Health and Social Care Workers: Recognition and Reward DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Helen WhatelyMain Page: Helen Whately (Conservative - Faversham and Mid Kent)
Department Debates - View all Helen Whately's debates with the Department of Health and Social Care
I am sorry, I will not have time to give way.
Many of our NHS and care staff are exhausted and fearing burn-out. They need our support now, which means safe staffing ratios, adequate PPE and decent fair pay, because for them the hard work is not over—it is only just beginning. They will continue to give their all as they begin to tackle the backlog in non-covid care. The millions of routine operations, screening tests, treatments and therapies that were suspended or cancelled during the pandemic will now have to restart. Those challenges cannot be met without the staff.
As we know, there are well over 100,000 vacancies in the social care sector, and systemic insecure work and low pay are not the answer to resolving that issue. We know that prior to the covid-19 outbreak there were also 106,000 vacancies across the NHS, including 44,000 nurse vacancies. Those vacancies matter. They mean that NHS services were already under extreme pressure due to the ongoing staff shortages, before being further stretched by more shortages due to sickness or caring responsibilities during the pandemic. That, in turn, has put all healthcare staff under intolerable and unsustainable levels of pressure.
On top of those staff shortages, healthcare staff have had to work in unfamiliar circumstances or in clinical areas outside their usual practice, and of course they have had to work in very difficult circumstances. A survey by the Royal College of Nursing found that half of nursing staff felt under pressure to work without the levels of protective equipment set out in official guidance, and a survey by the British Medical Association of 7,000 doctors found that 45% were experiencing stress, exhaustion and burn-out. We need to listen to what the staff are telling us.
Just last week, we learned that student nurses who joined the frontline six months ago as part of the coronavirus effort are seeing their paid placement schemes terminated early, leaving them with no income and no guarantee that they will not face extra costs for completing their studies. That is no way to treat student nursing staff who have put their studies on hold to join the fight against coronavirus, and who are at the start of what we hope will be a long career in the NHS. They deserve better.
The Government still have not quite resolved the issue of the immigration health surcharge, where NHS and social care staff coming from abroad and working on our frontline are required to pay a surcharge of hundreds and sometimes thousands of pounds just to use the NHS themselves. It was welcome that, after considerable pressure, the Government announced last month that the surcharge would be abolished, but, as we have heard, there are still reports of people being charged. I would like an update from the Minister about what is happening in respect of that.
In conclusion, no one hearing this debate would be in any doubt that our health and social care workers are appreciated, admired and respected, but warm words are not enough. A clap on Thursday night is not enough. It is time for action, and for the Government to finally recognise the monumental contribution that health and social care workers make. No more poverty pay. No more “work until you drop”. No more sending people into work inadequately protected from exposure to a deadly virus. That cannot happen again.
The Government were too slow to recognise the need for PPE, too slow to protect the social care sector, and now they are too slow to properly reward our brave health and social care workers, who have literally put their lives on the line for us all. It is time we put that right.
I thank everybody who has contributed to this debate. It is vital that the voice of petitioners is heard in Parliament and we have all played a part in ensuring that today. This is a very important issue, which petitioners have clearly prioritised in great numbers having experienced and witnessed the enormous contribution our health and social care workers have made to our national effort to fight covid-19.
I have to say that I am disappointed with the Minister’s response. I do not think it fully acknowledged the question put by the petitioners that we do not yet have full recognition and reward for our health and social care workers in the way that we would like to see, but, as I said in my contribution at the beginning of the debate, I hope that this is the beginning of a conversation on how we can arrive at that point. I am sure that hon. Members will support that conversation continuing and action to follow. Above all, I want to put on record once again our gratitude, from this House and from the Petitions Committee, for the service that every health and social care worker has made to this country in the weeks that have passed and will continue to make in the weeks ahead.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered e-petitions relating to the recognition and reward of health and social care workers.