Prime Minister’s Questions – Health & Social Care

Jeremy Corbyn: May I start, Mr Speaker, by wishing you, all Members of the House and all staff here, and Major Tim Peake, who is not on the planet at this time, a very happy Christmas and a peaceful new year?

The number of days that patients are being kept in hospital because there is nowhere safe to discharge them to has doubled since the Prime Minister took office. On 4 November, I asked him if he could guarantee that there will be no winter crisis in the NHS this winter. He did not answer then, so I wonder whether he will be able to help us with an answer today.

The Prime Minister: First, let me join the right hon. Gentleman and be clear that I do not want to wish him the season’s greetings; I want a full happy Christmas for him and everyone in the House. He specifically asked about the NHS, so let me give him a specific answer. The average stay in hospital has actually fallen since I became Prime Minister from five and a half days to five days. One reason for that is that we kept our promises on the NHS. We put in an extra £12 billion in the last Parliament, and will be putting in £19 billion in cash terms in this Parliament.

Jeremy Corbyn: For the record, I did say happy Christmas. Perhaps the Prime Minister was not listening at the time. If he is so happy about the national health service, will he explain why he has decided to cancel the publication of NHS performance data this winter? There was a time, not that long ago, when the Prime Minister was all in favour of transparency. It was in 2011 when he said:

“Information is power. It lets people hold the powerful to account, giving them the tools they need to take on politicians and bureaucrats.”

Is it because the number of people being kept waiting on trolleys in A&E has gone up more than fourfold that he does not want to publish those statistics?

The Prime Minister: First, the data that the right hon. Gentleman quoted in his first question were not published before this Government came into office. Let me quote some data about the NHS: on an average day, there are 4,400 more operations and 21,000 more outpatient appointments than there were five years ago when I became Prime Minister. Yes, there are challenges in A&E, but there are 2,100 more people being seen within four hours than there were five years ago, and there are more data published on our NHS than there ever were under Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn: There are huge pressures on the NHS, and they are largely due to the pressures on the adult social care system, which is under enormous stress at the moment. Indeed, there have been huge cuts in adult social care because of cuts in local government funding. The NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens, has called for a radical upgrade in prevention and public health. Does the Prime Minister agree that cutting these crucial services is a false economy?

The Prime Minister: We are increasing the money that councils can spend on social care through the 2% council tax precept. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned Simon Stevens, but our NHS plan is Simon Stevens’s plan. For the first time, the NHS got together and wrote its plan. It asked for £8 billion, and it asked for the money up front. We committed to that plan, unlike Labour at the last election, and we funded it up front, which is why we see a bigger and better NHS. None of that would have been possible, including the action that we are taking on social care through the better care fund, without our having achieved a growing economy and an increase in jobs.

Jeremy Corbyn: The problem is to do with adult social care. This morning on BBC Radio 4, the NHS Confederation said that “cuts to social care and public health will continue to pile more pressure on hospitals and will worsen deficits in the acute sector.”

What was announced on social care in the autumn statement falls well short of what is needed. The Health Foundation estimates that there will be a funding shortfall of £6 billion by 2020. How will the Government meet that shortfall?

The Prime Minister: I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman listens to the “Today” programme. Perhaps he might even bother to go on it one of these days. A bit of transparency and sunlight would be very welcome. If he wants to swap quotations, this is what the chairman of the Local Government Association says:

“The LGA has long called for further flexibility in the setting of council tax… Today’s announcement on council tax will go some way to allowing a number of councils to raise the money needed…The £1.5 billion increase in the Better Care Fund announced today is good news”.

It is this Government who funded the NHS; Labour did not. It is this Government who set up the better care fund; Labour opposed it. It is this Government who have the strong and growing economy. I note that we are on question four and there is still no welcome for the unemployment figures.

Jeremy Corbyn: The issue of adult social care and cuts in local government spending is very much the responsibility of central Government. Will the Prime Minister confirm that NHS trusts are forecasting a deficit of £2.2 billion this year? I understand—and he, as part of the Oxford anti-austerity movement, will be concerned about this—that his own local healthcare trust is predicting a £1.7 million deficit. There is a problem of NHS funding. Has he forgotten the simple maxim that prevention is cheaper and better than cure?

The Prime Minister: How can the right hon. Gentleman possibly complain about NHS funding when his party did not commit to fund the Stevens plan? We are spending £19 billion more on the NHS—money that would not be available if we had listened to the Labour party. Now he says that social care is a responsibility of Government; everything is a responsibility of Government, but in fact, local councils decide how much to spend on social care, and with the better care fund, they have more to spend. But I challenge him again: how do we pay for the NHS? We pay for it by having more growth, more jobs, more people having a livelihood. Is he going to welcome that at Christmas time, or does he not care about the reduction in unemployment?

Jeremy Corbyn: I have a question from Abby, who wants to train to be a midwife, and she says:

“I am 28 years old. This year I left my successful career to go back into university to re-train as a Midwife. I already have a debt of £25,000 from my first degree.

Well over half of my cohort have studied a first degree in another subject and many of my fellow colleagues have children and partners and elderly parents and mortgages.

Many people will be put off by the lack of financial support and massive debts.”

In the spirit of Christmas, will the Prime Minister have a word with his friend the Chancellor, who is sitting next to him—it can be done very quickly—to reverse the cuts in the nurse bursary scheme, so that we do get people like Abby training to be midwives, which will help all of us in the future?

The Prime Minister: First of all, I want Abby to train as a midwife, and I can guarantee that the funding will be there for her training, because there are thousands more midwives operating in the NHS today than when I became Prime Minister. Now the right hon. Gentleman mentions the question of nurse bursaries. The truth is that two out of three people who want to become nurses cannot do so because of the constraints on the system, and our new system will mean many more doctors and many more nurses. Since I became Prime Minister, we have already got 10,000 more doctors in the NHS and 4,500 more nurses. But all of this is happening because the economy is growing, the deficit is falling, unemployment is coming down, you can fill up a tank of gas at £1 a litre and wages are going up. Britain is getting stronger as we go into Christmas, because our economy is getting stronger, too.