In his first parliamentary speech since November 2015, Mike Gapes spoke passionately about the NHS in London and his own recent personal experience.
A transcript of Mike's contribution in the debate is provided below:
Mike Gapes MP (Ilford South):
I am particularly pleased that you are in the Chair today, Ms Buck, because I am going to refer to St. Mary’s hospital and the Imperial College Healthcare NHS trust, which saved my life. You know it very well. This is my first speech or question in the House—apart from my earlier interventions —since November. My neighbour, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) referred to my extended break. It was not voluntary or by choice.
I had been at a concert at the Royal Albert Hall—in fact, Jools Holland saved my life, because if I had not gone to the concert I would not have had friends with me during the events of that November evening. I was rushed by ambulance initially to Chelsea and Westminster hospital, where I collapsed. They scanned me and decided that I had such a serious ruptured thoracic aneurysm that they had to transfer me by ambulance to St Mary’s hospital in Paddington. I came to in the ambulance and I have a vivid memory of going down the ramp out of the ambulance into A&E at St Mary’s, where about 10 people were waiting. They ran me in the trolley straight into the operating theatre, where the consultant said, “I hope you don’t mind. We have injected you with the anaesthetic, but do you mind if we cut the shirt off your back, because we have got to start straight away? The anaesthetic will take a moment to work.” Then I heard a female voice saying, “I know this is hurting, but I’m sorry, I’ve got to do this.” Then I was unconscious.
I had a total of eight weeks in St Mary’s hospital, with five and a half weeks in the intensive care unit, for nearly three of which I was in an induced coma. I had a series of operations on my heart and a tracheostomy, which is an interesting experience whereby a tube is permanently inserted—or it seems as it if is permanent; fortunately it is not there any more. I had other operations while I was there, as well, so I am a bit bionic. I have not yet flown anywhere, and I am waiting to see what will happen to the metal detectors at the airport, because I have some stents that might cause some complications.
I was at the hospital this morning and they were pleased with my progress, so I am able to be back here in Parliament. I want to say thank you to all the staff —the consultants, the senior and junior doctors, the cleaners, the people who gave me my food, all the nursing staff, and the physiotherapists. They initially got me walking with a Zimmer frame, with oxygen cylinders first at 100% and eventually at 28%; they managed to get me to walk up some stairs, so I could be sent home. I pay tribute to them because it is a bit of a miracle that I am here today—I have been told that by at least two consultants. Most people who go into hospital with what happened to me do not come out, so every day from now on is a bonus.
I went in on a Friday night, in the early hours of Saturday morning—a weekend. We must not let anyone say we do not have a seven-days-a-week NHS. I have seen it. I have been cared for seven days a week, looked after and fed seven days a week, for two months. I have had the most excellent treatment. I have seen the 8 o’clock in the morning shift come on and then the 8 o’clock at night shift—12-hour shifts. I have seen the turnaround. Whether I was in the intensive care unit, the Charles Pannett ward or the Zachary Cope ward, I have seen the dedication and commitment of the staff. They come from all over the world. The nurses who treated me included a man called Riad, a Palestinian from Jordan, who was fascinated to know that I had been in Amman with the Foreign Affairs Committee four days before I went into hospital. There were nurses from Malaysia, the Philippines, Ireland, Ilford and many other places around the world.
The fact is that we in London depend on a pool of staff who have come to our city from all over the world to help us, to save us and to keep us well. We must never forget that. It is why the Home Office needs to understand that London’s success as a global city depends on the workers in London being healthy. As Anne Rainsberry told us in the meeting with London Labour MPs the other day, 20% of the people treated in London do not live in London. London serves the whole community. The vascular facilities at St Mary’s take patients from all over. I was told that even if I had had the heart problem in Ilford, I might still have been transferred to St Mary’s. The unit has patients from Southend, Newport in south Wales and even from Gibraltar.
That indicates to me that we have to retain the staffing levels and level of expertise in our specialist hospitals and in our specialist departments within London hospitals. That is not possible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) pointed out, if people cannot afford to live in London and if most newly trained nurses seek jobs elsewhere within two or three years. It is not because they do not enjoy their work, but because they cannot afford or are fed up with two or three hours of travel every day.
We have to deal with the problem, and it requires the new Mayor of London, all our local authorities and the Government to look at it seriously. It also requires the Home Office, after the European referendum, to think again about the absurd position where we will cut off our nose to spite our face by making it impossible in a shortage period to recruit people to certain occupations because of the £35,000 threshold.
Paul Scully MP (Sutton and Cheam):
The hon. Gentleman is making an incredibly powerful speech and I am grateful to hear about his personal experience. On the shortage of nurses, while it is preferable to train people domestically, does the hon. Gentleman agree that where we cannot fill those places, the shortage occupation list—it is devised by the Migration Advisory Committee, which has placed nurses on the list—goes some way to mitigating the £35,000 criteria?
Mike Gapes MP (Ilford South):
The interesting thing is that NHS nurses were not originally on that shortage list. There had to be a lobbying campaign to get them put in because of the stupidity of the people in the Home Office who drew up the list. The fact is that the £35,000 figure will present a problem. Obviously it will not present a problem in recruiting doctors from abroad, but it is a significant problem in recruiting nurses and other people at lower wage levels. We need to raise that issue, because it will be damaging in the long term.
Of course we need to train more nurses, but to do so the Government need a consistent policy. It takes several years to train a nurse. It is not something that can be switched on and switched off. The other issue is retention. Large numbers of nurses leave our NHS and go and work in other countries. Just as we take nurses from other countries, so British nurses go abroad. There is no reason why that should not be the case; it is a global health economy and the reality is that if we do not pay the lower paid staff in the NHS what they need, we will not recruit sufficient numbers of people to do those jobs.
Wes Streeting MP (Ilford North):
In the context of the recruitment and retention challenges for NHS staff, does my hon. Friend share my concern and that of a number of Members from all parts of the House on the plans to charge nurses, midwives and students of allied health subjects full tuition fees and to remove the NHS bursary? Those things will be deeply damaging to recruitment of the very staff that we need to bring into the NHS.
Mike Gapes MP (Ilford South):
Absolutely, I do agree. That is why I signed my hon. Friend’s early-day motion today. I am about to put it in so that my name is added, now that I am back.
In conclusion, it is a great pleasure and a bit of a coincidence that this debate was here today, but I could not miss the opportunity to say thank you to those people who saved my life.