Skip to main content

Topical Questions

Volume 546: debated on Tuesday 12 June 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.

The strategic health authority has ruled out the locally preferred option for the transformation of community health services in Milton Keynes. Given the Government’s commitment to localism and their preferred approach to the integration of services, will the Secretary of State look at this matter again?

It is for the primary care trust to appraise the options and decide which is best for local people. The SHA has a role in providing assurance in that process, but I would urge both the PCT and the SHA to ensure that they meet the test that we are looking for, which is that any decision must be in the best clinical interests of patients and must meet the views of clinical commissioners in the future and, indeed, those of the public, not least as expressed through the local authority. I would urge the PCT and the SHA to make progress on that, and, if it would be of any assistance to my hon. Friend, I would be glad if he were able to meet me, the PCT and the local authority to help to resolve the issue.

In their 2010 NHS White Paper, the Government promised legislation on a new legal and financial framework for social care. However, last month’s Queen’s Speech included only a draft Bill, on social care law alone. We cannot tackle the care crisis without tackling the funding crisis, so will the Secretary of State now agree to Labour’s call for legislation on a new system for funding social care in this Parliament? Yes or no?

The hon. Lady will know very well that last year we made it clear that we intended to publish both a White Paper on the reform of social care law and, alongside it, a progress report on the reform of the funding of adult care. We still intend to do both those things, and to do so soon.

T4. The Minister is aware that a form of postcode lottery operates in the provision of IVF treatment at the moment. Does she agree that the Health and Social Care Act 2012 provides an excellent opportunity to end this lottery and allow a more equalised approach to IVF treatment? (110342)

Yes, and may I commend my hon. Friend on the work he has done in this area? In the reformed NHS, infertility treatment services will be commissioned by clinical commissioning groups, with the NHS Commissioning Board providing oversight and support. That will include the provision of resources and tools to enable CCGs to collaborate to commission infertility services. We will continue to expect those commissioning infertility treatment services to be fully aware of the importance of having regard to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence fertility guidelines.

T2. Speaking on 24 April, the Secretary of State indicated that the NHS distribution formula should no longer take account of deprivation. That would have cost Sheffield £73 million a year and benefited Surrey by £400 million. His ministerial colleague, the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), seems to have denied that that is the case. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that this is the Government’s latest U-turn? (110340)

No, I will do no such thing, because the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question is completely wrong. I never said any such thing. What I made perfectly clear is that, as has been the case in the past, age will continue to be the principal determinant of health need, and therefore, by extension, that age will be the largest factor in determining the allocation of resources to the NHS. That was true under the last Government; it will continue to be true under this one.

T5. On 21 June, conscientious, hard-working doctors will be putting their patients before the British Medical Association’s ill-judged call for industrial action. Can the Secretary of State confirm to the House, however, how many surgeries, operations and clinics will be needlessly cancelled, and how much all this will cost the NHS? (110343)

I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s concern, and I applaud the way in which she has expressed it. The BMA’s proposed action could result in up to 30,000 operations being cancelled, as many as 58,000 diagnostic tests being postponed, and more than 200,000 out-patient appointments being rescheduled. I do not think that the House will understand why the BMA would risk patient safety in that way, when it knows perfectly well that its action will have no benefit and that we cannot now go beyond the basis for pension reform that has been agreed with the majority of the NHS trade unions, especially in circumstances in which doctors will continue to receive an extremely generous pension worth up to £68,000 a year at the end of their working lives. I think that the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) and I share the view that this is not a justified position for the NHS to take. The pension is intended to be a generous one. Through the negotiations with the BMA and the other trade unions, we arrived at a very generous pension scheme.

T3. Thanks to the staff at St Thomas’ hospital in London, and at Aintree in Liverpool, I have had excellent health care myself in the past three weeks, but, in order to build the morale of staff across the NHS, will the Secretary of State instruct all NHS trusts not to cut anyone’s pay? (110341)

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has had excellent care; he might like to tell those on his own Front Bench about it, as they are constantly denigrating the NHS. I will simply reiterate what he will have heard me say previously, which is that I have made no proposals to cut anybody’s pay in the NHS.

T6. What progress has been made in discussions with primary care trusts on the transfer of assets to NHS Property Services Ltd? (110344)

The Department is currently reviewing updated lists of properties for proposed transfer. Thereafter, the boards of the sending and receiving organisations will endorse the transfers and give their final approval in the next few weeks to allow the legal transfer process and human resources consultations to commence. The legal transfer of assets to either NHS providers or NHS Property Services Ltd will take place on 31 March 2013.

T7. We have learned today that public satisfaction with the NHS has fallen dramatically. We also know that satisfaction with GP services has fallen for the second consecutive year, and that satisfaction with accident and emergency services is going down by 7% each year. The Prime Minister promised that the NHS would be his priority. Is it not about time that this Government lived up to that promise? (110345)

We have learned no such thing. Indeed, we published on the Department’s website today a survey that asked people who had been looked after by the NHS how well they thought their care had been provided to them. It showed that 92% of the patients said their care had been good, very good or excellent. In my view, that survey of 70,000 patients who had received care from the NHS completely trumps a survey that asked 1,000 people what they might have thought about the NHS in relation to the media activity that took place last year.

T8. The Cheshire and Merseyside treatment centre has been closed for just over a year, since the private sector contract let by the last Government expired. Can the Minister confirm that the centre is now going to be brought back into the NHS as a fully fledged part of the Warrington and Halton hospitals trust, and will he give me an indication of the time scale involved? (110346)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to explain that the NHS trust and the PCT have made plans for the building to be used by the Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for orthopaedic out-patients and surgery. Those plans should enable clinicians to provide the NHS services needed by local people in much-improved buildings, and I understand that services will be recommenced from those buildings in weeks.

In written responses to questions about clinical commissioning groups, the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) incessantly replies—most recently on 18 April—that CCGs do not yet exist, so how can he offer assurances, as he has done today, that any real progress is being made by the CCGs, when they are currently being supported by PCTs? And will he explain his “now you see them, now you don’t” response?

I will tell the hon. Lady how we can talk about the progress made by CCGs—because we actually go and talk to them. I recall visiting the Blue Coat school in Merseyside a few weeks ago and speaking to the leaders of clinical commissioning groups—from Liverpool, Lancashire, Manchester, Warrington, Knowsley and St Helens—and many of them had 100% delegated responsibility for budgets this year. They explained to me the opportunities they were taking to improve the care of their patients by using that responsibility.

T9. Clacton was promised a new renal unit several years ago. While they are waiting, local people have had to travel long distances for treatment. I am due to meet the commissioning authority to discuss the endless delay. If it fails to make progress soon-ish, could I meet the relevant Minister and his officials to work out what we can do to prod the commissioning authority into getting a move on? (110347)

My hon. Friend will be aware—and, I am sure, will understand and support—the devolution of commissioning responsibilities locally. He is right to pursue the matter in the way he proposes. Over a number of years, including under the previous Administration, efforts were made to secure additional access to dialysis. For a long period, we in this country had lesser access to dialysis than in other countries—particularly when people were not only working but likely to be on holiday. I welcome the point my hon. Friend is pursuing and, when he has had his conversation locally, perhaps he would like to tell me the outcome.

The Government blocked Labour’s plans to introduce public health as one of the licensing conditions. I wonder whether, in the spirit of localism, this power should now be given to health and wellbeing boards.

As I am sure the hon. Lady is aware, we have proposed in the alcohol strategy to make sure that public health and other health considerations can be used in making decisions about licensing applications. This is what we have achieved from having a cross-government strategy and approach, moving public health responsibilities back into local government.

May I emphasise to my right hon. Friend the strength of local feeling in Milton Keynes that we should retain our integrated community health service, which has worked incredibly well and provides a good role model for elsewhere in the country?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The four tests for service change that we have set out—I think rightly—are not just about the tests that must be met before changes can be introduced; they also involve the same considerations that should drive the design of services. If local commissioners, the local authority and local people are supportive of a particular form of organisation, including community services, I would hope that that would provide the basis on which the design of services would proceed.

Last evening, I attended the launch of UKCK—a group of charities coming together to raise funds to purchase advanced radiotherapy equipment. Will the Minister explain why, despite his previous assurances, regions like the north-east are having to turn to charities to raise funds to buy this potentially life-saving equipment?

If the hon. Gentleman would like to supply me with the details of regions that are having to do that, I will certainly write to him on the matter. What we are doing is making an extra £750 million available to the NHS during this spending period to support the investment in radiotherapy services. I will certainly come back to the hon. Gentleman on his particular point.

In an Adjournment debate last year on the safe and sustainable review, the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns) confirmed the minimum number of operations at 400 a year, saying that it was based on the level of activity needed to provide good quality care around the clock. Does he share my astonishment that the chairman of the joint committee of PCTs has said that he can give no assurance that that will be included in the final review? Does that not undermine this unhappy process?

My hon. Friend will be aware, as other Members are, that this is an independent review conducted by the joint committee of primary care trusts. On that basis, I will not comment directly on anything said in that context. I simply reiterate what was made clear in last year’s debate that the joint committee will not conduct its review solely on the basis of the options set out in its original consultation.

Regarding the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), the Government did not promise to give us a progress report on funding, but to legislate in this Session to reform social care funding. Social care is now widely seen as being in crisis. When will the Secretary of State commit to acting urgently—because urgency is needed now—to tackle this crisis?

I must correct the hon. Lady. We did not say that we would legislate in the current Session. What we made clear was that we would publish a White Paper—which we will do—and that we would publish a progress report on funding reform. We were also clear—as we still are—about the fact that, as part of the coalition programme, we would act urgently, and we will continue to do so.

The Department of Health is to be asked to sign off the business case for the transfer of services from Lambert Memorial community hospital to the new extra care housing scheme—sometimes called an extra sheltered accommodation scheme—in updated community facilities. Will the Secretary of State give me a personal assurance that there will be no sign-off until the future of Thirsk’s community hospital is guaranteed for its current purposes?

I cannot give my hon. Friend that assurance, not least because such decisions are led locally by local organisations. However, if the tests for service change were not met and the local authority referred the matter to me, I would of course take advice through the independent reconfiguration panel, and consider it in the light of that advice.