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Topical Questions

Volume 554: debated on Tuesday 27 November 2012

I am pleased to report an NHS performing at record levels. There are half a million more out-patient appointments every year since the last election, nearly 1 million more people go through A and E every year, and there are 1.5 million more diagnostic tests every year. To clarify a previous answer, the number of health visitors will go up by more than 50% during the course of this Parliament.

The Erdington walk-in centre is at the heart of our high street. It is much loved, much used and cost-effective, yet it is at risk of closure because of the combination of a £76 million reduction in expenditure by Birmingham primary care trusts and health service reorganisation. Thousands of local people have expressed their concern and elected a users committee. Will the Secretary of State meet the users of the centre and me?

I am happy to look into the issues the hon. Gentleman raises. The purpose of the reforms is to put more money on to the front line and into primary care, where we can save the most lives.

T2. The new mandate for the NHS includes a very welcome objective for it to be a world leader in end-of-life care. Can we have an indicator in the commissioning outcomes framework on deaths in preferred places of care to ensure that new commissioning groups prioritise better end-of-life care, and to ensure that those who want to die peacefully at home have the best opportunity to do so? (129960)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The NHS outcomes framework includes an indicator on the quality of end-of-life care as it is experienced by patients and carers, which is based on the VOICES survey of bereaved relatives. The proposals for reform to the NHS constitution include a right for patients and families to be involved fully in discussions, including at the end of life.

T3. What action does the Minister intend to take to reduce the number of unplanned emergency admissions to hospital by sufferers of muscular dystrophy and other neuromuscular conditions? (129961)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question and for his concern about this matter. One of the key challenges for the NHS is to ensure that we deliver better care in the community, deliver more preventive care and provide better support to people with long-term conditions, such as muscular dystrophy and diabetes, in their own homes. A key part of the reforms is to make sure that a lot of services are commissioned from the community by the local commissioning groups. We have already seen that that has reduced inappropriate admissions. For example, in my part of the world in Suffolk, they have been reduced by 15% for older people.

T4. Yesterday, I received a letter from the chief executive of Monitor, which asked me and the Asset Transfer Unit to undertake feasibility work to develop a professional business case for the local community to take ownership of Cannock Chase hospital. This would be done through its transfer to a community interest company, which would then take over running the hospital estate, securing the building for the people of Cannock Chase. Will the Secretary of State welcome these proposals, which would be the first of their kind in the UK, and work with us as we develop a plan for the local community to own its hospital? (129963)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his campaigning and hard work on this issue, which represents an interesting way forward for community hospitals. I wish him every success and I know that hon. Members in all parts of the House will watch carefully what happens in Cannock.

T5. I would like to press the Health Secretary further on the unsustainable providers regime, which has been enacted in the South London Healthcare NHS Trust. Given that the statutory guidance for that regime explicitly states that it is not to be used as a back-door route to service reconfiguration, why are Lewisham A and E and maternity services earmarked for closure? If that is not a service reconfiguration, can he tell me what is? (129964)

What this issue is addressing—it was legislation introduced by the hon. Lady’s Government in 2006—is a clearly unsustainable situation with South London Healthcare. The proposals have to look at making sure that there is sustainability throughout an entire local health economy. I have not made any decisions at all. I will wait for the proposals to come to me at the end of the year, and I will then make my decision in January.

T6. There is mounting evidence that clinical care failure is as much to do with inadequate staff levels as anything else. In view of that, do Ministers agree that it is worth looking at the merits of establishing mandatory registered nurse to patient ratios across secondary and tertiary care wards? (129965)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. This point has been raised before and although it sounds like a good idea in principle, the problem is that different aspects of care in different wards—for example, an older people’s ward compared with a ward that looks after younger people—will have differences in the intensity of nursing. Therefore, a mandated ratio would be difficult to implement. A ratio may be counter-productive to making sure that we can give more intensive nursing cover where it is needed, and could even encourage a race to the bottom.

T8. A recent Schizophrenia Commission report highlighted catastrophic failings in the care of people with severe mental illness. We know that suicide rates rise during times of economic hardship and that record numbers of people are being detained under the Mental Health Act. The Government have said that mental health should have parity with physical health, so why has funding for mental health services been cut for the first time in a decade? (129968)

Whenever the NHS is under financial pressure, there is the risk that mental health services will get squeezed. As the Health Select Committee identified, that is exactly what happened under the last Labour Government in 2006. I share the hon. Lady’s concern, however, about the report on schizophrenia highlighting how money is used: too many people in in-patient facilities and not enough prevention work. I am committed to working with others to ensure that we use the money more wisely to get better care for those patients.

T7. Since the Prime Minister made his radiotherapy promise to current and future cancer patients last month, cancer centres all over the country have been telling me that it cannot be delivered, because there is not enough investment in new radiotherapy machines and in the recruitment and training of staff to operate them. Will the Secretary of State give the same financial commitment to the annual radiotherapy fund as he is giving to the cancer drug fund, and will he meet me to discuss the matter? (129967)

I thank my hon. Friend for her question, because it touches on a matter of concern to me, notwithstanding the £15 million radiotherapy innovation fund, which, as she said, was announced by the Prime Minister. Indeed, last night, at my ministerial surgery, the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) came along to discuss this very matter, and he raised several important issues, all of which I have this morning taken up with my officials. I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further, however, as I think there is work to be done.

My 20-year-old constituent, Martin Solomon, has blood cancer and is currently receiving expert treatment at the Christie in Manchester. He needs a stem cell transplant, but finding a match is difficult, especially as he has mixed heritage, and his best chance is from an umbilical cord donation. Will the Secretary of State do two things to help Martin? First, will he reinvigorate the campaign within the black and ethnic minority communities to increase stem cell donations, and, secondly, will he establish a cord collection centre in Manchester, so that mothers can donate cord after the birth of a baby and give young people such as Martin an extra chance to find a match?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for raising an important topic. I send my heartfelt sympathies to his constituent. As he identified, this is a real problem. Yes, is the short answer to his first question. I met officials several weeks ago to discuss exactly this problem, as we need to do more in that area. Of course, this is a national scheme. Whether there is a need for a local scheme in Manchester is a moot point, but his constituent will be able to access the national scheme. I am more than happy to discuss the matter further with him.

Neuroblastoma is a nasty cancer that affects fewer than 100 children a year. Thanks to the previous Labour Minister, Ann Keen, we persuaded the previous Prime Minister that it should be treated on the NHS without the need for a referral. Unfortunately, there seems to be some slippage, with some primary care trusts refusing to pay for the treatment. Will the Secretary of State look into the matter and see if they can be given the correct information, which is that they should be providing this treatment?

I will absolutely look into that issue. We are keen to ensure that people with rare diseases, including rare cancers, are not discriminated against because it is more expensive to do the research and get the drugs necessary to treat them.

The Minister will be aware that the process of making Kalydeco available to people with cystic fibrosis in England is much further advanced than in Scotland, where the G551D gene is two to three times more prevalent—a point highlighted by the Daily Record yesterday in respect of seven-year-old Maisie Black from Burnside in my constituency. Will the Minister clarify that the roll-out in England will not be restricted, so that young children, who have the least accumulated lung damage and therefore most to benefit, do not lose out on the chance of benefiting from this transformational drug?

The specialised commissioning groups will receive advice at their December board meetings and are expected to finalise their advice on the clinical and cost-effectiveness of Kalydeco early in the new year. The aim is to provide consistent national advice on the use of the drug for a sub-group of patients with cystic fibrosis.

Aylesbury constituent Mrs Evans-Woodward is a young woman who has had five heart attacks. One evening her husband drove her to Wycombe’s heart attack unit with a racing pulse, but she was turned away to the minor injuries unit, which again turned her away to the accident and emergency unit in Stoke Mandeville, before suggesting that she sit outside and call an ambulance, which she duly did—all of this with a racing pulse of 180. This is not good enough. It is an appalling prioritisation of bureaucracy over simple human care and compassion. Does it not show that the NHS needs to become much more accountable to patients?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I am very sorry to hear of the case he outlined. Clearly the care that his constituent received was more than substandard. If a patient needs immediate treatment, they should always receive it. This Government are quite rightly ensuring that we embed good care in everything we do. We have beefed up the role of the Care Quality Commission to improve the inspection of care quality throughout the NHS and the care sector. We are also introducing a friends and family test to pick up on examples of bad care, so that the NHS can properly learn from them locally and so that these things do not happen.

We are extremely grateful. Extreme brevity is now required from Back and Front Benchers alike.

On 12 November the Secretary of State gave a categorical assurance to my constituents that there was absolutely no threat to accident and emergency and maternity services at Kettering general hospital. Does he stand by it, will he repeat it today and will he specifically confirm that obstetrics and major injury and trauma services in accident and emergency are no longer at risk at Kettering general hospital?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question, and I welcome him to the House and congratulate him on his victory in the recent Corby by-election. I think he has already admitted on the record that there was a lot of scaremongering during the by-election campaign about the NHS locally. One of the main reasons for concerns about the NHS is the indebtedness of many hospitals in the east of England region, because of the record of the previous Government, who signed many of them up to private finance initiative deals. I will restate for the record once again today that, as I understand it, A and E and maternity services at Kettering at the moment are safe, and there is no consultation directly on the table at the moment. He should make sure he gets his facts right before he raises questions in the House.

Last week it was a great pleasure to visit Age UK Peterborough, whose No. 1 priority is dementia care, which coincides with the NHS priorities that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State outlined earlier this week. Will he put in place procedures to make available capital moneys for the construction of dementia care facilities locally?

I can announce that we have already put in place such funds, because dementia is one of the biggest challenges we face across the entire health and social care system. We need more capital funds, but we also need massively to increase the shockingly low diagnosis rates. At the moment, only 42% of the 800,000 people with dementia are being diagnosed properly and therefore getting the treatment they need.

Is the Secretary of State worried about the high level of qualified managers leaving the NHS—fleeing the NHS—to go to other places or retire early when there are few people in clinical commissioning groups with any management experience at all?

There is always a role for excellent managers in the NHS, but this Government’s priority is front-line clinicians, which is why the number of doctors has increased by 5,000 since we have been in power and why administration costs have been cut, which will save the NHS £1.5 billion every year.

Valued health workers in Wiltshire will appreciate the Minister’s commitment today to national pay negotiations, but they will be frustrated that he does not have the power to force them on foundation trusts. Will he at least make a direct appeal from the Dispatch Box today to the management of those trusts in the south-west consortium to participate fully in national pay negotiations?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is absolutely right. I made it clear earlier that I felt there had been some heavy handedness in the way some of those trusts had behaved—although they are quite understandably exercising freedoms that the previous Government gave them. We want national pay frameworks to remain fit for purpose, which is why we endorse the national pay negotiations that are under way. I would recommend that trusts in the south-west listen to what happens in those negotiations, so that we can ensure that national pay frameworks are fit for purpose in the south-west.

Is the Secretary of State disappointed by the low number of GPs who have come forward to take on accounting officer roles in clinical commissioning groups, and can he say why he thinks that is?

I am actually very encouraged by the enthusiasm of the GPs who are running clinical commissioning groups up and down the country. They are going to transform services and, most of all, they are going to integrate services at a local level. That is something that has long been talked about but not delivered before in the NHS.

I am sorry to disappoint colleagues. As they know, I could happily listen all day to them asking questions and to Ministers answering them—[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) does not seem entirely convinced of the merits of my explanation, but, in any case, time is against us and we must now move on.