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Topical Questions

Volume 573: debated on Tuesday 14 January 2014

I know that the whole House will wish to join me in remembering Paul Goggins at our first Health questions since his tragic death. He campaigned with great distinction on a number of health issues, including contaminated blood, mesothelioma and services at Wythenshawe hospital. I had the privilege of visiting a GP surgery in his constituency with him, and I know how much this utterly decent and selfless man cared about the health of his constituents. He has so sadly passed away, and the whole House will want to honour his memory and pass on our condolences to his family.

I certainly associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks. Will he undertake to look carefully at The 1001 Critical Days manifesto, which was recently launched by the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr Field), the right hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Burstow), who is in his place, the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion and me? Will he look at what more can be done to provide a comprehensive care pathway for the perinatal period?

Yes, we are looking at that closely, with the Minister responsible for paediatric services doing so particularly closely. In principle, we support what my hon. Friend is trying to achieve with that document and we welcome its contribution to the debate.

Last week, we heard shocking revelations about the reasons behind the Government’s U-turn on minimum unit alcohol pricing. In particular, researchers at Sheffield university have confirmed that they were asked by government not to publish a report that would have undermined the Government’s decision to shelve minimum unit pricing. Why were Ministers so keen to suppress the report? Will the Secretary of State please tell us why some of our country’s leading public health experts are accusing Ministers of deplorable practices and of dancing to the tune of the drinks industry?

On the hon. Lady’s substantive point, the reports for the British Medical Journal investigation, which I read in full, did not say that at all and in fact confirm that that was not asked, so what she says is not quite right.

On the wider point, over the past two weeks we have heard a succession of attacks from the hon. Lady and the Opposition about dealings with industry and business. This Government have set out to work in partnership across business and industry, with public health experts and local authorities, to tackle some of these really big public health issues. It is simply incredible that the Labour party believes that these big issues can be taken seriously without engaging with business. Instead of demonising businesses, let us hear some praise for those such as Lidl, which yesterday announced that sweets would be removed from all its checkouts across the country, in response to its customers—a voice that is too little heard by the Labour party.

T2. Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the UK Chronic Fatigue Syndrome/Myalgic Encephalopathy Research Collaborative for providing a mechanism for ME charities, researchers and clinicians to work together in a co-ordinated way? What support will his Department give research into the causes of and treatment for ME? (901934)

I am not the Secretary of State, but I would be very happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the collaborative, which is doing excellent work to generate more CFS/ME research. Spend by the National Institute for Health Research has already doubled in two years, and more funding applications are welcome. The NIHR has awarded nearly £0.9 million to the collaborative’s deputy chair for a senior fellowship studying paediatric CFS/ME.

T4. Given that tomorrow Staffordshire county council intends to confirm devastating cuts to services for those with special needs, including the closure of the purpose-built Kidsgrove day centre in my constituency, does the Secretary of State agree that it is time now for the council to wait and at the very least share its detailed needs assessment and future action plan before forcing these cuts through? (901936)

I am very happy to look into the issue that the hon. Lady raises. Obviously, some very big changes are happening in the Staffordshire health economy, and the purpose of those is to improve services for everyone, so if she gives me the details of her concerns, I will happily look at them.

T3. At the end of last year, the Prime Minister hosted the very successful G8 summit on dementia. What plans does the Secretary of State have to continue, and indeed enhance, the UK’s global leadership on tackling dementia in 2014? (901935)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is a critical job that we must do this year. The purpose of the G8 summit was to wake up the world to the huge threat posed by dementia, as the world woke up to the threat of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s and the threat of cancer in the 1960s. We need to continue that work. Summits will be going on in America, Canada and Japan over the course of the next couple of years, and we need to keep up the momentum, because everyone agrees on the need to do such work.

T5. On 1 January, the York Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust ceased providing antenatal advice classes for pregnant women and refers them instead to online advice on its website. Is that an approach the Government support, and will they urgently invite the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to review the change in policy and look at its effectiveness? (901937)

I am sympathetic to the point that the hon. Gentleman raises, and I am happy to meet him to discuss it further so that we can see whether the matter needs to be addressed.

T6. On any given day in the Derriford hospital in Plymouth, 75% of patients are over 65 years of age and rising. Does that not demonstrate the demographic pressures that face our acute hospitals, and what more can this Government do to ensure that people, especially elderly people, are treated in the community? (901938)

We are doing a huge amount, but the first thing is to ensure that there is someone in the NHS who is accountable and responsible for all vulnerable older people outside hospital, because out-of-hospital care is where we need to have the big revolution. There will be a big change in April with named GPs for the over-75s. The integration of the health and social care systems is the next step. I hope that my hon. Friend will see real progress for his constituents.

T7. The Secretary of State has had a letter from 118 specialists about the MenB—meningococcal B— vaccine. It is available to parents who pay privately, but denied to most of our children by the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation. Will the Secretary of State agree to meet the families of children who have had meningitis B and consider all the points raised by the clinicians before letting the JCVI rule out access to the vaccine? (901939)

I recognise the real concern over the previous advice given by the JCVI. I hope that the hon. Gentleman agrees that, on something as important as this, it is helpful to have an independent body coming to these decisions and making a ruling. When a ruling is made, we are legally bound to accept the advice, which means that there is a measure of independence. I have met families campaigning for the MenB vaccine. We are waiting to hear what the JCVI says in February. We should let it come to its conclusion after re-reviewing all the advice and the literature.

T8. The Government’s decision to increase our dementia research budget was welcome news, and the G8 conference agreement to share research among all G8 members was an important development too. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a role for MPs in helping to keep constituents informed about scientific developments that may lead to significant progress? (901940)

I do agree, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on his work. I know that he is meeting Alzheimer’s Research UK next month in his own constituency. This matter is something in which we can all be involved in our own constituencies. There is a lack of willingness to talk about dementia. Many people are frightened of it, and the more we can do to raise the profile of this condition, the more we can give people hope that something can be done about it.

Although I support the principles of the Better Care Fund, does the Minister recognise that, in the context of severe cuts to local authorities and cuts in the NHS, the top-slicing of existing budgets is not sufficient? To encourage the kind of innovation that we need to get better integration, we must have additional funding.

The Government are getting on and implementing integrated, joined-up care. I remember talking about it constantly when the hon. Lady’s party was in government, and nothing ever happened. We are taking concrete steps to join up the system with the benefits of the £3.8 billion Better Care Fund.

T9. The Secretary of State is aware of the plans being developed by Milton Keynes hospital to expand its A and E capacity. In the interim, will he set out what assistance he can provide to ease short-term pressures? (901941)

I can confirm that the Department of Health is investing an additional £250 million over the next two years in A and E, with NHS England also allocating an additional £150 million for the current year. Milton Keynes has been allocated £2.8 million to support local initiatives to relieve pressures on A and E, and I know that, as a great champion for his local hospital, my hon. Friend will welcome that additional support.

Given the ongoing crisis in A and E units in the UK, particularly in the area I represent in Northern Ireland, will the Minister confirm whether the Health Minister in Northern Ireland has had discussions about possible solutions to finding and recruiting extra doctors?

I am not aware of any direct conversations with Ministers here, but as the hon. Lady will be aware, the Minister responsible for A and E services is my right hon. and noble Friend Earl Howe. I will write to her about the discussions that have been had with the noble Lord and Health Education England.

T10. I warmly welcome initiatives such as the introduction of personalised GP care for the over-75s, but what more can be done to ensure that personalised care treats the individual’s well-being as opposed to merely a collection of symptoms? (901942)

We want people to be treated as individuals, not a bundle of illnesses. That personalised care must happen not only out of hospitals but in hospitals, too. We want doctors to take responsibility for the whole stay and to avoid that sense of people being passed from pillar to post. That is an area in which we hope to announce some important changes shortly.

In an earlier response, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), expressed his dislike for the working time directive. Would the Secretary of State be happy to revert to a situation in which patient safety, already compromised at weekends, is further compromised by over-tired doctors?

No one wants to go back to the bad old days of junior doctors working all the hours God gives, but the working time directive has had a negative impact on patient safety. It has made training rosters more difficult and it has meant that there is less continuity of care as people do not see the same doctor when they go back to hospital. We need to look at whether we can do that better, because it is not helping patients.

By Christmas, almost 2,000 staff at Kettering general hospital had received their flu jab—that is about 60% of front-line staff. Would the Secretary of State like to congratulate the hospital and its members for its bid to become the acute trust in the east midlands with the best flu jab record for three years in a row?

Absolutely. I am very encouraged that across the NHS trusts have had a much higher uptake of flu jabs for staff than in previous years, but Kettering is leading the way.

At the excellent James Cook University hospital between 19 December and 1 January, 49 ambulances were delayed for more than 30 minutes, 168 beds were blocked and 82% of admitted patients had been treated within 18 weeks, rather than the Government target of 90%. Why does the Secretary of State think that that is the case?

Because there is sustained pressure throughout the NHS. Across the NHS, hospitals and ambulance services are doing very well in the circumstances. I am happy to look at the hon. Gentleman’s specific concerns to make sure that his local NHS trust is doing everything it should.

Is the Secretary of State aware that every fast food outlet in the United States displays the number of calories for each portion of food that it sells? Given that some fast food restaurants in this country, such as McDonald’s, already do that, does he believe that more should be done to make all fast food outlets in this country display the number of calories so that people are educated before they make a choice about what they are going to purchase?

My right hon. Friend is quite right to say that that is a real priority. The responsibility deal, on which we have worked with our partners, means that 70% of fast food and takeaway meals sold on the high street in the UK have clearly labelled calories, but there is always more to do. This is a priority for the responsibility deal and we are working closely with our industry partners to make more progress.

Does the Minister believe that social isolation, which is a key contributor to the health and well-being of older people living on their own, has got worse or has improved under this Government?

I think that social isolation, if we are honest about it, has got worse over quite a long period, particularly as extended families have been dispersed far and wide. The answer has to be for the whole of society and must involve statutory services working together with the voluntary sector. In Cornwall, one of the pioneers in integrated care, there is a fantastic collaboration between the voluntary sector and the statutory sector to ensure that they directly address the problems with loneliness.

What steps is the Secretary of State taking to ensure that the number of cancer indications treated in this financial year by stereotactic ablative radiotherapy does not fall below the number of treatments delivered in the 2012-13 financial year?

That is an area that the hon. Lady and I have discussed at some length. I know that she feels strongly about it. We have meetings coming up to discuss it and I think that it would be easier to deal with her detailed points in those meetings.