EXCL Senior Tory MP Dr Sarah Wollaston warns NHS pay cap could harm patient safety
A senior Tory MP has warned that patient safety could be compromised in the NHS by keeping in place a pay cap on public sector workers.
Sarah Wollaston, the former GP who is seeking re-election as chair of the Health Select Committee, said refusing to drop the pay restriction would lead to “consequences” in “recruitment, retention and morale” in the health service.
Ms Wollaston pointed to the disaster at Mid Staffs, where poor care led to high mortality rates among patients in the late 2000s, as a warning of what happens when hospitals run “without safe staffing levels”.
And the senior backbencher, in an interview with the House magazine, also called on the Government to appoint Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat former health minister, to chair a cross-party commission on health and social care spending.
The Totnes MP said maintaining the public sector pay cap could put off EU staff from working in the NHS and see those from the UK moving into other industries.
“If you’re now a nurse deciding where to work in the EU, because of the exchange rate and the public sector pay cap, increasingly you'll be making that calculation that you'll be better off working in Germany or somewhere else," she said.
"But also, within the UK itself, a lot of people are working in the health service and starting to move out into the private sector to work in things like the pharmaceutical industry, or they've got very good transferable skills to take to other sectors.
“I think recruitment and retention will increasingly be an issue and then of course you have a knock-on effect, because the lesson from Mid Staffs was without safe staffing levels you affect patient safety. It starts to become a false economy unless you address it.”
Ms Wollaston, who urged ministers last week to “think again” on the seven-year long pay restriction, insisted her party could not “keep our finger in that dam much longer".
But she insisted the Tories must not lose sight of fiscal prudence, and called on the Treasury to assemble a clear plan for how pay rises will be funded.
When asked whether the Tories were “toxified” among public sector workers at the election as a result of years of austerity, she replied: “With the public sector workers… yes. I think what we saw with head teachers writing letters home to parents in effect saying ‘don’t vote for the Conservatives’ - that was the subtext.
“We had public sector workers in the NHS using social media to campaign against the Conservative party. So I think we lost the public sector. Then, by trying to be honest about funding social care – the ‘how we would pay for it’– we lost a lot of our core vote.
“I’m afraid the stuff on fox hunting, none of us saw it coming. It was just completely ridiculous. I cannot think why that went in. It was just nonsense. That triumvirate, for me, is what lost us the election.”
Ms Wollaston argued that in light of the hung parliament, the Government must reach across the floor of the House in order to salvage MPs’ reputation in the eyes of the electorate.
She called for Mr Lamb’s talents to be used in formulating a long-term view on health and social care policy, and lamented that Labour’s Brexit spokesperson, Sir Keir Starmer, had not been incorporated into the Government’s Brussels negotiating team.
"I hope our frontbench make a big bold offer... for example, they could set up a commission on funding health and social care and they could offer Norman Lamb, for example, to chair it. He'd be an excellent chair and he's long spoken about this kind of thing. We need somebody who is respected across the House, who we know works in a good consensual manner to chair this and get it going,” she said.
She added: “I think that the key challenges of this parliament as I see it are delivering Brexit and actually making sure that our public services are in a fit state for the future. But I genuinely don't think those two challenges can be addressed unless we see cross-party working.”