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Topical Questions

Volume 576: debated on Tuesday 25 February 2014

I would like to thank Public Health England and the NHS emergency services for their extraordinary work during the recent floods, and say that this House is proud of their dedication and commitment to help those in great need. Since the previous Health questions, we have also had the first anniversary of the Francis report on Mid Staffs. As a result, I am proud that the Government have taken significant steps to restore compassionate care to all parts of our NHS, with a regulator now free from political interference, failing hospitals being turned round, and more nurses, midwives and health visitors in our NHS than at any time since 1948.

The family of my eight-year-old constituent Ben Foy have been fighting for more than two years for the funding of sodium oxybate—a drug that his doctors feel could help him cope with narcolepsy and cataplexy. This is a particularly distressing condition for Ben and his family, but sadly, after all this time there is still complete confusion as to who has responsibility for Ben’s commissioning request. Will the Secretary of State look into the matter and clear up that confusion?

I reassure my hon. Friend that I have looked into Ben Foy’s case, and NHS England has confirmed that it is responsible for commissioning his care. The particular drug that my hon. Friend mentioned is not recommended by the manufacturer for use by children and adolescents, but I am happy to arrange for him to meet NHS England and get to the bottom of the issue.

I want to return to—an important scheme that needs to be saved from the incompetence of this clownish coalition. The Secretary of State said earlier that I was in search of a crisis, but now I will offer him a solution. If the Government work with us to introduce a series of tough new safeguards to protect patients, we will work with the Secretary of State to help rescue this failing plan. Those safeguards include tougher penalties for the misuse of data, Secretary of State sign-off on any application to access data, full transparency on organisations granted access, and new opt-out arrangements by phone or online. Will he meet me to discuss changes to the Care Bill to put that important scheme back on track?

The right hon. Gentleman has still not addressed the fundamental question of why he did not introduce an opt-out for the use of personal data, which this Government are doing. We have taken more steps than his Government ever did, and we will continue to work hard to ensure that this important scheme goes ahead. The right hon. Gentleman should know better.

T2. There is great unmet need among older people in our communities, particularly for dementia care and support. In Portsmouth we are holding a community summit to join up local agencies to meet that unmet need. Will the Minister meet me to discuss what central Government can do to ensure that advice on additional funding streams is clearly and readily available? (902659)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question and pay tribute to the agencies in Portsmouth that are coming together to hold the summit and discuss that critical issue. The Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia has made real progress in improving diagnosis rates and the way that society treats dementia, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the issue further.

T4. Further to the answer given earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), the lobbyist John Murray and an organisation funded by large pharmaceutical companies led a consultation and co-wrote a report for NHS England on the future of commissioning for £12 billion of NHS services. Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether it is now Government policy to have lobbyists and big drug companies drafting reports that directly influence the commissioning of NHS services? (902661)

Let me say this to the hon. Lady: we have very clear rules, and for people who are involved in industry and have a self-interest we have important protections to ensure there is no conflict of interest. Let us be clear: the private sector has an important role to play in the NHS, but it grew far faster under the previous Government than it has done under this one. We are not going to take any lessons about being in hock to the private sector.

T3. As the NHS comes through another winter, when it has delivered an outstanding service to more patients than ever before, how does my right hon. Friend assess the damage done by the unfounded scaremongering talk of crisis by the Opposition and some parts of the media? (902660)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I encourage those on the Opposition Front Bench in particular to talk to a few people in A and E and ask whether they think they have been supportive, in a very difficult winter, by whipping up all these scare stories when, in fact, because of their hard work, we are seeing 2,000 more people every single day in less than four hours than when the shadow Secretary of State was Health Secretary. A and E is performing better than ever.

T5. There are nearly 500 UK-trained medical practitioners now working in Australia, of whom 6% never return owing to the better conditions available there. What steps will the Secretary of State and his ministerial team take to ensure that we retain those qualifying in emergency medicine this year, to keep local A and E departments open in Britain and Northern Ireland? (902662)

I would like to point out to the hon. Lady that it is not unusual for doctors in training to work overseas to improve their medical experience. Many of my contemporaries did that, and every one I know has returned to work in the NHS in the UK. It is a common phenomenon that benefits doctors’ experience. What we have done, unlike the previous Government, is ensure that we now have a 100% fill rate for people entering A and E common stem training.

T6. What assessment have the Government made of the decision by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence not to recommend ipilimumab as a first-line treatment for advanced melanoma, except in clinical trials? Will the Minister join me in calling on NICE to reverse this decision and ensure that patients receive earlier access to this treatment to improve their chances of survival? (902663)

I know that my hon. Friend is really concerned about this, but NICE is an independent body so it would not be appropriate for me to interfere in an ongoing appraisal. NICE has recommended a number of other treatments for advanced melanoma, and NHS commissioners are required to fund them where clinicians want to use them. I want to give her some encouragement: this spring a trial will begin of an awareness programme on melanoma in the south-west of England, working with Cancer Research UK.

T7. I am grateful to the Minister for her previous answer on female genital mutilation. With that in mind, what action will she take regarding the three Tory MEPs Nirj Deva, Sajjad Karim and Timothy Kirkhope who voted against the motion, in the European Parliament on 11 December, strongly condemning the disgraceful practice of FGM? (902664)

I am aware of this case. The point made is rather unfair. My colleague Marina Yannakoudakis MEP has dealt with this issue in correspondence with other Members. The motion was a composite motion. All Conservative MEPs completely condemn FGM, but there was a technical reason why they voted in that way. It is clear that the Conservative party—along, I think, with all Members—absolutely condemns this practice. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the detail on that vote afterwards.

T8. Papworth hospital is a world-renowned heart and lung hospital. For years, it has wanted to move to Cambridge, supported by Addenbrooke’s hospital, Cambridge university, the British Heart Foundation, AstraZeneca and many more, but it has been put on hold yet again. Will the Secretary of State make sure that this move, which will help patients, help to develop new treatments and save money, will happen? (902665)

My hon. Friend will be aware that local commissioners take decisions on local services. I will be happy to meet him to discuss this matter further, so we can talk through his concerns and ensure that local health care services are as strong as possible.

T10. The village of Melling has grown in recent years, yet its surgery hours have been cut drastically. Elderly and disabled residents now face a four-hour round trip by public transport to see their doctor. How can cuts in surgery hours, like those in my constituency, be justified if the Government are serious about having a first-class NHS? (902667)

We absolutely want to make primary care more accessible and that is why we are introducing named GPs for everyone aged 75 or more from April. This is a significant and important reversal of, I think, a mistake that everyone now agrees was made in 2004 when named GPs were abolished. Its purpose is to make GPs more accessible to the people who need them the most.

T9. The father of one of my constituents passed away at the weekend, one of 8,700 people who are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer each year in the UK, of whom only 3% will survive beyond five years. That survival rate has not changed in over 40 years. Will my right hon. Friend update the House as to what the Government are doing to improve patient outcomes for those with pancreatic cancer? (902666)

I thank my hon. Friend, and I know that many hon. Members have raised this issue because pancreatic cancer outcomes remain extremely difficult. We want to see the best outcomes for all cancer patients. There has been a big investment by the Government in diagnosis and screening—£450 million—and last year we were involved in piloting a tool to support GPs in diagnosing cancer earlier, including pancreatic cancer, in over 500 GP practices. That pilot is currently being evaluated.

The Manchester Evening News recently highlighted the enormous pressures faced by Wythenshawe accident and emergency after the downgrading of Trafford accident and emergency. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss this and to tell me when Wythenshawe will receive the extra funds that it has been promised?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the House and congratulate him on representing in his constituency a fantastic hospital; I have been to Wythenshawe hospital and it is superb. Some big changes are happening in the Greater Manchester area that will lead to that part of the country having some of the best NHS care in the country. Obviously there is a difficult transition in A and E services between Trafford and Wythenshawe, and I am happy to meet him to discuss it further.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is unacceptable that investigations into failures in hospital services take so very long? There has recently been one in my constituency: a very sad and badly handled case connected with mental health. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the authorities need to provide answers very promptly to families who are left completely beleaguered by such behaviour?

I absolutely agree with my right hon. Friend. One of the tragedies that the Francis report helped us to uncover was that so many failings had been allowed to persist for so long: in the case of Mid Staffs, between 2005 and 2009. We owe it to families to be much quicker, which is why there is now a time limit on the failure regime: hospitals must be turned around within a fixed period of time or go into administration. Otherwise, we will not have safe hospitals in our areas.

The Minister earlier told the House that 1,500 new midwives had come on stream since the Government started, but, of course, the Government promised that there would be 3,000 delivered by 2015. Midwives are very good at delivery; how good is the Department?

We have trained more midwives. To go back to a previous question, it was under the previous Government that trained midwives from this country were having to go and work overseas. That is no longer the case. We now have 5,000 more in training—a record number—to make sure that we provide more midwives. I would also like to welcome the hon. Gentleman back to this country.

Last year I spent a busy and informative day with the East Midlands ambulance service on the road. It was clear speaking to those professionals that a large proportion of individuals taken to A and E would be better served by going to their GP or by accessing other services. However, the ambulance service felt completely disempowered to advise or even to refuse to take anyone to A and E who requested it.

That is one of the things we need to be much better at—linking up the services offered by ambulance services. I would add that pharmacies have a big role to play in this, as one in 11 or 12 A and E appointments could be dealt with at a pharmacy. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that this is something we need to do better.

A hugely expensive review of A and E services is going on in Telford, the Wrekin and Shropshire. The Secretary of State was in Telford a couple of weeks ago but did not have the courtesy to let me know. Will he say whether we will retain full 24-hour, seven-day-a-week services at Telford and whether there will be downgrade of our A and E?

First, I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if my office did not let him know that I was visiting, an oversight for which I take responsibility. I had a good visit to the Redwoods, a superb mental health in-patient unit where I learned a great deal. I am not aware of any plans to change or downgrade his A and E.

Order. Time is up. As usual, demand has exceeded supply. Before we come to the ten-minute rule motion, we have a point of order.