Weekly political news round up – 1st July 2016

July 1, 2016 in News by Whitehouse

Overview headlines

This week the former Health Secretary, Lord Lansley, has called for NHS funding to be increased in the Autumn Statement, arguing that his expectation while Health Secretary was that the small real terms increases to funding would only be temporary. He said that the need for greater annual rises in funding “is now inescapable”; and further diminished the expectation that funding recovered from the EU once the UK officially leaves could be delivered to the NHS. Lord Lansley also stated he did not think it likely that the £22 billion of efficiency savings being sought from the NHS could be achieved in this parliament.

EU referendum: political consequences

Following the confirmation of the UK’s decision to leave the EU on 24 June, it was subsequently announced by the Conservative back bench 1922 Committee that the process to select a new party leader will be complete by 9 September. The formal process of withdrawing from the EU will then begin under a new leader, with significant debate around whether and when the UK will invoke ‘Article 50’, which would give the EU formal notice of its intent to withdraw from the organisation.

The outcome of the referendum has had great implications for British politics. Early riders in the Conservative Party leadership contest include: Justice Secretary, Michael Gove MP; Home Secretary, Theresa May MP; Work and Pensions Secretary, Stephen Crabb MP; former Defence Secretary, Liam

Fox MP; and Minister at the Department for Energy and Climate Change, Andrea Leadsom MP. A vote among MPs will see the field narrowed to two candidates, who will be subjected to a vote among the Conservative Party membership. In an unexpected announcement shortly before nominations closed, the former Mayor of London Boris Johnson MP confirmed he would not be contesting the leadership, despite seemingly staking his support for the ‘Leave’ campaign on the expectation of doing so.

The Labour Party has also experienced substantial upheaval, as many Labour MPs have accused party leader Jeremy Corbyn MP of lending halfhearted support to the ‘Remain’ campaign – which they allege resulted in many traditional Labour voters choosing to leave. Corbyn experienced an unprecedented swathe of resignations from his Shadow Cabinet following the disagreements, and lost a vote of no-confidence among the Parliamentary Labour Party on 28 June by a margin of 172 to 40 MPs. Potential-challengers include former-shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Owen Smith and former-shadow Business Secretary, Angela Eagle. Despite strong rumours, Deputy-Leader, Tom Watson elected not to challenge Corbyn.

Diane Abbott appointed Shadow Health Secretary

Following Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to sack his Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn MP, early on Sunday 26 June, many members of the Shadow Cabinet resigned from their positions. These included the Shadow Health Secretary, Heidi Alexander. Alexander was replaced by Diane Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stole Newington.

Abbott has been an MP since 1987 and contested the Labour leadership in 2010. Abbott then served as Shadow Minister for Public Health between 2010 and 2013, before being appointed as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development by Corbyn in 2015. She competed to be selected as Labour’s candidate for the 2016 London Mayoral election, coming third in the ballot.

Abbott’s parliamentary contributions on health naturally had a public health focus during her period as Shadow Public Health Minister, before becoming Shadow International Development Secretary. In

February 2015 she moved a backbench business debate on ‘mental health and well-being of

Londoners’, highlighting concerns around mental health funding. She has also considered the costs to the NHS of drugs and obese patients.

It is worth noting that while Corbyn has appointed some replacements for those ministers who have resigned, given the extent of resignations it may be that he is unable to recruit enough Labour MPs to fill all vacant positions. It is quite likely that Corbyn will face a leadership contest following this week’s events, and if successful in removing him as leader this new Shadow Cabinet may not be in place for a significant period of time.

Questions on continence products answered in House of Commons

Two written questions on continence products have been answered in the House of Commons this week. Both questions were tabled by Alison Thewliss MP (SNP, Glasgow Central). The first asked the

Chancellor of the Exchequer “what the annual revenue arising from VAT on incontinence products is”, and was answered by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke MP. Mr Gauke stated that “VAT arising from the sale of incontinence products and VAT that is recovered on the purchase of incontinence products is not separately itemized on the VAT return, so the requested information is not available.” He did elaborate that incontinence products are sometimes supplied at the zero rate of VAT, such as for over the counter sales for personal use.

The second question asked the Secretary of State for Health “what the annual cost to NHS services is of purchasing products used in the management of continence care.” George Freeman MP, the Minister of State for Life Sciences, clarified that the information is not collected centrally as NHS trusts are responsible for procuring goods and products.

Ms Thewliss has asked several previous parliamentary questions on the inclusion of incontinence pads as a zero-rated product for VAT purposes, in the context of charging VAT for sanitary products such as maternity pads. These questions indicate she is broadening her focus to continence care more widely.

Department of Health reorganises directorates

The Department of Health intends to reorganise its directorates, combining the four separate directorates for digital, technology, local government and social care into one new community care directorate. This is thought to be effective from 1 July and will be overseen by the Permanent Secretary, Chris Wormald. Overall, the directorate will have responsibility for social care; disability; community, mental health and seven day services; medicines and pharmacy; digital and data; technology; and the chief social worker.

The change is part of the Department’s drive to save money by 2020, in the same vein as its decision to scrap its nursing advisory unit. This decision has continued to be contested this week, with a parliamentary petition being launched and receiving more than 1,000 signatures. The scrutiny of the decision by the Chair of the Health Select Committee, Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, through a series of parliamentary questions, are yet to be answered by the Government. The Royal College of Nursing is also strongly opposed to the closure, with one member saying “It has become clear our government intends to sideline the views of nurses with the closure of the policy unit.”

Brexit will worsen NHS staff shortages

The NHS Confederation has warned that the vote to leave the EU could imminently result in NHS staff shortages, as EU staff could be put off from taking new jobs in the health service or be tempted to return home by the result. The organisation states that if any of the 130,000 EU NHS workers left – representing 10% of doctors and 5% of nurses – it could worsen staff shortages already affecting the NHS. The Public Accounts Committee estimated earlier this year that NHS England may already require 50,000 additional staff.

The director of the NHS Confederation’s European office, Elisabetta Zanon, said “There is a real risk the uncertainty and the falling value of the pound will make [EU workers] think again” about working in the UK. A range of senior healthcare figures, including the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and the medical director Sir Bruce Keogh, emphasised that EU health workers should be made to feel welcome following the vote. These sentiments were further embodied in a Twitter campaign, #LoveOurEUStaff.