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Topical Questions

Volume 533: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2011

My responsibility is to lead the NHS 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 which supports and protects vulnerable people.

In the wake of the former Defence Secretary’s resignation and the fact that 40 peers who voted on the Health and Social Care Bill have private sector health interests, and given the Secretary of State’s known connections with private health care companies, can he assure the House that he has been as transparent as possible about the influence of private health care companies on the passage of the Bill?

I am sorry, but I think the hon. Lady should withdraw that. I have no connection with private health care companies, and if I did, I would have entered it in the register of Members’ interests.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State, who has put the position very explicitly on the record.

T2. The coalition agreement states:“Doctors and nurses need to be able to use their professional judgement about what is right for patients and we will support this by giving front-line staff more control of their working environment.” That being the case, can my right hon. Friend explain why, despite national clinical guidelines, GPs in my constituency face financial penalties if they do not meet targets for reducing the cost of the drugs that they prescribe? (74873)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I understand that Kent and Medway primary care trust is working to incentivise the optimisation of medicines usage. We provide advice through the National Prescribing Centre and in other ways, and we support that work with GPs through the structure of the quality and outcomes framework. However, this is about incentivisation for best prescribing practice, not about financial penalties.

Many families will be deeply concerned about standards of care for older people in hospitals following the Care Quality Commission’s recent report. Patients and the public must be confident that all the necessary steps are being taken immediately to tackle this issue. Months after its initial inspections, will the Minister confirm that the CQC has revisited only six of the 17 hospitals that were failing to ensure that older people had enough food and drink, and if so, can he explain why?

Let me make it clear to the hon. Lady, whom I welcome to her new responsibilities, that the reason the Care Quality Commission undertook unannounced nurse-led inspections in hospitals to look at issues of dignity and nutrition was that I asked it to. As an independent regulator, it must make its own decisions about what it does, but I have been clear in my conversations with the Care Quality Commission that it is moving from the tick-box regulatory approach inherited from Labour to one focused on going out there and finding out where there is poor performance. The CQC is shining a light—not least at our request—on poor performance and poor care in the NHS, and it will continue to do so.

Order. I remind the House that there is intense interest, and therefore there is a premium on brevity from Back and Front Benchers alike.

T4. Several of my constituents, including members of the Cure the NHS group, have raised concerns over the way in which “Do not attempt resuscitation” notices are used in hospitals. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what the NHS is doing to ensure that the national guidance is followed? (74876)

This is an area in which the medical director of the NHS, the General Medical Council and others issue guidance to the NHS. I will gladly write to my hon. Friend setting out the details.

T3. I know that I am not alone in being an MP who represents pharmacists who are struggling on a daily basis to access life-saving drugs to treat asthma, diabetes and cancer, even to the point at which some of them are running out of those products. What more can the Secretary of State do to ensure that manufacturers and wholesalers have those life-saving drugs that people’s lives depend on? This is not good enough. What more can the Government do? (74875)

The hon. Gentleman will know that we inherited significant supply problems to pharmacies from the previous Government, not least because of the exchange rate and the possibility of countertrade. We have worked with the industry to resolve those issues. The hon. Gentleman would be well advised to talk to the Welsh Assembly Government about the fact that patients in Wales cannot access the latest cancer medicines, as patients in England can do under the cancer drugs fund.

T6. Today is anti-slavery day, and our excellent Prime Minister will be hosting a reception at Downing street tomorrow to promote the new Government anti-trafficking strategy. That strategy includes a requirement for the health service to be proactive in identifying victims of trafficking. What progress has been made on that? (74878)

I am sure that we all share my hon. Friend’s view of the great importance of this matter. The Department of Health leads on ensuring that health care is available to people who have been rescued by the police from human trafficking. We also lead on promoting an awareness that local government has multi-agency safeguarding processes to assist in supporting people who have been abused and harmed. There is more to say, but I will write to my hon. Friend on the subject.

T5. In the evidence session on the Health and Social Care Bill, the Secretary of State told me that he was committed to reducing health inequalities. We also heard from the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) on that subject a few moments ago. Will the right hon. Gentleman therefore explain why he made a political decision last December, against the advice of the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation, to reduce the health inequalities component of primary care trusts’ target funding from 15% to 20%, in effect shifting funding from poor health areas such as my constituency to richer health areas such as his own? The Government are saying one thing— (74877)

I made no decision contrary to the advice of the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation. If the hon. Lady cares to look at the increase in revenue allocations to primary care trusts across the country, she will see that many of the lowest allocations are in richer areas and the highest are in the most needy areas.

T8. Last week, a survey found that 80% of people want more choice in how and where they are treated. Does that not show that the Government are absolutely right to press on with modernising the NHS? (74880)

Yes, it was absolutely clear that the public wanted choice of treatment. That is one of the reasons that we have published some of the patient decision aids for the first time, and we will continue to do more. People want a choice in the consultant-led team that will provide their treatment, and in the hospital where that will happen. In the past few weeks, we have set out the details of how we are going to give patients the choice that they seek.

T7. I have noticed a growing creeping privatisation of cleaning contracts in the NHS this year. Does this signify a return to the old Tory days of longer waiting lists and dirty hospitals? (74879)

The hon. Gentleman seems to be somewhat confused. This is not about privatisation in a derogatory sense, as he is trying to suggest. For many years, including the 13 years of the Labour Government, hospital cleaning services in NHS hospitals were put out to tender, and many private companies provided the service. That is simply continuing.

T9. I am a long-standing supporter of independent sector treatment centres and of the need for commissioners to be able to bring in private and voluntary sector providers, as well as alternative NHS provision where existing services fail to improve—[Interruption.] I see that some Labour Members, including the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), disagree, but does at least the Secretary of State agree— (74881)

I will not interrupt the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall) who is replying from a sedentary position. I agree with my hon. Friend. What we heard under the Labour Government appears to be very much at odds and not at all in keeping with what we hear from the Labour Opposition now. Let me remind my hon. Friend that the South Gloucestershire primary care trust has received a cash increase of £10 million, or 3%, this year. Like every other part of England, it is receiving increases in resources this year that the shadow Health Secretary opposed.

May I ask the Secretary of State to look back at issues of public health? What is he doing to provide leadership in this sector, especially when we talk to people at the top of the health service who say that there are real problems with obesity in nurses and smoking among doctors? Where is the leadership coming on those issues?

Let me just give the hon. Gentleman one or two examples. In the last few days, we have published an obesity call to action, which sets out national ambitions to reduce calorie consumption to a point where people can maintain a healthy weight or reduce their weight. We have set out a tobacco control plan, which is regarded as a leader across the world. About three weeks ago, I attended the United Nations General Assembly in order to join in debates with colleagues on reducing the tide of non-communicable diseases across the world. There is also the work of Sir Michael Marmot, which we share with him; he knows that we are taking it forward nationally and internationally to tackle the wider social determinants of health. That is why we have put local government leadership on health improvement at the heart of the Health and Social Care Bill.

Mr Paul Eccles is a constituent of mine. He is a qualified care assistant who wants to go freelance and set up his own business, helping people in their own homes. However, the annual up-front £1,000 charge of the Care Quality Commission is preventing him from starting this new venture. Will the Secretary of State meet me so we can find a way to help my constituent get his business off the ground?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight how well-intended regulation can sometimes be a way of blocking effective growth and the opportunities available for new people to set up businesses in the care sector. I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that matter.

Stockport is one of only five PCTs in the country that does not provide any in vitro fertilisation treatment—in spite of recommendations from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Does the Secretary of State think it fair that my constituents, who pay the same taxes as everybody else, do not get the same access to this treatment as people living elsewhere?

The hon. Lady will know, I hope, that the deputy chief executive wrote to primary care trusts a few weeks ago further to remind them of the need to respond to NICE clinical guidelines. It was the hon. Lady’s Secretary of State, John Reid who, when NICE published its guidelines, told PCTs in 2004 that they should not follow them.

The news that the Woodhaven hospital in my constituency is threatened with closure only eight years after it was opened as a state-of-the-art mental health facility is causing great concern. Will my right hon. Friend endeavour to look into what is proposed for the closure of acute in-patient beds because the “hospital at home” alternative is simply not good enough?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s question and I would certainly be happy to look further into the matter and write to him accordingly.

When the Minister responsible for care services wrote to me about the closure of the Edale unit in Manchester, why did he not address the issue that the closure would cost more money than it saved or the fact that the police had expressed concerns about their access in emergency times, particularly during the weekend?

I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman feels that all the issues have not been dealt with following our telephone conversation and subsequent correspondence. I will check the correspondence again, and if I find that something is missing, I will certainly provide an answer.

I welcome the policy review of the entitlement of foreign nationals to free NHS care, but will my right hon. Friend assure the House that it will examine the options relating to charges for GP as well as hospital services?

My hon. Friend has asked an extremely reasonable question, and I can give him the assurance that he seeks.

PCTs in Staffordshire are pre-empting legislation by merging and reorganising now, which has led to plans to close the high street practice in Newcastle-under-Lyme simply because it is run by salaried GPs. Is that really NHS policy? If not, what will the Secretary of State do to help 5,000 patients rescue a much-needed surgery?

Nothing that is being done pre-empts legislation. What is being done in relation to primary care trust clusters is being done under existing legislation, and was necessary not least to enable us to achieve a reduction of £329 million in management costs in the first year following the election. In contrast, there was a £350 million increase in the year before the election under the hon. Gentleman’s right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham).

I do not know the circumstances of the centre to which the hon. Gentleman referred because the decision will have been made locally and will not have involved me, but I will gladly write to him about it.

The full roll-out of 111 services is now proceeding. Is the Secretary of State satisfied that imploding PCTs can get the procurement right in the time allowed?

I am confident that we will make the progress that we seek. If we are not ready in any location, we will not be able to proceed with that procurement, but the PCTs will act on the basis of an evaluation of four pilots. To that extent, the character of what they are procuring through the 111 system will be well defined through piloting.

What progress has been made since the launch of the Secretary of State’s tobacco control plan last March in changing the behaviour of people who smoke in cars in the presence of children?

The right hon. Gentleman has a long-standing interest in this subject. We are working on a number of areas, but I think that the extension of public health duties to local authorities will open up many opportunities to persuade parents to think carefully about where they smoke, whether it is in cars or in their own homes.

There is real concern throughout the country about the health inequalities left by the last Government. Will the Minister confirm that funding for areas with relatively large health inequalities will not be raided, as it has been in the past under Labour?

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, the Health and Social Care Bill proposes the introduction of the first ever legal duty for the Secretary of State to have regard to the reduction of health inequalities. That covers both NHS and public health functions. We are also addressing the health needs of some of the most vulnerable people through the “Inclusion Health” programme.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and the officers of 12 all-party groups associated with care have urged the Government to commit themselves to the urgent reform recommended by Dilnot. Will the Minister update the House on the Government’s response to the Dilnot recommendations, and tell us when the cross-party talks will begin?

I know that the hon. Lady follows these issues closely. In September we published a plan for consultation on the proposals, which includes looking beyond the Dilnot commission’s recommendations at issues of quality, regulation, and many other aspects of how we can secure a comprehensive reform of social care. Today my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State wrote to Opposition Front Benchers with the aim of resuming the discussions across parties to ensure that we get the conversation going with the new Opposition Front-Bench team as soon as possible.

In a recent ministerial response, I was informed that public health services were a matter for the local NHS and that it would not be appropriate for Ministers to become involved or intervene. The transfer of staff from PCTs to local authorities excludes staff delivering services relating to weight management, smoking cessation, physical activity promotion, sexual health, community development and diabetes awareness-raising. How on earth can local authorities pick up the responsibilities without being given the staff who would enable them to do it?

The transition period is critical, and there is no suggestion that local authorities will not have all the tools in the box to enable them not only reduce to health inequalities, but to improve the public’s health. As we have stated many times, it is absolutely dreadful that under the last Government health inequalities increased rather than decreased.