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Topical Questions

Volume 538: debated on Tuesday 10 January 2012

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.

My right hon. Friend will be aware that a significant number of private clinics that fitted women with Poly Implant Prothese breast implants are no longer in business. Will he advise the House on how he plans to strengthen not just the regulation of clinics offering cosmetic surgery, but the products that they use?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I not only laid before the House a written statement this morning, but will, with permission, make a statement on the subject tomorrow. We have been very clear about the support the NHS will give to women who have had implants through the NHS, and we expect private companies to do the same. Not all will do so, and to that extent I make it clear that the NHS is there to support women in their clinical needs, whatever their circumstances.

The Secretary of State will be aware that thousands of women are worried and frightened about this issue. The statements he has made are welcome, but what practical help can he offer women whose private providers have not yet committed to offering free replacements?

This is important, as the hon. Lady says. All the way through we have wanted to be absolutely clear that any woman who is worried should be able to go to her general practitioner. The NHS is there to support any women in their clinical needs, whatever their circumstances. I have made it clear that I expect private providers to match the NHS support through information and access to specialist advice, imaging and investigation, as necessary, and through the removal of implants if it is decided that that is necessary. If private providers will not do that, let me be clear, as I will explain further tomorrow, that the NHS remains available to support women in their clinical needs.

T5. Does my hon. Friend the Minister believe that the Government’s aim of stopping people smoking is in any way helped by the chairman of the all-party group on smoking and health, the hon. Member for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), using a private letter that I sent to him, and copied to the Minister, to castigate me and make untrue allegations in my local newspaper last Thursday? (88295)

Order. I was doing my best to listen attentively—it is very difficult to hear clearly when there is so much noise. If there is to be a reference to another right hon. or hon. Member, advance notice of it should be provided. These courtesies must be observed. They are there for a good reason.

I remind my hon. Friend that smoking kills over 80,000 people a year in the UK. We have published our tobacco control plan, are implementing the display ban and hope to consult soon on the future of plain packaging. The important thing to remember about improving public health is that it is not a party political issue. I cannot comment on the specifics of the case he mentions, but this is a matter that interests everyone across the House.

T2. The people of Newcastle are more likely to die early from cancer, health disease and stroke. On average, a child born in Newcastle today is expected to die five years before a child born in the Secretary of State’s constituency, so why is he changing the health funding formula so that in Newcastle we will lose 2.5% of our funding, whereas his constituency will see a rise of 2.1%? (88292)

Let me remind the hon. Lady—she might not have noticed this—that before the Christmas recess I announced funding for the next financial year for all primary care trusts in England, and the increase for all primary care trusts is 2.8%. In contrast to the previous Government, we are setting out to reduce health inequalities, not least by focusing resources on public health on the basis of an objective measurement of disparities in health outcomes.

A BBC Essex investigation into Rushcliffe’s Partridge care home in my constituency has uncovered shocking allegations of abuse and neglect. Will the Minister urge the Care Quality Commission to step in now with an inquiry and take whatever legal action is necessary to protect the elderly residents? Will he meet me and my constituent Lesley Minchin who has a relative who has suffered as a result of what has been going on in the care home?

I certainly share my hon. Friend’s concerns. BBC Essex’s reports of abuse and degrading treatment in that care home are cause for concern. The CQC is due to publish a report shortly and I am certainly happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further. The Government are determined to shine a light on abuse wherever it is found and to root it out of the system to ensure that people are treated with dignity and respect and get the care they need.

T3. Does the Health Secretary agree with the Prime Minister that our nurses need greater supervision by patients’ groups on the ward to ensure that they are doing their jobs correctly, or does he recognise the tremendous job that they and their professional clinical managers are doing despite the huge cuts that the Health Secretary has forced on their numbers? (88293)

I do indeed agree with the Prime Minister, but I would not characterise what he said in the way that the hon. Gentleman does. I was very interested to see a number of letters in The Times just this morning that highlighted that in the past, under patient and public involvement forums and community health councils, there was a direct public interest in seeing what happened in hospitals and in inspection. Through the Health and Social Care Bill and the establishment of HealthWatch, we will enable the public—representatives of patients—to be involved directly in assessing the quality of the environment in which patients are looked after. They will not supervise nurses. Nurses will be responsible for the experience and care of patients, but the public have a right to be participants in inspection—

When the Government introduced the Health and Social Care Bill a year ago, they did so with the claim that the NHS fails in comparison with its European counterparts with regard to patient outcomes. Now we know that that is not the case, will the Government withdraw the Bill?

I do not agree with that characterisation of why we instituted the Health and Social Care Bill or of the current situation. For example, the OECD published in October its latest assessment of health in a number of countries. In too many respects—for example, in relation to serious respiratory disease—we have very poor outcomes relative to other countries. What we are setting out to do in any case is to deliver continuously improving outcomes and to get among the best in the world. In too many respects we are not yet among the best in the world.

T4. If the Prime Minister really wants to help nurses to focus on patient care, should the Secretary of State not listen to those nurses and drop this barmy, unnecessary Health and Social Care Bill? (88294)

It is precisely because the Prime Minister and I listen to nurses that we met them and made it clear that we will support best practice. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues should support nurse leadership on the wards. Nurses can see—through best practice, if they talk to patients about their experience every hour—that they can deliver better care. We will support nurses to deliver better care; he should support us in doing so.

I know the Secretary of State cares deeply about outcomes in health. Will he add his support to the campaign for a minimum price for alcohol in England and Wales?

The Government will shortly publish our alcohol strategy, which will set out how we hope to deliver continuing success in the reduction of alcohol consumption and abuse.

T6. In a written answer on 12 December, the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), who has responsibility for care services, told me that the Government felt that:“Local community hospitals provide a vital community resource to support patients in need of rehabilitation, recuperation and respite care”—[Official Report, 12 December 2011; Vol. 537, c. 560W.]What steps will the Government take to prevent the closure of the Chaloner Ward at Guisborough hospital and financially secure that hospital’s vital future? (88296)

I am grateful for that question. I will certainly be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman on Guisborough hospital—I will not delay the House with the detail. I have those details, and will be happy to correspond with him.

The Prime Minister speaks of the “health and safety monster”; does the Minister believe it is right that advertising for personal injury lawyers should be displayed in hospital A and E departments, which many might think would feed the monster and make it bigger?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that, because it is an important issue. As he might be aware, there are rules and regulations: it is not acceptable for that sort of advertising in NHS hospitals. I would hope that any trusts behaving in that way immediately review their procedures.

T8. Yesterday, I had a meeting with Patricia Osborne, the chief executive of the Brittle Bone Society, a UK-wide organisation that is headquartered in my constituency. It was made clear to me that given the current funding squeeze across the voluntary sector, the society is concerned about its ability to provide the vital services that it currently provides. Also troubling the society is the lack of support for adult sufferers of osteogenesis imperfecta. What can the Secretary of State tell me about the Government continuing to support that important society, and what more can they do to support adults with that condition? (88299)

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Department of Health continues to support the voluntary sector considerably through section 64 funding and related support. If he wishes to write to me about the specific circumstances of the Brittle Bone Society, I will be glad to reply to him.

I recently made a freedom of information request to all 170 acute trusts asking for the estimated total cost of missed out-patient and surgery appointments. So far, 61 have come back to me, and the cost is already over £1 billion. Will the Secretary of State seriously consider what we can do to tackle the enormous cost of missed appointments in the NHS?

Yes. My hon. Friend makes an important point, and it is something the NHS must focus on. There are considerable opportunities through new technologies substantially to reduce the extent of missed appointments, including through things such as text messaging. What is frustrating is that, sometimes, appointments are missed because patients have not been adequately contacted by hospitals. As for people who abuse the NHS, I hope we will give them no excuses for not meeting their obligation to attend appointments.

Can the Secretary of State intervene with those involved with the health for outer north-east London programme to get them to allow the Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust to use the births and maternity capacity at King George hospital to take pressure off Queen’s?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, following the independent reconfiguration panel report, which I accepted in full, the Barking, Havering and Redbridge Trust is looking to manage safely its maternity services, while improving the quality at Queen’s. It is doing that in close co-operation with NHS London and, indeed, with the advice of the Care Quality Commission, following the commission’s inspections. I will continue to be closely involved in that, and we will continue to support the Barking, Havering and Redbridge Trust in improving services for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and others.

In north Northamptonshire in 2010-11, there were 6,164 alcohol-related hospital admissions. That is four times the number just eight years before. What more can be done to tackle this horrendous increase in booze drinking?

Time does not permit me to mention all the things that could be achieved, but let me just say that we are clear about the need, for example, to tackle below-cost selling of alcohol, and we are doing that; to stimulate more community alcohol partnerships, and we are doing that; and to accelerate public understanding of the consequences of alcohol abuse, and we are doing that, not least through Change4Life, additionally, during this year. There is more, but we will say much more in our alcohol strategy soon.

When the Secretary of State, together with the Prime Minister, visited Salford Royal hospital last week to praise the nurse leadership, was he aware that the hospital has cut 200 posts this year and is about to cut a further 200 posts over the next two years as a result of having to take 15% out of its budget? Does he not agree that nurse leadership is important, but that we also need the nurses on the wards to be able to deliver effective patient care?

Of course I had an opportunity to talk to the chief executive, the nursing director and others at Salford Royal, and I was tremendously impressed, as was the Prime Minister, by the quality and leadership of the nursing, which demonstrated what he was saying about nursing—that there is best practice inside the NHS, and we need to spread it. The right hon. Lady is confusing a cost-improvement programme with a cut. I think Members on both sides of the House understand that the NHS is having to make efficiency savings, which involves shifting some resources from the acute sector and hospitals into the community. Right across the NHS, we have an increase of over £3 billion this year; next year, we have a 2.5% or 2.8% increase everywhere.