Prime Minister’s Questions – National Health Service

Jeremy Corbyn: I want to echo the Prime Minister’s tribute to all the emergency services in dealing with the major incident in Didcot. Our thoughts are with the families of the person who died and those who are missing or injured. We rely on our emergency services and we should make sure they are always there for all of us.

The NHS staff survey published yesterday shows that nine out of 10 junior doctors already work extra hours beyond their normal contract. The survey also showed falling morale among that vital group of staff. What does the Prime Minister think the Health Secretary’s veto of a deal and the imposition of a contract will do to their morale?

The Prime Minister: First, the Health Secretary did not veto a deal. For four years we have had discussions about how important it is to have an NHS that works on a more seven-day basis. Let me pay tribute to the fact that so many in the NHS work so hard already at the weekends, but what matters is making sure we can have a genuine seven-day NHS.

What I would say to junior doctors is that no junior doctor working legal hours will receive a pay cut. This contract will not impose longer hours. In fact, it has tougher safeguards to make sure it reduces the hours that are worked. We are not seeking to save money from the new contract. Nights, Saturday evenings and Sundays continue to attract unsocial hours payments. This is a good deal from a Government that are putting £10 billion more into our NHS.

Jeremy Corbyn: This dispute with the junior doctors has been on the basis of misrepresented research about weekend mortality. I will read the Prime Minister what the researchers themselves say:

“It is not possible to ascertain the extent to which these excess deaths may be preventable; to assume that they are avoidable would be rash and misleading.”

Are the Prime Minister and his Health Secretary being “rash and misleading” with these figures?

The Prime Minister: Let me agree with the right hon. Gentleman about something, which is that this dispute has been plagued by scaremongering and inaccurate statistics. The British Medical Association, in its first intervention, said that this was a 30% pay cut. That was completely untrue. In fact, it was so untrue that it had to take its pay calculator off its website, and it never put it back up again.

Let me answer very directly the question about excess deaths. The 6,000 figure for excess deaths was based on a question asked by the Health Secretary of Sir Bruce Keogh, the medical director of the NHS. Now that we have had time to go into these figures in more detail, I can tell the House this: the Health Secretary was indeed guilty—he was guilty of an understatement. The true figure for excess deaths at the weekend are 11,000, not 6,000. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will now withdraw his totally unjustified attack on the Health Secretary. Will he withdraw it, now he knows the figures?

Jeremy Corbyn: It is just worth reflecting for one moment that there is no dispute with the junior doctors in Scotland or in Wales, because their Governments have had the sense to reach an agreement with the junior doctors. The Prime Minister must also be aware that the vast majority of the public in England are on the side of the junior doctors, not the Secretary of State.

The situation actually gets worse. A freedom of information request by the BBC today reveals that, when asked for the source of the Health Secretary’s statistics, civil servants in the Department of Health decided to“offer up the most bland statement possible, that would neither confirm not contradict” the Health Secretary’s “statement.”

Is it not time that the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary actually apologise for what they have done and correct these statements, and indeed, while they are about it, reach an honourable settlement with the junior doctors?

The Prime Minister: I think the best that can be said is that the right hon. Gentleman wrote that question before he heard my answer. I have given the fullest possible description of how the figure of 6,000 excess deaths was arrived at—the true figure being 11,000—but I note that there is absolutely no withdrawal of his accusation against the Health Secretary, even after he gets those figures.

The right hon. Gentleman says there is no dispute in Scotland and Wales with the junior doctors. The reason for that is that Scotland and Wales are not trying to create more of a seven-day NHS. That seven-day NHS was not only in our manifesto—I want to make sure that hard-working people can access health services at an equal rate right through the week, because they do not just get ill on weekdays; but if he reads his own party’s report on its election defeat, he will see that it admits that the concept of a seven-day NHS was a very popular concept, and it is.

The right hon. Gentleman can see that in England, we are putting £10 billion more into the NHS, we have got 10,000 more doctors and 10,000 more nurses, we are treating more patients, we have a settlement of the GP contract and we now have a settlement of the junior doctors contract. We are building a strong NHS for patients—that is what this is about.

Jeremy Corbyn: We all want a strong and successful NHS, but that will not be achieved by provoking industrial action, misrepresenting research or failing to get a grip on the cost of agency staff in the NHS, which now amounts to £4 billion. Indeed, the Prime Minister’s own local NHS trust has overspent on staffing costs by £11 million this year, yet has managed to spend £30 million on agency staff. Will the chair of the Oxford anti-austerity campaign be writing another letter to himself on behalf of his constituents, asking for the Health Secretary to intervene to support his local NHS?

The Prime Minister: I am very proud of the NHS in Oxfordshire and everyone who works in it. Having met the head of the Oxford Radcliffe trust recently, I know that he supports the move towards more seven-day services. That is absolutely vital.

Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab): Ask your mother!

The Prime Minister: Ask my mother? I know what my mother would say. She would look across the Dispatch Box and say, “Put on a proper suit, do up your tie and sing the national anthem.”

Jeremy Corbyn: If we are talking of motherly advice, my late mother would have said, “Stand up for the principle of a health service free at the point of use for everybody.” That is what she dedicated her life to, as did many of her generation.

We are more than three quarters of the way into this financial year. The NHS deficit is already £2.26 billion, and 53% of NHS trust finance directors say that the quality of care in their local area has worsened this year. What will the deficit be by the end of next month?

The Prime Minister: We will get deficits down because we are clamping down on the staffing agencies and expensive management consultants, and introducing better public procurement.

The right hon. Gentleman has to recognise that we said we would back the Simon Stevens plan, which meant at least £8 billion more going into the NHS, but we have put £10 billion more into the NHS. At the last election and subsequently, Labour has refused to back that extra money. My mother is as proud of the NHS as I am, and she would be pleased to know that in the NHS today, there are 1.9 million more people going to A&E, 1.6 million more operations, 10,700 more doctors and 11,800 more nurses. I think that if Nye Bevan were here today, he would want a seven-day NHS, because he knew that the NHS was for patients up and down our country.

Jeremy Corbyn: Nye Bevan would be turning in his grave if he could hear the Prime Minister’s attitude towards the NHS. He was a man with vision who wanted a health service for the good of all. I tell you, Mr Speaker, our health service is run by brilliant people—brilliant doctors, brilliant nurses and brilliant staff. I have a question for the Prime Minister from one of those brilliant doctors, whose name is Ashraf:

“As a doctor I know full well the stresses on the NHS and the shortcomings. We already have a 7 day emergency service. How does increasing elective work improve safety at the weekend? If a truly 7 day NHS is wanted, we need more nurses, admin staff, porters, radiographers, physios”— all the other vital workers. Will the Prime Minister today commit to publishing the Department of Health’s analysis of the real cost of introducing a seven-day NHS? Is he prepared to pay for it, rather than picking a fight with the junior doctors who want to deliver it?

The Prime Minister: What I think is not clear is whether or not Labour supports a seven-day NHS. We support a seven-day NHS and that is why we are putting in £10 billion, 10,000 more doctors, and 11,000 more nurses. Crucially, yes, that is why we are looking at the contracts in the NHS to ensure that it can work on more of a seven-day basis. The truth is this that there are hospitals today in our country, such as the Salford Royal in the north-west of England, that already operate on a seven-day basis within existing budgets. That is good, because they are using all the equipment on a seven-day basis, they are carrying out consultations seven days a week and they carry out some operations seven days a week. That is good for the hospital, good for the staff working in it and, above all, good for patients. We do not just get ill Monday to Friday. I want a world-class NHS. We are funding a world-class NHS. We have world-class people working in our NHS and together we will build that seven-day NHS.