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Topical Questions

Volume 578: debated on Tuesday 1 April 2014

Last week, I launched a campaign to save up to 6,000 lives by halving avoidable harm and avoidable death in the NHS. I am inviting all NHS trusts to sign up to safety, by putting together their own plans, with support provided by NHS England, Monitor, the NHS Trust Development Authority and the NHS Litigation Authority. Learning from hospitals with the best safety records anywhere in the world, such as Virginia Mason in Seattle and Salford Royal here in England, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put behind us the tragedy of Mid Staffs and make the NHS the safest health care system in the world.

People in Exeter and Devon with mental illness are now waiting more than two years for treatment. This is totally unacceptable and will, if it has not already, lead to the loss of lives. The Minister has repeated today his criticism of NHS England’s decision to cut funding for mental health, but as the shadow Minister reminded him, he is not a passive observer; he is the Minister responsible. What will he do about it?

The reason we are not passive observers is that we have made some substantial improvements in mental health provision since coming to office, including legislating for parity of esteem, which is precisely why the right hon. Gentleman feels able to ask that question. There are 55,000 more people every year getting a dementia diagnosis and nearly 80,000 people going on to psychological therapies. Lots has been done, but there is lots more to do, and we will continue to do everything we need to until we get that parity of esteem.

T3. The whole House will have been appalled by evidence from the Winterbourne View case and others of inappropriate methods of controlling patients. Will the Minister now take action to ensure that restraint is only ever used as a last resort, whether in care homes, hospitals or mental health units? (903410)

The evidence from Winterbourne View was utterly shocking. The Mind survey subsequently revealed that restraint is used far too much across the health system. We committed to reviewing the guidance, and I am pleased to say that we will publish new guidance later this week to address the very point my hon. Friend raises.

The Government’s damaging reorganisation has weakened the grip on NHS finances. Figures slipped out the day after the Budget show that NHS hospitals are in deficit for the first time in eight years, hospital trust deficits are three times higher than they were a year ago and twice as many foundation trusts are in the red. Will the Secretary of State now commit to publishing the final year-end figures for all hospitals in one annual account so that the House can hold him to account for his mismanagement of public money?

It is financially challenging for the NHS, but we will not lose control of NHS finances, as happened under Patricia Hewitt. I remind the hon. Lady that for nine of Labour’s 13 years in office the NHS trusts sector as a whole was in deficit. We are getting a grip of those problems. We will publish the figures she wants, but the reason it has been particularly challenging this year is that hospitals have responded to the Francis report and hired 3,500 additional nurses to ensure that we have proper care on our wards.

T5. What progress is being made on ensuring that selective dorsal rhizotomy is available to children with cerebral palsy who need that life-changing operation? (903412)

I remember well the meeting I had with my hon. Friend, other hon. Members and some families, and indeed I remember the testimonies those families gave. I will write to NHS England about his question and report back to him on the progress it is making.

T2. How does the Minister respond to a warning from the UK’s top cancer doctors that the planned closure of 18 specialist centres for treating the victims of brain cancer is putting patients’ lives at risk by delaying treatment? It is clearly at odds with the Prime Minister’s assurance about improving access. Those top brain surgeons say that it is appalling. Will the Secretary of State stop it and engage in a proper and meaningful review? (903409)

The review the hon. Gentleman refers to is a consultation by NHS England to ensure that we commission specialist services better. There has been a 23% increase in the number of cancer sufferers getting treatment under this Government. We want to improve on that record even more, which means having sensible discussions on how to improve specialised commissioning, and that is what is going on.

T6. In 2010 the Chancellor specifically set aside funding for the rebuilding of the Royal National Orthopaedic hospital in my constituency. The site has planning permission. Will my hon. Friend update the House on progress so that we see work on the ground before 2015? (903413)

My hon. Friend will be interested to know that the NHS Trust Development Authority is reviewing the trust’s business case and is working with the trust to ensure that its plans are affordable. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has visited the hospital and is a great champion of it. I will ask the TDA to keep my hon. Friend fully up to speed.

T4. I have a question for the Secretary of State on performance-related pay. He will know that a year ago part of the Greater Manchester ambulance service was privatised to Arriva. For the first nine months of its contract, every single month it missed its targets for getting patients to hospital on time and for collecting patients within a scheduled time frame, yet over the same period it was awarded £400,000 in performance-related pay. Is that good use of public money? (903411)

The hon. Lady will be aware, of course, that it was the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) who had the most to do with introducing the private sector and agreeing ambulance service contracts in the Greater Manchester area. I think that Opposition Members need to remember their record on private sector involvement. If she has concerns, we will of course look into them.

The Minister’s answers are too long. He really has to get that into his head. I do not know how hard I have to try. I try to help the hon. Gentleman, but he is not very good at helping himself.

In his travels to the People’s Republic of China, what has my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State learned about the integration of western medicine with traditional Chinese medicine?

What I have learned is that the most important thing is to follow the scientific evidence. Where there is good evidence for the impact of Chinese medicine, we should look at that, but where there is not, we should not spend NHS money on it.

T7. How is the Government’s pledge to get hospitals operating on a seven-day basis going? Many GP commissioners are refusing to provide the funding for hospitals to provide that service. (903414)

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, we are in negotiations with the British Medical Association and other health care unions about the future shape of the NHS consultant contract and junior doctors contract. We are determined to have a contract that remains fit for purpose in future and to reform the contract that we inherited from the previous Government, which was not fit for purpose. We will continue to work with the BMA to make sure that we protect the interests of patients and deliver better care.

I very much welcome the taskforce reviewing the effects of the working time directive; as my hon. Friend knows, I have campaigned long on the issue. Given the severity of the evidence, which shows that more than a quarter of a million hours of surgical time are lost per month because of the directive, will my hon. Friend assure me that he will not only listen to, but act bravely and robustly on, any recommendations to rid the NHS of this very dangerous directive?

My hon. Friend has campaigned with great vigour on the issue, and rightly so. The European working time directive, to which the previous Government signed up in a headlong and reckless way, has damaged continuity of patient care and the training of the consultants of tomorrow. That is why we set up the independent review. We look forward to its recommendations and we will make sure that we respond to those appropriately in due course.

T8. The Health Secretary talks about Welsh patients flocking to the English NHS, but is he aware that the number of English patients going to Welsh hospitals has increased by more than 10% since 2010? Does that mean that the English NHS is in crisis? (903415)

Unfortunately, a third of Welsh patients do not get things such as urgent scans within six weeks, compared with just 1% of patients in England. The Welsh NHS is struggling badly. I urge Labour, if it is to be consistent, to work closely with its colleagues in Cardiff to give a better standard of care to people in Wales, because they deserve a good NHS as well.

There is due to be a consultation on the future of maternity units at Clacton and Harwich hospitals. Last week, however, the management team at the already troubled Colchester trust decided to shut the units anyway. That has caused great anger and concern locally. Will my hon. Friend write to the board to ensure that it does not prejudice the outcome of the consultation and that decisions are made on the basis of fact, not muddled management?

I will certainly be happy to look into the issue. My hon. Friend will be aware that the closure decisions were made on clinical safety grounds, for the safety of women. It is a temporary issue. One of the outstanding problems in my hon. Friend’s part of the world and elsewhere when we came into government was a historical shortage of midwives. That is why we are investing in more midwives. There are already 1,500 more in the NHS and I believe that six more will be recruited to the local NHS in his area.

T9. Mental health services in Telford are under review and the Castle Lodge facility has been closed for a considerable time. It has been heavily used by people in the community who do not have to be admitted into Shrewsbury. Will the Minister confirm that if local people want to retain Castle Lodge, as I believe they do, it will be retained? (903416)

I understand the issue that the hon. Gentleman is raising. If he wants to discuss it further with me, I shall be happy to meet him. Clearly, local opinion and the making of decisions locally are what our reforms are all about.

Rural surgeries such as Ambleside, Coniston and Hawkshead in my constituency are under threat because of a combination of historical funding difficulties and the removal of the minimum practice income guarantee. Will the Minister agree to look into the setting up of a strategic small surgeries fund, so that rural surgeries have a confident future?

My hon. Friend and I have discussed the issue before. As he is aware, price premiums are already built into the funding formula to support rural practices. NHS England has already identified about 100 practices that may need additional and special support. Commissioners will be looking to provide that and work with those rural practices and others that may have challenges.

Who is responsible for the disgraceful increase in the numbers of people across the country waiting hours in pain and indignity for an ambulance?

We have 1.2 million more people going to A and Es every year. The ambulance service has, on the whole, been doing a good job, but there have been areas where there are problems. We need to change our attitude towards the capabilities of ambulance services, particularly the ability of paramedics to treat people on the spot, and we are driving through that change.

In the absence of a definitive policy decision on the fortification of basic foodstuffs with folic acid, what steps are Ministers taking to encourage women of child-bearing age to take folic acid to reduce the incidence of neural tube defects such as spina bifida and hydrocephalus?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight this important nutritional need for women who are planning to get pregnant or are pregnant. He and I are meeting soon to discuss fortification as a policy area. I urge all GPs and health services to take every opportunity to highlight to women this important nutritional requirement.

Last week at Queen’s university in Belfast, a significant breakthrough for ovarian and breast cancer means that women who might otherwise opt for an oophorectomy can still have children. Does the Minister agree that money spent on cancer research can increase quality of life and life expectancy? What help will Government give to cancer research at Queen’s university in Belfast?

The hon. Gentleman is right that research is vital, and a great deal of it is going on in this area. I recently met the all-party group on ovarian cancer to update it on that research, and I will be happy to update him after questions. He has mentioned before how research applies across our United Kingdom. As he knows, whatever we learn through research in England is always shared across the different countries.

Health care in Cambridgeshire has been underfunded for years, and mental health care particularly so. This is getting worse as a result of the private finance initiative contracts that were signed, the differential deflator for mental health and physical health, and the simple fact that mental health demand is up. Will the Secretary of State meet me and the mental health trust to work out a way out of these problems that will not harm patients?

The Francis report highlighted the importance of ward sisters in properly managing wards, so why has the number of band 8 nurses in the north-east fallen by 87 since the general election?

The number of nurses overall is up by 1,600 since the general election. Let me be absolutely clear that I do not believe in a system where the Secretary of State is micro-managing precisely how many nurses there are in every ward in every hospital in the country. Because we have protected funding that Labour wanted to cut, there are more doctors and more nurses than there were when it was in government.

Ten babies a day are born at Kettering general hospital. May I welcome the recent award of £400,000 of NHS modernisation funds to the hospital’s 33-bed maternity unit and urge the Minister to encourage NHS England to prioritise areas of high population growth such as Kettering for future funding?

I know that the staff at my hon. Friend’s maternity unit work tremendously hard to look after patients, and it is important that we gave them the right facilities in order to do so. I am delighted that, like over 100 other birthing units in the country, they have received money to make sure that women are treated with greater dignity and that the quality of care is as high as it can be.

I cannot speak highly enough of the staff at Southport hospital who cared for me when I spent three days there as a patient last month. They told me that GPs now routinely send older patients straight to A and E because their funding has been cut and that community services are no longer in place to support people in their own homes, which is all leading to a crisis at A and E. Is not the sad reality that what is happening at Southport is being repeated up and down the country as a result of the Government’s disastrous reorganisation and cuts to front-line services?

I am very pleased about the excellent treatment that the hon. Gentleman received. The problems that the nurses talked about are exactly why, from today, we are reintroducing named GPs for everyone aged 75 or over to bring back the kind of personal care and personal responsibility for patients that I am afraid was so sadly abolished previously.