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Topical Questions

Volume 588: debated on Tuesday 25 November 2014

As we look forward to world AIDS day next Monday, the whole House will want to pay tribute to the 30 NHS volunteers who left for Sierra Leone at the weekend to help in the fight against Ebola. They stand for the very best of the NHS and make us all proud. Last week I formally launched the MyNHS website. It contains 395,000 pieces of information and is the first website of its kind anywhere in the world. It will help people compare vital information about the performance of their local hospitals, GP surgeries, councils, mental health trusts and residential care homes. It will be a vital way to ensure that patients are not kept in the dark about the quality of their NHS services.

Further to the Secretary of State’s answer to the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), he must know that treating renal failure requires complicated, integrated care and that no one part of it can be separated. He must also know that there are 23,000 dialysis patients in the UK, and transplant patients have overlapping clinical needs. Handing responsibility for commissioning dialysis to commissioning groups is unacceptable, especially as it has been done without any consultation. Can he explain the rationale for all this, and will he meet me and colleagues from the all-party kidney group to discuss the matter?

I am happy to arrange a meeting between either me or one of my Ministers and members of the APPG to discuss the matter. I stress that we recognise how important those specialised services are. We want to get the benefits of nationally co-ordinated commissioning with the local integrated care that CCGs are in the driving seat to deliver. That is why we are having this discussion.

T2. Public Health in Cornwall has estimated that 300 people in Cornwall might die from the cold this winter because they are living in cold homes. Last week the Government introduced the first proper fuel poverty strategy to eradicate that totally unacceptable situation by 2030. Will my right hon. Friend join me in praising the work being done in Cornwall by a partnership of over 30 organisations in the Winter Wellness programme to ensure that people stay warm and well this winter? (906244)

Order. On both sides of the House the questions have been too long. It is not fair on other Members who are waiting to contribute. Please cut it out.

I commend my hon. Friend, who, as many of us know, has worked enormously hard on a whole range of health issues in her constituency. In particular, I know that she has helped deliver the Winter Wellness programme with a number of local organisations. It is important to highlight what help and advice is available for people who need it most in order to stay warm. The Government’s cold weather plan has a series of cost-effective and simple measures that people can take to reduce the harm caused by cold weather.

Two weeks ago, news emerged of serious problems at Colchester hospital. People there still do not know the precise details, as Ministers have not made a statement and the Care Quality Commission has not published its report. But Colchester is not the only hospital in difficulty; we have learnt that hospitals in Scunthorpe, Middlesbrough and King’s Lynn have been turning patients away and others are already on black alert, and that is before winter has even begun. We do not have an accurate picture of what is happening in the NHS right now, because NHS England was due to begin publishing weekly reports on 14 November but has failed to do so. Why has that information not been published, and will the Secretary of State today instruct NHS England to do so without delay?

That information is published at the decision of NHS England—[Interruption.] It has said that it will publish it in a fortnight’s time. Let me just say to the right hon. Gentleman that it was this Government who decided to publish that information on a weekly basis, something he never did when he was Health Secretary.

I am afraid that is just not good enough. Who is in charge here? It is not just A and Es that are under pressure; there is a knock-on effect on ambulance services. Reports are now surfacing of serious failures in patient care. Last month, a six-year-old girl from Sunderland was left for three hours with a suspected broken back despite five 999 calls. At the weekend, it was reported that a 56-year-old stroke patient from Huyton was taken to A and E by police on a makeshift stretcher made from window blinds from the man’s home, and he later died. Yesterday, it emerged that a 57-year-old cancer patient from Bishop Auckland died after three ambulances were diverted to other calls. Is it not clear that the situation in the NHS right now is far more serious than the Government have acknowledged, and should not the Secretary of State now make an urgent statement to Parliament setting out what he is doing to reduce the risk of harm to patients this winter?

There are huge pressures in the NHS. That is why we have put a record £700 million into the NHS to help it to get through this winter. May I gently suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that he should not try to politicise every single operational problem? When the NHS is all about politics, patients get forgotten—as he should know, because that is what happened when he was Health Secretary. Whether in Medway, Colchester, Burton or George Eliot, patients were forgotten because for Labour it was politics before patients every time.

T6. Will the Secretary of State look again at the funding formula for hospital trusts so that some adjustment can be included to recognise the issues in trusts such as University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust which cover large and difficult geographical areas? (906248)

I recognise those issues, and I am very happy to take that suggestion away. I particularly want to put on the record that the scare stories put out by Labour in Lancaster about the potential closure of Royal Lancashire Infirmary are false. It is totally irresponsible to scare people in Lancaster in that way.

T3. My constituent Corron Sparrow was left lying in the road for two hours with a compound fracture of his leg despite a call from a policeman to the North East Ambulance Service pleading for help. Eventually the service responded by sending an ill-equipped St John Ambulance team who then had to call for professional assistance. There are many more failures. It is now three weeks since I wrote to the chief executive, Yvonne Ormston, asking for an inquiry into this, but she has not even acknowledged my letter. Will the Minister intervene and tell the North East Ambulance Service that it cannot just ignore these matters? (906245)

I am very sorry to hear about the difficulties experienced by the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, and of course I am happy to look into those and do what I can to help him with that. However, I would also like to make it clear on the record that because this Government have put £15 billion more into the NHS during this Parliament, we are making sure that we are keeping services running efficiently through the winter for the benefit of patients.

T7. Eighteen NHS trusts have been placed in special measures, while so far six have come out. What progress is being made with the other 12? (906249)

I am happy to answer that, because for the first time we have a proper independent inspection regime. Labour tried to vote that down so that we could not have it, but we pressed on. A third of these trusts have been turned round. We are making good progress across most of the other 12 hospitals in special measures, including 1,500 more nurses, 200 more doctors, and 53 changes at board level. Where there were problems before, we are sorting them out.

T4. Patients with mental health problems who are referred for psychological therapies wait, on average, less than 40 days for treatment, but in York the wait is 125 days. My constituent, Laura Goodacre, has now waited nearly 350 days. Will the Minister look at this worrying case and the need for our mental health trusts in York to reduce waiting times? (906246)

I will absolutely look at that case, and I am happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about it. This is precisely why we are introducing, for the first time ever, an access standard—a maximum waiting time of six weeks for access to psychological therapies from next April.

T8. After all the cover-ups of the past, what is being done to ensure that the culture of the NHS is always improving, particularly in that patients are treated with dignity and respect and always have the highest standards of safety? (906250)

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. After the Francis report, we now have 5,000 more nurses on our hospital wards. The scores that patients themselves are giving for whether they are treated with dignity and respect are up by 10%. We want to put poor care behind us and behind the NHS. It is time that Labour got on board with this agenda instead of constantly saying that we are running down the NHS by sorting out poor care.

T5. Recent reports indicate that the extent of child sexual exploitation and abuse is more widespread than previously recognised. The trauma of sexual abuse can have massive, life-long consequences on the physical and mental health of victims. Will Ministers consider designating child abuse and child sexual exploitation as a public health priority in the same way as smoking, alcohol, drug use and obesity? (906247)

The hon. Lady is quite right to say that those are incredibly important issues, and we do see this as an important public health issue. We are committed to tackling child sexual abuse. In May the Department published its response to the recommendations of the independent health working group report on child sexual exploitation and we accepted the recommendations in full. We are taking this very seriously.

T9. Do Ministers agree that the patient transport guidance should be interpreted with an understanding of rural needs, rather than telling my elderly constituents to report to a hospital 60 miles away and to get three buses there and three back that do not connect with each other in order to have treatment or consultation? (906251)

It is particularly important in rural areas that patients with complex medical needs who have difficulties mobilising or who perhaps do not have access to a car are supported by the local NHS to access the services they need. There is provision for local hospitals, as well as for CCGs, to give financial assistance to support patients in accessing services and to give them lifts to hospitals, as appropriate.

T10. When I asked the Prime Minister two weeks ago about the financial crisis facing Devon NHS, he seemed completely unaware of it, so could the Health Secretary please explain why Devon NHS faces an unprecedented £430 million deficit and what he is doing to stop the rationing, cuts and total withdrawal of some services that is now being proposed? (906252)

We are not rationing services. In fact, we are doing 1 million more operations every year than were done under the previous Government. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why that financial pressure exists: we have an ageing population, with nearly 1 million more over-65s than four years ago, and huge pressure to deliver good care in the wake of the Francis report. The NHS will be supported if we have a strong economy that can fund real-terms increases in health spending—something that never happens if the deficit is forgotten.

My constituent, six-year-old Sam Brown, is one of 100 people with the rare disease Morquio. His family live in a state of anxiety because they do not know whether the drug Vimizim will be approved for further use on 15 December. Will a Minister please meet me and Katy and Simon, Sam’s parents, to give Sam the Christmas present he needs and to keep Sam smiling?

Last month one patient waited 35 hours in Medway’s A and E, and in the past year 10 patients have waited more than 24 hours. I was grateful to the Secretary of State for taking up my invitation to visit the hospital. What progress has been made specifically on turning around the A and E department?

There are more doctors and more nurses operating at Medway hospital and I know that when the hon. Gentleman was sitting on this side of the House he was very pleased with the progress that was being made in turning it around from special measures, but, like UKIP’s policy on the NHS, everything changes.

May I welcome the recent launch of MyNHS? Does my right hon. Friend agree that transparency of NHS performance, whether it be that of hospitals, GPs or surgeons, will be a major driver in improving patient care, as international evidence suggests, and help us avoid a scandal such as Mid Staffs, which happened under that lot over there?

Two thirds of the information we are publishing on MyNHS was actually collected by the previous Labour Government, but they refused to publish half of it. That is the difference.

Do Ministers agree that it is a scandal that cold homes are costing the NHS in England more than £1.3 billion every year, with kids growing up in cold homes twice as likely to contract diseases such as asthma? Do they also agree that it is hugely disappointing that not one penny of Treasury infrastructure funding is devoted to energy efficiency? Will they speak to their Government colleagues about that?

The hon. Lady will know from the answer I gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton) that the Government published the first fuel poverty strategy for England, which aims to address that very issue. It is also really important that all Members do everything they can locally to publicise the Government’s cold weather plan. Members can really assist local public health officials and their local NHS to get the word out to all communities about the simple measures we can take to keep our constituents warm and safe this winter.

One of the key challenges in improving access to GPs is improving recruitment of GPs. Will the Secretary of State work with the Royal College of General Practitioners and other medical groups to see whether there might be merit in introducing a mandatory stint of working in a GP surgery for junior doctors?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that there are now just over 1,000 more GPs working in the NHS and training than when we came into government, but there is more we need to do. We have committed to delivering 5,000 more GPs for the NHS, and part of that work will be working with the Royal College of General Practitioners to ensure that we can support return-to-practice initiatives for GPs who have taken career breaks.

Order. The level of interest in Health questions today has broken box office records. I am sorry not to be able to accommodate remaining demand, but we must now move on.