Weekly political news round up – 23rd March 2018

Overview

This week, the Government has announced a pay increase for NHS staff amounting to an average of 6% over three years. The Health and Social Care Committee has published its report on Brexit, covering medicines and medical devices; and the EU and UK have agreed a deal on the Brexit transition period. The Health and Social Care Secretary has also outlined the principles underpinning the social care green paper, which is due to be published in the summer.

Government announces pay increase for NHS staff

The Government has announced this week that NHS staff – excluding doctors – will receive a pay rise in line with the Agenda for Change pay framework over the next three years, amounting to an average of 6%. Nurses, healthcare assistants and other hospital staff will receive an average increase of 3% this year, 2% in 2019 and 1% in 2020, and will not need to sacrifice a day’s holiday as had been rumoured. The pay increases will be funded through new money from the Treasury, with an estimated cost of £4.2 billion over three years and with the greatest increases expected to go to the lowest paid staff. The Health Secretary said in a statement to the House of Commons that “Pay rises range from 6.5% to 29% over three years, with much higher rises targeted on those on the lowest and starting rates of pay.”

Responding to the announcement, the Shadow Health Secretary, Jonathan Ashworth, asked the Government whether the additional funding would “be paid for by extra borrowing or extra taxation”, arguing that “Public servants deserve reassurances that the Government will not give with one hand and take with the other.” The Chair of the RCN’s Trade Union Committee, Lors Allford, who led the negotiations with the Government on behalf of the union, said “This is the best pay deal in eight years from a Government that is still committed to austerity. Failure to accept it will put us back at square one, and at risk of returning to the 1% pay rises we’ve fought so hard to overturn.”

Health and Social Care Committee publishes Brexit report

The Health & Social Care Select Committee has published its report on Brexit – Medicines, Medical Devices and Substances of Human Origin. The Committee has recommended that the Department of Health and Social Care produces a comprehensive list of all issues relating to the supply of medicines, medical devices and substances of human origin that require contingency planning for after Brexit. The Committee also highlighted its expectation that the Department of Health and Social Care will produce evidence that there are plans in place to address the identified risk to patients or users of medical devices as a result of Brexit.

The Committee also refutes the argument that the publication of such evidence that shows contingency plans will weaken the UK’s negotiating position. In fact, the Committee argues, clarity over contingency planning that is able to guarantee patient safety and the continued supply of health supplies will strengthen the UK’s negotiating position, demonstrating that the UK has a “credible fall-back position”.

However, the Committee does also call for external analysis of supply chain issues. It was highlighted that Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Lord O’Shaughnessy, has announced that management consultants Ernst and Young have been commissioned by the Government to investigate this, but it has not been made clear when this work would be undertaken.

According to the Committee, the “overriding message from almost all the evidence in our inquiry is that the UK should continue to align with the EU regulatory regimes for medicines, medical devices and substances of human origin”. The Committee, as such, calls for the closest possible regulatory alignment with the EU over these issues, including retaining associate membership of the European Medical Association.

EU and UK agree Brexit transition deal

This week, the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, and EU Chief Negotiator, Michel Barnier, announced in a joint press conference that a Brexit transition deal has been agreed following the UK making concessions over the free movement of EU citizens during the transition period. The UK agreed that it will give full rights to EU citizens moving to the country during that time and in return the UK will be allowed to sign trade deal agreements with other countries during the 21-month transition period, running from March 29, 2019 to December 31, 2020.

EU leaders also approved guidelines for the negotiation of future relations with the UK after Brexit. Whilst the UK is due to leave the EU in March 2019, the negotiators have said that they want a deal on future UK-EU relations to be in place by the end of 2018. Specifically, this will facilitate discussions on a future trade deal between the UK and the EU which has been one of the UK Government’s key priorities. The aim will be to have a deal that can be presented to the EU legislature by October, in order to meet the end of year deadline.

Jeremy Hunt outlines principles underpinning social care green paper

This week, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jeremy Hunt, outlined seven key principles that he says will guide the thinking of his department as they prepare the long awaited Social Care Green Paper. The speech is the first presented by the Secretary of State since the renaming of his department to include social care. In particular, he has called for a stronger “partnership between the state and individuals” and announced that the Green Paper will establish a “risk pool” for people with complex care needs who are “disproportionately affected” by social care costs.

The Green Paper is due to be published before the summer. The Institute for Fiscal Studies this week also released a report warning that councils face “an almost impossible struggle” to plug social care’s funding black hole, with local authorities facing the loss of their government grant covering adult social care costs by 2020. The Local Government Association’s response to Hunt’s speech called first for an immediate “down-payment on the Green Paper by injecting additional resources into the system to fund immediate funding pressures which are set to exceed £2 billion by 2020”.

The seven principles outlined by Hunt are: quality; whole-person integrated care; control; workforce; supporting families and carers; a sustainable funding model for social care supported by a diverse, vibrant and stable market; and security for all.