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Topical Questions

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 10 February 2009

The responsibilities of my Department embrace the whole range of NHS social care, mental health service and public health service delivery, all of which are of equal importance.

I welcome the Government’s campaign to alert people to the symptoms of stroke and to encourage them urgently to seek medical treatment, but what reassurance can the Secretary of State offer that every hospital in the country will be given adequate resources with which to deal with the increase in demand, especially in scanning departments? What guarantees can he give those who may present at hospitals with stroke symptoms that they will be given the timely treatment that they need to ensure that their future health is not impaired?

I can reassure the hon. Lady that the 20-year stroke strategy that we set out in December 2007 will be completed. However, there comes a point when there must be a drive to increase awareness along the way, and a debate has been held with the Stroke Association and others about when that should happen.

As the hon. Lady implies, we are not at the end of the stroke strategy yet, and not every treatment centre has the best facilities that we want to see throughout the country; but the view expressed in the debate was that now was the time to raise awareness and, in particular, to make people aware of FAST—the face, arm, speech test, which paramedics have used for some time. Strokes, probably more than any other illness or attack, require early treatment and a scan within the first three hours: that is essential. One of the main problems is a lag at the beginning because either the person having the stroke or those around him or her do not realise that it is a stroke.

This is the right time for a public awareness campaign. Meanwhile, we recognise that there is more to be done to ensure that services around the country are uniformly excellent.

T5. Does the Secretary of State—or the Minister of State—welcome a publication on teenage pregnancy produced by the Nottingham teenage pregnancy taskforce, and will he or she underline the fact that this is everybody’s problem? It is not just a health service problem about contraception; it is as much about ensuring that young people have the life skills and the social and emotional capability to enable them to make the right choices when they become sexually active. (255424)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the leadership that he is showing in his city in relation to young people’s opportunities and life chances, and, in particular, on the publication about preventing unplanned teenage pregnancy in Nottingham, of which he gave me a copy last week. In all areas, the important factors are leadership, shared objectives and a clear focus on ensuring that young people are given the sexual health education that crucially influences the choices that they make for the rest of their lives.

T2. Southend hospital has banned visitors from bringing in flowers on health and safety grounds. Does the Minister believe that flowers present a real risk to patients? (255421)

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue with me last summer, and I wrote to him about it on 27 June. It is a matter for the local trust. At that time the trust was beginning a consultation, to which I hope the hon. Gentleman contributed, and I understand that it established that there was 75 per cent. public support. The Department does not recommend the banning of flowers other than where they cause particular problems to patients, but we consider that this is an issue for local trusts, and that we should not dictate to them from the centre.

T6. Recently, more than a quarter of care homes in Calderdale, which includes my Halifax constituency, were given the lowest two ratings by the Commission for Social Care Inspection. Does the Minister agree that many care homes are more intent on making a profit than on looking after the elderly, and will he tell me what improvements will be made to the standard of care, and what sanctions will be imposed on those who do not comply? (255425)

It is essential that we continue to improve the quality of residential care for older people, and I appreciate my hon. Friend’s concerns, but I am pleased to be able to say that the most recent annual report on the state of social care by CSCI inspectors shows the sixth successive year of improvement against the national minimum standards for care homes that we established in 2003. The commission is also taking action to drive up the quality of residential care further. The performance ratings it awards to councils will be affected if those councils only purchase services from care homes rated as poor or adequate. I hope that, together, we will drive up the performance of care homes, so that older people can expect to be looked after with dignity in their retirement.

T3. The campaigning social issues journalist in Croydon, Aline Nassif, has revealed two very worrying cases regarding my constituents. The Mayday hospital accident and emergency department turned away a young mother many times, saying she had depression; she subsequently died from swelling of the brain. There is a very similar story of a young teenager who was also misdiagnosed. While I should, perhaps, have performed the courtesy of advising Ministers before raising this matter in the House, and although Mayday is clearly unable to comment at present as these matters are now under investigation following media coverage, might consideration be given to supporting Mayday, in terms of proper co-ordination and diagnosis at its neurological and accident and emergency departments, while such investigations are ongoing? (255422)

As often happens in topical questions, we are hearing about things for the first time. I will be very pleased to look into this matter and see whether there is, indeed, a case for Mayday improving its neurological services, and I will also be very pleased to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss it.

T7. May I draw the Minister’s attention to a scrutiny review that is taking place in Staffordshire of the contracts that the primary care trusts have with the independent sector treatment centre in Burton? People in Stoke-on-Trent by and large do not want to go to Burton for treatment, and they do not want to be cross-subsidising health care at their expense. Can my hon. Friend confirm that the letting of the new contracts will be determined locally by the primary care trusts? (255426)

T4. Since 1997, almost 800 organs from British donors have gone to people resident outside the United Kingdom. Over the same period, the list of British people waiting for organs has increased by more than 2,400, while only 140 organs have been brought into this country from abroad. Do not the Government need to take some action as this situation is rather shambolic, and does not the Secretary of State need to get a grip on it? (255423)

We might need to take some action. As I understand it, this matter involves a few hospitals, and NHS Blood and Transplant has not been happy with the situation—its correspondence was leaked to the press over the weekend. The organ donation taskforce has been looking at a number of very important elements of organ donation, but we did not ask it to look at this issue because at the time it was not highlighted as a problem. We might need to do so, however, because the hon. Gentleman raises a serious point: we want to increase the number of people on the register, and if people think they are going on the register for their body organs to be part of some export system, that will not do us any favours in achieving that end, so we need to tackle this, and to tackle it quickly.

T8. Will the Secretary of State reassure me that it would not be acceptable for a Labour Government to endorse surplus taxpayers’ money from an NHS hospital trust being used to create a private hospital to be run by that trust? Would that not fly in the face of the ethos of the NHS, create a conflict of interests when services are being delegated, and involve taxpayers in the risk if that private venture were to fail? (255427)

I would like to know the details of what the hon. Lady is describing. My local acute trust at Castle Hill has purchased the private Nuffield hospital and brought it into the NHS—it says that it had to spend lots of money to bring that hospital up to NHS standards, although that may or may not be true. I shall look at the point she raises, because it sounds like it involves a deeper story.

T10. Merseyside and Cheshire Cancer Network proposes to move cancer services from Clatterbridge to Liverpool, not on the basis of an objective, transparent and rigorous process or a proper business plan, but because the money is available. Will the Minister meet me and my colleagues, so that we can discuss our objections to both the form and substance of this? (255429)

Is the Secretary of State aware that when I was first elected to this House, almost every GP practice in my constituency offered an out-of-hours service? Despite the dramatic advance in medical treatments and drugs, my constituents receive a much less personal service from their GPs than they did 30 to 35 years ago. Does he agree that that is not progress?

No, I do not, and I shall tell the hon. Gentleman why. At the turn of the century, there was a very serious problem with getting medical students to go into general practice. The forecast, given the demography of general practices then, was that the shortage was bad and would become much worse, so something had to be done. Since the new contract, we have given GPs the option to opt out of 24-hour cover, and the vast majority of them—all bar 10 per cent.—have done so, despite the fact that it has meant a reduction in their pay. We have moved from a system where GPs would look at someone at 9 am having only struggled into bed at about 6.30 am because they had been called out through the night—the situation was similar to the long hours that junior doctors worked, which seemed to be some kind of badge of courage. Tired doctors are not good for our health service, and I am very pleased that we have moved beyond that archaic system.

My local newspaper, The Bolton News, recently reported that a 29-year-old woman in the Royal Bolton hospital was so terrified in a mixed-sex ward with three men that she was forced to sleep in the examination room overnight. Is it not bad enough being ill in hospital without having to deal with the added stress that mixed-sex wards cause men and women? When can we expect to see the end of these wards in Bolton? [Interruption.]

Conservative Members say “After the election”, but, of course, before we came into government nobody kept any statistics on mixed-sex accommodation—the most recent statistics showed that the level of mixed-sex accommodation was about 50 per cent. The Healthcare Commission now reports that nine out of 10 patients have elective care in single-sex accommodation. This is not an easy issue to resolve. We have to be sure that there are good medical grounds—for instance, in intensive care units and emergency accommodation—for not being able to operate single-sex accommodation. Beyond that, what happened to my hon. Friend’s constituent should not have happened—it is unacceptable. It breaches the dignity and respect of the patient, the emphasis on quality—quality relates to more than just quality of care; it relates to the patient’s experience—and our new NHS constitution, which is why I have introduced a £100 million capital fund and I have said that from 2010-11 no acute trust will receive any payment if it gives care unnecessarily in mixed-sex accommodation. I think that will mean the final eradication—I agree that it is taking too long—of mixed-sex accommodation in Bolton and across the country.

Last April, the Secretary of State told the Royal College of Nursing that he was within “touching distance” of abolishing mixed-sex accommodation—nothing happened for nine months. The Conservatives then published the data from hospitals showing the number of people affected by the lack of compliance with the mixed-sex accommodation rules and exposed the Government’s failure—nine days later, the Secretary of State announced a £100 million dignity and respect fund. Will he explain why the Government do nothing unless and until we expose the extent of their failure?

It is not right to say that nothing happened after the Royal College of Nursing conference. In fact, the week after that conference I wrote to every strategic health authority and made it clear that by the time the RCN next meets I want to see progress in this area. It is true that the operating framework that we planned to get out in July did not, in the end, go out until December, and our announcement about what we would do was made on the back of the operating framework.

This issue is too important for party political point scoring, because the care and respect agenda is crucial to Members on both sides of the House. All I would say is that the plans that the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) has put forward for an increase in single rooms are hopelessly under-costed. He says that they would cost £1 billion, but they would actually cost about £9.5 billion, and he will not be able to afford it.

T9. The Secretary of State recently visited the Vale of York and I am sure that he will have been told that spending per capita in the Vale of York, North Yorkshire and the Humber region is less than in any other region. What is he personally going to do about that? (255428)

As the hon. Lady will know, because I have already told her, North Yorkshire and York PCT recently received one of the biggest increases—[Interruption.] Yes, but the funding comes from the PCT. It received one of the biggest increases for the next two years of any PCT in the country—in the top 30 per cent. of increases.