Skip to main content

Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 531: debated on Tuesday 12 July 2011


The Secretary of State was asked—

NHS Funding

1. What arrangements are in place to ensure increased funding for the NHS during the comprehensive spending review period. (65106)

We will increase NHS funding in real terms in each year of this Parliament. Compared to the level of expenditure in the national health service in the last financial year, the resources available to the NHS will increase by £12.5 billion by the end of the spending review period. The budget available for the NHS in the financial year 2011-12 is 3.9% higher than spend in the previous year, 2010-11.

Can my right hon. Friend give me any examples of how the increased funding this Government have promised here in England is, unlike what is happening in Wales, delivering better care for our NHS services?

Yes, I can indeed do that. We are committed to real-terms increases in the NHS budget in England. According to an analysis by the King’s Fund, the Welsh Assembly Government—a Labour-led Welsh Government —are going to reduce the NHS budget by 8.3% in real terms by 2013-14 in comparison with 2010-11. That might be one reason why it is already the case that in Wales, 26.4% of patients in April 2011 waited more than 18 weeks for treatment.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that his definition of a real-terms increase is based on a 2.9% figure? Will he also confirm that the retail price index actually stands at 5%, so any claim that he is increasing the NHS budget in real terms is a complete and total con?

I think that it has been conventional over many years for the calculation of real terms in public accounting to use the GDP deflator. Given that it includes the prices of investment goods, Government services and exports and subtracts the price of UK imports, it gives a more appropriate overall measure of inflation.

Does my right hon. Friend welcome the increase in the NHS West Sussex budget of £35 million this year, which, coupled with the provisions of the Health and Social Care Bill, means that we will have far greater patient choice in our local area?

Yes, I do indeed welcome that. We all know that last year, this year and in future years, increases in the NHS budget in real terms will not be the kind of real-terms increases we saw in the past, but they will be real-terms increases. What we are already seeing in the NHS—we saw it last year—is that with a 2.2% increase in cash spending, there is none the less an ability to sustain, and in many respects improve, performance.

In spite of the spin, the truth is that the Prime Minister’s personal promise to give the NHS a real rise in funding is being broken. It is not just how much that counts; it is how well the money is spent. Today it is one year to the very day since the Health Secretary launched the Government’s plans to “liberate” the NHS. He told the House:

“we will phase out the top-down management hierarchy”—[Official Report, 12 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 663.]

He said that he would reduce “the number and cost” of NHS-related quangos, so why is he setting up the new national commissioning board, set to employ 3,500 people, when even its chief executive says that it

“could become the greatest quango in the sky we have seen”.

Why is the right hon. Gentleman setting up more than 500 public bodies in the NHS when 161 do the job now, and why are the Government wasting precious NHS funding on the biggest reorganisation in history, when it could and should be spent on patient care?

Since the election we have reduced the number of managers in the NHS by more than 4,000 and increased the number of doctors by more than 2,000. The NHS commissioning board—I did not hear from the right hon. Gentleman whether he supports it—is part of our strategy to give the NHS not only local clinical leadership but national leadership through it. The functions covered by the board are currently undertaken by something approaching 8,000 staff; the number delivering those functions in future will go down to 3,500 staff, so the reduction in administration will be dramatic.

We had plans to reduce bureaucracy, which were published, and we also said that the Government should keep Labour’s waiting time guarantees for patients, which the Health Secretary told the House a year ago today were “unjustified” targets, which he would remove. The Prime Minister has now promised to keep waiting times low, but after one wasted year of NHS reorganisation by the right hon. Gentleman’s Government, an extra 25,000 patients a month are waiting more than four hours in accident and emergency departments, an extra 12,000 patients a month are waiting more than six weeks for tests, and an extra 2,300 patients a month are waiting more than 18 weeks to get into hospital for the treatment they need. The NHS deputy chief executive has called the rise in long waiting times this year “unacceptable”. Does the Health Secretary agree?

As we said in the NHS constitution, we do not intend patients to be waiting for more than 18 weeks. [Hon. Members: “They are!”] The April figures show that we met the operational standard, which is that more than 90% of admitted patients and more than 95% of non-admitted patients should be treated within 18 weeks. The right hon. Gentleman’s analysis of waiting times did not include the fact that the average time for which patients waited for treatment in April was 7.7 weeks, down from 8.4 weeks in May 2010. The average time for which patients wait is being reduced.

Funding Care and Support

2. What assessment he has made of the conclusions and recommendations of the recent report by the Commission on Funding of Care and Support. (65107)

7. What assessment he has made of the conclusions and recommendations of the recent report by the Commission on Funding of Care and Support. (65112)

11. What assessment he has made of the conclusions and recommendations of the recent report by the Commission on Funding of Care and Support. (65118)

15. What assessment he has made of the conclusions and recommendations of the recent report by the Commission on Funding of Care and Support. (65123)

As the Secretary of State said in his statement to the House last week, the Government welcome the report of the Commission on Funding of Care and Support and will consider its recommendations carefully.

The Government may say that they welcome the report, but can the Minister explain why the White Paper on social care will now be published in spring 2012 rather than in December 2011, as the commission’s report recommends? Do the Government want it to be kicked into the long grass because of Treasury interference?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. The Government’s approach is to have discussions with the official Opposition and to engage fully with stakeholders from Age UK, Carers UK and many other organisations, not just about funding reform—which is an important part of our reform of social care—but about questions of quality and law reform.

My constituency in central north Wales contains a high percentage of pensioners, many of whom come from the industrial cities of the north-west and Birmingham. What protocols exist to deal with cross-border issues involving pensioners’ care?

That important question must be partly addressed by the hon. Gentleman's colleagues in the Welsh Assembly, but one of the issues raised by the Law Commission’s recommendations on law reform that we must address is that of ordinary residence tests to ensure that people have access to the right care at the right time and in the right place.

The Minister said that he was engaging fully with stakeholders. Does that include the Treasury, given reports that the Dilnot proposals are being strangled at birth?

Cross-government discussions take place about any matter that requires legislation and funding—and of course the Treasury plays its part in those discussions.

Does the Minister agree that the Government need to act quickly on the commission’s report, not least because the Southern Cross situation, which is affecting many people in my constituency, has shown that the current model, which involves relying largely on private care, is simply not sustainable?

We will return to that important matter later, with the urgent question. However, we must examine the position of Southern Cross and the business model that underpinned it very carefully, in order to understand how such a model was agreed to under the arrangements for regulating care providers that existed before the establishment of the Care Quality Commission.

It is now more than a decade since Sir Derek Wanless first identified a funding gap in long-term care for the elderly. I welcome the Dilnot report, but will the Government act quickly to establish a partnership arrangement enabling private money contributed through insurance to be added to some public money, so that that funding gap can be filled?

The answer to the first part of the right hon. Gentleman’s question is that the Government are already committed, through the spending review, to the provision of an additional £7.2 billion for social care over the next four years, which will involve an unprecedented transfer of resources from the NHS to social care. As for the second part of his question, the Dilnot report makes many recommendations, and the Government will work through them and present their conclusions next year.

The question of who benefits from the proposals, and by how much, depends on the assumptions made about the potential maximum outlay on care home residence under the existing arrangements. That may change as the length of time for which people live in care increases. Does the Minister accept that if the implementation of the proposals is to be progressive, both now and in the future, the Government will need to test, and keep under review, their assumptions about the longest likely duration of care in homes?

That is an important point. One of the factors that will change those assumptions is the extent of our effectiveness in preventing and postponing the need for such services. “A vision for adult social care”, which we published last year, emphasised the need for more investment in preventive measures. That is why we have provided, and continue to provide, additional resources for reablement, which not only does the individuals concerned a great deal of good but saves money for social services authorities.

Does my hon. Friend agree that in the months before the White Paper is published it will be important to take time to build the necessary all-party cross-House support for long-lasting reform?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and the exchanges on the Secretary of State’s statement last week made it plain that we are committed to having those discussions and working to secure a long-lasting reform. That is the only way in which such a reform can secure the necessary changes, both in law and funding, for this country.

The Southern Cross crisis is causing extreme anxiety to the people who live in the homes, including the one at Hopton Mews in Armley, in my constituency. How will the Government ensure that local authorities and the Care Quality Commission have the necessary resources to oversee the transfer of homes to their new operators?

I shall certainly elaborate on how we are doing that in greater detail later. For some months we have been working with the landlords, the lenders and Southern Cross, and making sure that local authorities are fully prepared for any likely contingency and the CQC is ready to deal with re-registrations, should that become necessary.

The Minister of State has told us that one of the reasons why the publication of the White Paper has been delayed is to allow cross-party talks, so I wonder whether he can help us: when will the meeting between the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition take place?

I am surprised that the hon. Lady does not know. As I understand it, there is a date in all three people’s diaries, but it is not for me to share that date. Although we do need to have cross-party talks between the leaders and the health spokespeople involved, we should also look back and draw some lessons from the royal commission on long-term care. What surprises me is that when that report was published by the right hon. Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), all that was offered was a debate—not a debate that the Government would lead, but a debate that would take place across the country. We are still waiting for the end of that debate. This Government have a timetable and a commitment to engage.

Cancer Outcomes (Accountability)

3. What arrangements he plans to put in place to ensure clinical commissioning groups are held accountable for their performance in respect of cancer outcomes. (65108)

The first NHS outcomes framework includes a number of outcomes relevant to people with cancer. For example, domain 1, on preventing people from dying prematurely, includes progress in improving one-year and five-year survival rates for breast, lung and colorectal cancers. A number of indicators will also be relevant to patients with cancer, such as health-related quality of life for people with long-term conditions, and improving the experience of care for people at the end of their lives. Clinical commissioning groups will be held to account for their contributions to improving those national outcomes through the commissioning outcomes framework.

The all-party group on cancer and others lobbied for a greater focus on outcomes, but the one-year and five-year cancer survival rates may now be less statistically robust, as CCGs cover smaller population sizes than primary care trusts. Will the Government therefore give added priority to the excellent work of the National Cancer Intelligence Network in producing a set of evidence-based process measures to complement, not replace, other evidence so that CCGs can be held accountable?

The House will know of my hon. Friend’s consistent support, through the all-party group, for patients with cancer. I entirely agree that a number of proxy measures and process measures will be relevant in the context of the commissioning outcomes framework. There may be measures that are attributable to CCGs individually in some respects. For example, the quality of life of people living with long-term conditions, to which I referred, would be relevant to a small population. For other measures, however, it may be appropriate for the CCGs to be held to account at the level of, for example, a cancer network, using cancer registry data.

The considerable improvement and focus on breast, lung and bowel cancer is very welcome, but groups campaigning on prostate and ovarian cancer are extremely worried about both the lack of update guidance and the failure to reverse premature death, especially in ovarian cancer, over the last 30 years. Has the Secretary of State anything new to tell us about the direction in these areas?

The right hon. Gentleman will doubtless be aware that we published a quality standard for ovarian cancer, and that the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), published the outcomes strategy for cancer, which will have been relevant to many of the issues to which the right hon. Gentleman refers. I continue to look forward to the results of a major trial on screening for ovarian cancer, but I am afraid that I anticipate that we shall not be able to see the results and recommendations for nearly three years.

GP Services

Will the Minister confirm that the Government would have no objection, and would not put any barrier in the way, if Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and the local Southwark services wished to set up a 24-hour service at Guy’s hospital, with the collaboration of the local community?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the local NHS has responsibility for commissioning local primary care services, and in doing so it must take into account the results of the local population and their needs. If he is working with the hospitals and organisations that he has mentioned and he has some constructive ideas that they are going to consider, I too would be personally interested to hear from him about how they envisage doing things.

What has happened to the Labour Government’s guarantee that everybody should be entitled to see their GP within 24 hours, and also be able to book an appointment more than 48 hours ahead? Will the Minister publish a full performance table for GPs, so that the public can make an informed choice?

As the right hon. Gentleman will know, the access measures concerning people being able to see their GP within a reasonable period of time are set out in the quality and outcomes framework. The evidence that I have seen certainly shows that our approach is generally working very well, although there are variations in different parts of the country, especially London, where I believe there is scope for improvement.

NHS Reorganisation

5. What discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the cost to the public purse of NHS reorganisation arising from the proposed changes to the Health and Social Care Bill. (65110)

The Treasury had sight of the impact assessment published alongside the Health and Social Care Bill, which estimated savings of about £5 billion by 2014-15, and £1.7 billion a year thereafter. A revised impact assessment will be published as the Bill progresses.

I thank the Minister for his helpful answer. Given that there are to be new structures—the NHS commissioning board, the clinical senates, the local commissioning groups and Public Health England—will there be new money for them, or will the money come out of the allocated budget?

I thank the hon. Lady for her helpful question. As she will appreciate, the money will come out of the existing allocations, but what she needs to understand is that as a result of this, and as a result of improving and cutting out wasteful inefficiencies and bureaucracy, we will actually be saving significant sums. Administration will be cut by a third, so that we can invest all the savings in front-line services.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that although there is a cost in making these changes, it will have been paid back within two years, and that £5 billion a year will be available to be invested in front-line services and making sure that people in South Staffordshire get the best possible from their health service?

My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, because not only are his figures correct, but thereafter until the end of the decade there will be savings of £1.7 billion a year, on current projections. Every single penny of that will be reinvested in front-line services for patients.

The Minister continues to insist that his reorganisation will result in savings that will be reinvested in patient care. Yet even before we have the impact assessment for the changes in the legislation, we know, as will Members across this House, that on a daily basis people are leaving primary care trusts with their redundancy money. That totals £800 million and upwards, and it has not been costed. We also know that the Royal College of General Practitioners has said that we will have gone from having 163 statutory organisations to having 521. Are not the costs of this misconceived car crash of a reorganisation spiralling out of control?

The reality is that the hon. Lady does not understand, or will not accept, the figures published in the impact assessment. What she does not like is the fact that by the end of this Parliament there will be savings of about £5 billion, and thereafter of £1.7 billion until the end of the decade. That will all be reinvested in front-line services. The hon. Lady will not accept, and wishes to misrepresent to members of the public, the resulting benefits in improved and enhanced patient care.


I am pleased to be able to tell my hon. Friend that the number of people with access to NHS dentistry has increased by nearly three quarters of a million over the past year.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. In Milton Keynes in recent years we have seen greater access to dentistry. One area of particular concern is access to dentistry for children, so may I press my right hon. Friend on how exactly he will address that problem?

I agree with my hon. Friend. We have made it very clear that, contrary to the practice of the previous Government, we are not looking for dentists to deny access to NHS dentistry to children whose parents are not registered with them. Alongside increasing access to dentistry as a whole, we intend specifically to secure increased access for children to NHS dentistry. That will be even more the case in the pilots that we will start this month, which are specifically intended to secure a more preventive approach to dentistry, which maintains good oral health. That is especially important for children.

Does the Secretary of State not understand that there has been real progress with the Tameside and Glossop primary care trust and their “access, booking and choice” facility, which guarantees access to NHS dentistry when they require it for anyone not already registered with an NHS dentist? Does he not understand that there are real concerns that with his reorganisation, and without that priority focus by the primary care trust, those advances may be lost?

On the contrary, with the progressive transfer of responsibilities to the NHS commissioning board there will be much more consistency in contracting for access to NHS dentistry, which at the moment is often a lottery in different places across the country, with the amounts paid per unit of dental activity varying dramatically between neighbouring practices. The new pilots are intended to achieve something that was not achieved under either of the two previous dental contracts, by securing a much stronger preventive approach based on capitation and registration for dentists. It has been welcomed by the dental profession and it promises a great deal for a new contract.

You will be aware, Mr Speaker, that I have some slight interest in this subject. Access to NHS dentistry is related to what is on offer. Does the Secretary of State agree that with the huge advances in dentistry, we should be reviewing what is and is not available, and what should or should not be available, from NHS general dental practitioners?

My hon. Friend will know that under the new dental contracts, I want to arrive at a point where everybody who wishes to has access to NHS dentistry. I was pleased to see that when we set out the details of the piloting proposal, the chair of the British Dental Association’s general dental practice committee, Dr John Milne, said:

“we are encouraged that the Department of Health is to begin testing new ways of delivering care. We are pleased that two principles that we believe are particularly important—quality of care and a continuing care relationship between practitioner and patient—are central to what is being piloted.”

As in other areas, we are moving from a system that simply incentivises activity to one that is much more focused on quality and outcomes.

GPs (Premium Rate Telephone Numbers)

8. What guidance his Department issues on the use by GP surgeries of premium rate telephone numbers. (65113)

The Department has amended the general medical services regulations to prohibit GP practices from using telephone numbers that charge patients more than the equivalent cost of calling a geographical number to contact the NHS. Since April this year, GPs have not been allowed to use a number that charges patients more than the cost of an equivalent geographical call.

I have been contacted by a constituent who is a patient at a practice in Rugby that uses telephony based on 084 numbers. My constituent is concerned about the additional charges incurred by patients when contacting the surgery by phone, particularly by mobile phone. Will the Minister update the House on the work of the Department in ensuring that GP surgeries do not use such numbers unnecessarily?

I thank my hon. Friend for raising this matter. I understand that five GP surgeries in NHS Warwickshire use 084 numbers, and that the primary care trust has been assured that patients using those numbers are not charged more than the cost of using an equivalent local number. It is absolutely clear that there is no distinction between landlines, mobiles or payphones. The directions are very clear that patients should not expect to be charged any more.

I, similarly, have three GP practices that use those telephone numbers. I have made extensive contact with my local PCT about this, but it did not seem to know what to do. Can the Minister assure us that the clear advice she is giving here today will be distributed around the health service, so that we can put an end to this?

The Department is very clear, and the general medical services contract makes it very clear, that GPs are not allowed to do it. There are a number of options open to GPs who already have such telephone contracts, such as calling patients back, altering the contract arrangements or, indeed, paying the costs themselves.

Patient Outcomes

I am committed to ensuring that the NHS achieves improved outcomes for patients. The NHS outcomes framework will drive continuous improvement in those outcomes. By way of example, we have made good progress in reducing the number of health care associated infections. In the year ending March 2011 the number of MRSA bloodstream infections decreased by 22% and clostridium difficile infections decreased by 15%, compared with the year before. Those are key positive results in the drive to protect patients from avoidable harm.

I applaud the Minister for his work in those areas, and I draw attention to the increased work in cancer care, which I also applaud. However, may I ask him to assure the House that he will not lose focus on other areas, such as mental health, and that the Government will continue to address problems in those areas, which have such consequences across the country?

I certainly will. Indeed, the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), and I launched the outcomes strategy for mental health earlier this year, in order to make it absolutely clear that across the NHS, and indeed public health, we ensure that mental health services attract the right priority and focus as we develop outcome measures.

The Prime Minister has promised that waiting times will not rise despite his massive NHS reorganisation, but we now know that in May 15,500 patients waited more than six weeks for their diagnostic tests—four times as many as last year—and that 1,800 waited more than three months, which is 10 times as many as last year. Average waits for diagnostic tests are also up. Does the Minister agree with the Royal College of Physicians that those increased waits, including waits for vital tests to diagnose cancer, will harm patient care: yes or no?

No, we have met the standard that patients should not wait longer than 18 weeks—a 90% standard for admitted patients and 95% for non-admitted patients. If I recall correctly, the latest data for diagnostic tests showed that there was a 1.9 week average wait for diagnostic tests, which compares with 1.8 weeks in May last year. On cancer waiting times we have achieved an improvement—up to 96%—in the number of patients who are seen by a specialist within two weeks. The hon. Lady really needs to go back and talk to her colleagues in Wales, where 26% of patients wait longer than 18 weeks, compared with less than 10% of patients here; indeed, many patients in Wales wait more than 36 weeks. We have a contrast between a coalition Government in England who are investing in the health service, with improving performance, and a Labour Government in Wales who are cutting the NHS budget and seeing performance decline.

Health Care Infrastructure Projects

The Department’s capital budget for this spending review period will be higher in real terms than spending in 2010-11. Forecast capital spending in 2010-11 is £4.2 billion and the amount available in 2011-12 is £4.4 billion. By 2014-15, the total amount of capital made available since the start of the Parliament will be £22.1 billion.

Is the Minister as concerned as I am about the failure of Suffolk primary care trust to act to invest in proper buildings and infrastructure for the Gipping valley practice in Claydon in my constituency? That practice has been forced to treat patients out of a portakabin for 15 years now. Will he agree to meet me, and local doctors and patient groups, to see whether we can find a solution to the problem?

I fully appreciate my hon. Friend’s concerns. As he will appreciate, the matter is primarily for the local NHS. If it is any consolation to him, I am advised that Suffolk PCT will continue to work with the GP practice on the issues, but I would be more than happy to see my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.

Older People (Social Care)

12. What estimate he has made of the change in net public expenditure on older people’s social care since April 2010. (65119)

The latest available data on social care expenditure are for 2009-10, when net expenditure on social care for older people was £7.5 billion.

Many of my constituents will have been deeply concerned by the admission of Peter Hay, the president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, that nearly £1 billion is being taken out of social care budgets following cuts to local government, and by his warnings about the consequences for provision. When will the Minister deliver interim funding relief, so that patients are not stuck in hospitals because they cannot be discharged, and so that we can be sure that we will avoid a crisis in social care?

If the hon. Lady had read on, she would have found that £700 million of the £1 billion is to be found not through cuts in services, but through efficiency savings, for example through the use of telecare, which significantly reduces costs, and investment in reablement services, which save resources and help people to get back on their feet. That is all in the report that she is waving around. When it comes to investment, the Government have already made clear their commitment through the spending review, and are investing, by the end of this Parliament in 2014-15, an additional £2 billion—something that her party did not do when in government.

The extra money being given to adult social care should be good news, but in Harrow, the council, which is Labour-run, has applied the £2.1 million additional funding to redundancies in general areas, rather than passing it on to the weak and the vulnerable. Will my hon. Friend take action to ensure that the new money provided by the Government reaches the people who need it?

I am absolutely determined to make sure that the additional resources that the NHS is transferring to social care deliver real benefits for people who need social care services, protect services, and allow local authorities to make the right decisions about how they continue to support not just investment in prevention, but those most in need.

It is disappointing that we will now not see the Government’s White Paper until the spring, but will the Government agree to take forward the commission’s recommendations on national eligibility criteria and portable care assessments? The Minister will understand that that is now urgent, given the Southern Cross crisis.

The hon. Lady raises a question about eligibility; of course, we know from the latest figures in an ADASS survey that the majority of local authorities moved, under Labour, to “substantial” needs being the test for access to social care; that happened on her watch, not this Government’s watch. When it comes to portability, the Law Commission has made recommendations that the Government have to consider, and yes, we need to look to legislate on that.

The Minister was present this morning at the launch of a report on dementia care by the all-party group on dementia. He will know that the key recommendation is to shift resources from acute hospital care to more preventive services in the community. What steps will he take to ensure that that shift really happens, over and above the £1 billion that has been allocated, much of which has already been spent by local authorities on plugging the gaps caused by other cuts in their budgets?

As the right hon. Lady was at the presentation, she will know that it was also identified that we currently spend about £8 billion on dementia services, and the Audit Commission identified that we could save at least £300 million through better use of preventive and early-intervention services. The Government have set out a very clear approach. First, we need to invest in services to provide for earlier diagnosis, because that is the best way to plan for dementia. Secondly, we need investment in services in our hospitals that shorten the length of stay and deliver good quality. Thirdly, we need care homes with the right training for staff, so that they can manage dementia and behaviour problems effectively.

Mixed-sex Wards

In just six months, the number of reported breaches of mixed-sex accommodation guidance has fallen by 83%, from 11,802 in December 2010 to 2,011 in May 2011. Across England, the reported breach rate is now 1.4 per 1,000 finished consultant episodes, compared to 8.4 per 1,000 FCEs in December 2010.

A 93-year-old female patient from my constituency was placed in a cardiac ward opposite a mental health patient who also needed cardiac treatment. This male patient was much younger and was left in a near-naked state for much of the day. That caused so much distress to my constituent that she discharged herself early. What effort and focus can the Minister give to the NHS in Wales to ensure that such breaches and mixed-sex wards are ended?

I am saddened to hear my hon. Friend’s account of what happened in a hospital in, I assume, his constituency. I can appreciate how distressing it is. As he will understand, that comes within the responsibility of the Welsh Administration as a devolved power. My advice to my hon. Friend is two things. I hope the Welsh Assembly will, first, follow the example of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and concentrate on reducing mixed-sex accommodation, and secondly, stop cutting funding for the health service so that it can afford to do that.

Can the Minister explain briefly how he has managed to make such rapid progress in 12 months, given that the previous Administration made no progress whatsoever?

My hon. Friend has hit on an important issue. The answer is clarity of purpose and vision on the part of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State not only to talk the talk, but to walk the walk and achieve dignity for patients in the NHS in England.

Hospital-acquired Infections

As the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), has just said, clarity and vision are what is needed. The coalition agreement made it clear that the NHS should adopt a zero tolerance approach to all avoidable health care-associated infections, which have caused so many problems for the public over so many years. In 2010-11, there were just under 1,500 MRSA bloodstream infections. That is a decrease of 22% on the previous year. That means that infections are at their lowest level since mandatory surveillance was introduced. In the same period, there were just under 22,000 occurrences of C. difficile infections, which is a 15% decrease compared to the previous year. We will continue with our zero tolerance approach.

I thank the Minister for that reply and the rapid progress made under this Government. I welcome the new C. difficile objective and the publication of weekly statistics, but does the Minister share my concern that it is the same hospitals that keep appearing with the highest number of C. diff cases? What is her Department doing to help those hospitals reduce such cases?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Under the previous Administration there was a national target of reducing C. difficile infections by 30% by 2011, but that does not address the problem because, as he rightly says, there are hospitals that consistently had high rates of infections, so we changed that. Since April, every PCT and every acute trust has its own objective. The organisations with the highest rates of infection will have more ambitious objectives than those that are doing well.

Children’s Heart Services

The consultation on the future of children’s congenital services ended on 1 July. The joint committee of primary care trusts, which is overseeing the consultation, is expected to make a decision later this year, based on an independent analysis of the consultation, reports from overview and scrutiny committees, and a health impact assessment.

I thank the Minister for his reply and his thoughtful response to the Back-Bench debate that took place in the Chamber. Will he ensure that if any further reconfiguration options have emerged from the consultation, they are properly considered and go out to further consultation before a decision is made?

Further to the previous question, if there are further options in addition to the four already presented, I ask that the Government do not rule out looking at the matter again if it is shown that it is possible for Leeds and Newcastle to serve the north of England.

As the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, I do not want to be drawn into that too far because this is an independent assessment by the joint committee of primary care trusts and I do not want to be seen to be interfering, but I can say that neither we nor the JCPCT have ever said categorically exactly how many centres there should be. It will be up to the JCPCT, as it considers the representations it receives, to decide how many there should be. If it decides to have more than four, it would not need the processes that he is suggesting because it has the power within its remit to increase the number if it thinks circumstances warrant it.

Older People (Cancer Care)

We are working with Macmillan Cancer Support and Age UK on a £1 million programme to improve cancer care for older people. The programme consists of 13 pilot sites across the country to improve intervention rates for people over 70 who have a cancer diagnosis. Pilots will introduce new ways of assessing older people for cancer treatment, offer short-term, practical support for older people undergoing cancer treatment and will address any age discrimination in cancer services by identifying and addressing the training needs of all professionals working with older people.

I am sure that the Minister will have seen the report published today by the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, which reiterates the considerable research showing that older lung cancer patients do not receive the same level of treatment as younger lung cancer patients. In fact, it shows that a 60-year-old sufferer is six times more likely to be given surgery than an 80-year-old sufferer, which obviously means that their outcomes are considerably worse. How does the Minister explain that inequality and how can it be tackled?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting that further piece of evidence that shows why the Government have already given a commitment to ensure that there are no exemptions for the NHS from the application of our duties in respect of age discrimination, as there should be no place for age discrimination in the NHS. In addition, the work we are doing with Macmillan Cancer Support and Age UK is the way forward to ensure that we learn the lessons and drive up standards for the care of older people.

Topical Questions

My responsibility is to lead the national health service in delivering improved health outcomes in England, to lead a public health service that improves the health of the nation and reduces health inequalities and to lead the reform of adult social care that supports and protects vulnerable people.

Having met families and patients who use the children’s heart unit in Leeds, I know the value of that service. Does the Secretary of State agree that asking families to travel across the country, which is the stark reality they face if the unit is closed down, puts at risk the family support that is so important to children during these difficult times, and will he pledge to do all he can to keep the heart unit open?

I am sure that the hon. Lady will have heard the reply from the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), who explained the continuing process that the joint committee of primary care trusts will undertake. In the context of her question, it is important to make it clear that the intention of the review is not to close paediatric cardiac centres. Surgery in some of the centres might cease, depending on the conclusions the committee reaches, but they will continue to provide specialist non-surgical services for local populations. The review intends to ensure that as much non-surgical care is delivered as close to children’s homes as possible through the development of local congenital heart networks.

T2. Under the previous Government, Savernake hospital in my constituency was redeveloped. As a result, taxpayers have got stuck with nearly £1 million a year in private finance initiative unitary charges and local services offered have been cut drastically. Will the Minister undertake to look at all hospitals labouring under uneconomic PFI burdens and meet me to discuss the Savernake hospital situation specifically? (65133)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because she has been campaigning on this issue for more than a year, and rightly so. Work is being done on the whole issue of PFI and the NHS to ensure value for money. Given her concerns, I would be more than happy to meet to discuss this particular case.

I want to say to the Health Secretary directly that it is a disgrace how he and his Ministers have ducked responsibility for reassuring more than 30,000 elderly and vulnerable residents whose homes may be at risk because of the financial crisis at Southern Cross. Today’s urgent question is the second time in a month that this House has had to drag Ministers to Parliament to explain what is going on. Southern Cross is set to close down completely by October. Will the Secretary of State give a commitment this afternoon to the residents of Southern Cross, their families and 40,000 staff that Ministers will in future show leadership and make public statements to this House?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. He will of course know that when the first urgent question was asked, the Government had already provided a written ministerial statement setting out these matters in great detail, and we are happy to answer the questions that hon. Members will want to put in the urgent question later on. We have also said throughout that we do not help the welfare or interests of residents by an ongoing running commentary on these matters.

T6. Despite the Government making available an additional £400 million for primary care trusts to support carers, I understand that my local Princess Royal Trust carers service is finding it very hard to engage with the local PCT in my constituency. Will Ministers remind PCTs to follow guidance and work with local carers’ organisations to develop plans for using the additional Government money that has been provided? (65140)

I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. The NHS operating framework that the Government published last December makes it abundantly clear that primary care trusts need to work with their local authorities and care organisations to agree a budget and, where possible, to pool it so that it can be provided to individuals to enable them to get respite in the way that suits them best. I will certainly be pursuing this through the Government’s normal assurance processes to ensure that these things happen through the operating framework, but the hon. Gentleman might also want to invite his local overview and scrutiny committee to call to account local commissioners for the way in which they are behaving at the moment.

T3. NHS West Midlands is cutting nurse training next year by a fifth and predicting a reduction of 7.25% over five years in the qualifying work force—not bureaucrats, but nurses—thereby denying youngsters in this country training for a worthwhile profession and career. Is not this a scandal and a shambles, and what is the Minister going to do about it? (65134)

The right hon. Gentleman may not know this, but following representations made directly to me I have looked at this very carefully. The strategic health authority is currently responsible for the number of nursing commissions that it undertakes. It has assessed the number of commissions that it should undertake based on its future work force requirements and has reached the conclusion that it is indeed reducing the number of commissions in the west midlands. That is not true to the same extent in other strategic health authorities across the country. In the listening exercise conducted by the NHS Future Forum, further recommendations were made about how we can reform education and training, and we will be taking those forward to try to ensure that there is greater collective understanding of work force requirements.

Recent figures show that just over 40% of Bradfordians have not visited a dentist in the past two years, and many of my constituents say that that is simply because they cannot get an NHS dentist. Does the Minister agree that it would be extremely difficult for a centralised national commissioning board to deal with this insufficient supply of NHS dentists at a local level?

I am interested in my hon. Friend’s point. As he will have heard in response to an earlier question, we are already increasing access to NHS dentistry, with a 0.75 million increase in the space of a year. In fact, it is probably possible to address more effectively some of these questions of access to dentistry through a consistent national contract that can be responded to locally through the work of the health and well-being boards, which will be able to make their own recommendations through the joint strategic needs assessment.

T4. Given that the UK has the worst one-year and five-year survival rates for lung cancer compared with Australia, Canada, Norway, Sweden and Denmark, as has been highlighted today by the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation report, what measures is the Secretary of State taking to improve the detection of lung cancer symptoms in primary care? (65135)

The hon. Lady will know that we are focusing, as I said in response to an earlier question, on improving survival rates at one and five years for lung cancer, among other cancers. One essential task is to improve public awareness of the symptoms of lung cancer, and we are already piloting means by which we can do that. At the same time, there have been research trials on the effectiveness of X-ray screening for lung cancer, and we will look at the results shortly.

I have been contacted by a constituent who has just graduated in dentistry but has been unable to find a placement for his dental foundation year. What support are we giving such students so that we increase access to NHS dentistry?

I understand that more dentists are currently employed in the UK than ever before. My hon. Friend makes an important point and if she is able to provide further details, I will pursue it, because one objective of deaneries should be to ensure that the major investment that we put into the initial education of dentists is followed through in professional training.

T5. Some 3,500 residents at 98 Southern Cross care homes, including 48 residents at Arcadia Gardens in my constituency, are facing an uncertain future. The Scottish Government have today said that they will work on the presumption that those people will still be in their homes after this crisis. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Scottish Ministers about finding new operators and a solution that does not show complacency, but delivers continuity of care for the residents? (65136)

That is exactly what the Government are doing. We have had those discussions with the devolved Administrations, and officials are engaged with the landlords and lenders to ensure that they are doing just that. I look forward to answering the urgent question shortly.

It is acknowledged that the rising rates of norovirus are worse where there is a shortage of acute hospital beds. How does the Secretary of State square the understandable desire to get on top of hospital-acquired infections with his zeal to reduce acute hospital beds?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He will understand that each hospital trust or acute trust must be responsible for ensuring that there is not an excessive length of stay for patients and that it has the ability to isolate patients if necessary. Norovirus is one circumstance in which trusts often have to open additional capacity. In my experience of hospitals, that is precisely what is generally done. There is an ability to open new capacity if necessary when norovirus strikes.

Consulting on changes to health services is not an easy thing to get right. I think that the Secretary of State would agree with that. Will he undertake to look at the consultation taking place in County Durham and Darlington on acute stroke services, because I and the local council believe it to be misleading?

I will, of course, look at that consultation, with which I am not directly familiar. The four tests that I set out shortly after the election—understanding patients’ current and prospective choice; understanding what is demanded by clinical safety and evidence; understanding the view of the public, as represented through the local authority; and understanding the intentions of commissioners, particularly the clinical commissioning groups that are being established—give a much stronger basis for understanding future configuration decisions.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend is aware of the campaign group Transplant 2013, which aims to increase the number of people on the organ donor register by 60% by 2013. Will he join me in encouraging people not only to sign up to the register, but to discuss that action with their families, so that when the time comes their whole family is aware of their wishes?

Yes, I join my hon. Friend in that. I have signed up to the organ donor register and have discussed that with my wife so that she knows my wishes. I encourage others to do the same. In the last few days, I have been to the retirement event of John Wallwork, who was the first surgeon to undertake a successful heart and lung transplant in this country. He has led the charitable activities on transplant over recent years. I know that he would share our desire for more organs to be available for this vital activity.

Has the Secretary of State had an opportunity to pause, reflect and listen to the NHS foundation trusts, particularly North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust, which serves part of my area, given the uncertainties created by the Health and Social Care Bill and the difficulties that they are encountering in raising capital for new build and modernisation? In particular, will he indicate what consideration he has given to detailed safeguards?

I appreciate that question, because I understand how important the issue is to the hon. Gentleman. We have had considerable discussions on this matter, which is currently being further discussed by the Department of Health and the Treasury. We hope to reach some decisions shortly, and he will be one of the first to know.

How can a consultation process on children’s heart units that includes the best unit in the country outside London, at Southampton general hospital, in only one out of four options and disregards the population of the Isle of Wight completely be anything other than fundamentally flawed?

As my hon. Friend will know from the debate that we had in the House a few weeks ago, it would be inappropriate for me to comment, because I must in no way be seen to be prejudging the issue. The inquiry and consultation is independent. However, I can say to him that the inquiry is not fixed on determining only four sites if the results of its consultation suggest that there should be more. The decision rests with the inquiry.

The Secretary of State will be aware that there has been a tripling of prescriptions for drugs such as Ritalin, or to give it its generic name methylphenidate hydrochloride, in the past decade. He will also know that National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidelines state that those drugs should not be prescribed to children under the age of six. Why cannot his Department give a breakdown showing how many of those prescriptions are going to children under the age of six? Will he heed the call from the Association of Educational Psychologists for a review of the growth of the prescription of those powerful psycho-stimulants to very young children?

The right hon. Gentleman raises a very important point. We need to ensure that we have the right data to understand prescribing practice properly, so that we can both challenge bad practice and ensure that the NICE guidance is properly followed. I would like to look more closely at his points and then write to him in detail.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating advisers working for Bexley stop smoking service, who helped more than 1,600 people stop smoking last year? Does the Minister agree that helping people stop smoking should remain an important public health priority?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating those who are making efforts locally. As he will be aware, public health services will move to local authorities, and I am sure those efforts will continue. Some 80,000 people a year die of smoking-related disease, and 320,000 young people are taking up smoking each year. We must not only help those who are smoking to stop but prevent young people from taking it up.

The number of patients waiting more than four hours in A and E went up by 76% in the past year, which is an extra 200,000 people. I think we all know what a hellish experience waiting in A and E can be. Does the Secretary of State agree that that is a backward step, and that he ought to take steps to rectify it?

Shortly after the election we took clinical and expert advice that made it very clear that the expectation that 98% of patients should be seen within four hours was not clinically appropriate in some cases, so we relaxed the 98% limit to 95%. As it happens, I believe that according to the latest data, between 97% and 97.5% of patients are being seen in under four hours.

Hospital admissions for food allergy went up by 500% between 1990 and 2006, and there are 15 million hay fever sufferers, which has a real impact on productivity, so we urgently need better allergy services. When will the Government report on the pilot in the north-west of England of a new model of allergy services?

I fear that I do not know when that will be available, but I will certainly write to the hon. Lady. I have visited the allergy unit at Addenbrooke’s hospital in my constituency, and I know how effective, and indeed cost-effective, such work can be in treating allergies.