff in my constituency. I therefore begin by putting on record, on behalf of everybody in Bridgend, our sincere and heartfelt thanks for everything carers and NHS staff are doing. They do a fantastic job, delivering world-class care. Even with increasing pressures due to, among other things, an ageing population and changing public expectations, they work incredibly hard, always putting patients first and keeping them safe while providing the high-quality care we have all come to expect.

Alex Davies-Jones Portrait Alex Davies-Jones
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Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in order to reward and recognise these careworkers in Wales, the £500 money that has been given to them by the Welsh Labour Government should be exempt from tax and national insurance by the UK Tory Government?

Jamie Wallis Portrait Dr Wallis
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25 Jun 2020, 12:01 a.m.

I agree with the hon. Lady, and I have been talking to Her Majesty’s Treasury about it. I was disappointed in the response that I got from Welsh Labour Ministers when a perfectly reasonable suggestion was put forward on how careworkers could receive the net amount of £500; I would be happy to forward that correspondence to her after this debate.

It is vital that we continue to break down some of the long-standing barriers between health and social care. We have learnt the importance of both of these sectors over the past few months, and our appreciation must go equally to all carers. They play a crucial role in managing the complex care needs of thousands of people every single day. Even with the additional risks they take, they continue to work so hard to support the people we all care about in these unprecedented times.

If there is some positivity to hopefully come out of this horrendous time, it is how it has highlighted to us all that the social care sector does so much. We are now all well aware that, without them, our communities and our loved ones would suffer. I have received many tributes to our carers. Indeed, the Porthcawl male voice choir, of which I am vice chair—not a participant, the House will be pleased to know—have produced a wonderfully emotional and heartfelt video to say thank you, and I encourage others to watch it. It bears a fitting strength of feeling, recognising how proud we are of our carers during this global crisis.

I was also delighted to see the personal message that Ant and Dec sent to all the care staff in the Princess of Wales Hospital, and I will end with their words:

“We just wanted to say thank you so much for all the hard work you're doing every day on behalf of the whole country, and we would like to send you lots and lots of love. Keep up the good work.”