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Topical Questions

Volume 590: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2015

The Chancellor agreed in the autumn statement to support NHS England’s five-year forward view with the £1.7 billion of additional funding that the NHS requested. On top of that, the Chancellor allocated £1 billion of funding to transform primary care facilities, and I am pleased to announce today that a letter will shortly be sent to every single GP practice in the country, inviting them to bid for the first tranche of that funding with the aim of supporting more GP appointments and more proactive care for the most vulnerable.

Last week, one of my constituents had a fall and fractured her pubic bone. She was taken to Queen Elizabeth hospital in Woolwich because 15 ambulances were stuck in a queue outside Lewisham. She then waited 12 hours on a trolley. If the Secretary of State had got his way and been successful in his attempt to axe services at Lewisham, exactly how much longer would he have expected my constituent to wait? Is it not true that if he had got his way the A and E in Woolwich would have been totally and utterly overwhelmed?

No, and I can tell the hon. Lady that her constituents would be receiving far worse care had we not tackled the long-standing issues with the South London Healthcare NHS Trust, which the last Government ducked but which we have confronted and dealt with. If she looks at the performance of A and E in her area, she will see that 48,000 more people are being seen within four hours than when Labour was in power.

T2. The Secretary of State will be aware that the London borough of Havering has the highest proportion of elderly people of all the London boroughs, but he may not know that the average age of an in-patient at Queen’s hospital is 86. Will he agree to look at the balance of future funding between acute care and community health care, so that elderly people can be supported at home and beds freed up for people waiting for acute operations? (906944)

My hon. Friend makes an important point. It is one of the underlying causes of pressure in A and Es that for an over-75 attending an A and E in winter, there is an 80% chance that, rather than going home, they will be admitted to hospital and probably stay there a long time. That is why improving community care, as she says, is at the heart of this Government’s strategy to reduce pressure on hospitals.

If it is not too late, let me wish you, Mr Speaker, a happy new year.

The care failings uncovered by the Care Quality Commission at Hinchingbrooke hospital are appalling and unacceptable. The inspection

“found poor emotional and physical care which was not safe or caring.”

The response to call bells was so bad that some patients were told to soil themselves; drinks were left out of patients’ reach; and one member of staff was overheard telling a patient,

“don’t misbehave you know what happens when you misbehave.”

Will the Secretary of State tell us when he was first told about the problems at Hinchingbrooke? Given that the CQC inspection happened in September, why was the trust put into special measures only last Friday?

What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that what happened at Hinchingbrooke completely destroys what Labour has been saying about privatisation, because it was this Government who introduced an independent inspection regime, which did not exist before, that roots out poor care without fear or favour. That is what we have done in 18 hospitals run by the NHS and it is what we are doing at Hinchingbrooke run by the private sector.

T3. The three GP surgeries in Chippenham were turned down by the Prime Minister’s challenge fund, despite developing imaginative plans to bring together all the town’s acute GP care at a new urgent care centre at Chippenham community hospital. They received no feedback, even from NHS England. Will the Secretary of State be more flexible when receiving further proposals from the doctors, who are, after all, very busy looking after their patients? (906945)

I have met the doctors in Chippenham and been personally lobbied on that plan. I thought it sounded very promising, so I am happy to take it away and look at it again, and hopefully at some stage they can get some of the funding.

T4. The Bournbrook Varsity medical centre is about to face a double-whammy financial crisis, as NHS England scraps its minimum practice income guarantee and forces it to switch from a personal medical services contract to a general medical services contract. Why should that excellent practice, which has done all that could be asked of it, and its patients be victimised because a high proportion of the patients are young students? Will the Secretary of State agree to look at this disaster immediately? (906946)

T5. The recent extraordinary pressures on A and E in the north midlands underlined for me and my constituents the importance of returning the A and E at Stafford County hospital from 14 to 24-hour opening. Given that consultant-led maternity is due to transfer from Stafford to Stoke this week and the remaining serious emergency surgery next month, will my right hon. Friend set out what steps have been taken to ensure that the safety of my constituents and other users of the services is the top priority, and advise me whether he is confident in them? (906947)

I have been in contact with the NHS Trust Development Authority. I have been reassured that the safety of patients in Stafford is the primary concern and that the transfer of services should help to ease pressure on local services and improve patient care.

T7. Government-inflicted cuts on local government funding and subsequent reductions in adult social care services have increased the pressures of bed-blocking at University hospital Coventry, with a number of patients unable to be discharged as they wait for a nursing home place or a package of care in their own home. Does the Minister agree that this is a problem, and what steps has his Department taken to remedy it? Will he not do the Pontius Pilate act but take responsibility for his actions? (906949)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that what happens in social care has an impact on the health service, and the answer has to be to stop seeing them as two separate systems and to look at the whole health and care system. That is why the better care fund is such an incredibly important initiative, pooling a substantial sum of health and care funds, and it must go further so that we end up pooling the entire resource.

T6. The last Government abolished community health councils, a truly independent health watchdog and voice for patients. Their replacement, the patient advice and liaison service, is not independent. Does the Minister agree that PALS must be made independent? (906948)

PALS was not the direct replacement of community health councils; a different scheme was set up for the patient and public voice independent of hospitals. My hon. Friend raises important concerns about PALS and the Government are intent on looking at the service to ensure that it performs effectively for patients.

T8. My constituent Mr Offord waited 22 minutes after a 999 call for a double-crewed ambulance, and his death was referred by the South Yorkshire coroner to Ministers because of a concern that he might have survived if he had received medical help sooner. The Yorkshire ambulance service has just settled the case brought by Mr Offord’s family out of court. When will the Secretary of State recognise the growing crisis in ambulance services and support my right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State’s call for an investigation? (906950)

I do recognise the pressures on the ambulance service and the hon. Lady’s local area has had £1.6 million extra to help to deal with winter pressures. We have 1,700 more paramedics in the ambulance service and they are doing 2,000 more emergency journeys every day, but none of that is any consolation to the family whom she talks about, and that is why we must always ensure that every lesson is learned.

The Secretary of State, the Department of Health and my local hospital trust inform me that there are more doctors and nurses in the local NHS and the NHS nationally than there were in 2010. This weekend, residents in north Lincolnshire received a leaflet from the Labour party saying that there were fewer doctors and nurses and less care. Who is telling the truth?

It is not the Labour party, because all it wants to do is to turn the NHS into a political weapon. It might just think about the impact on NHS patients and staff when it does this. It does not help anyone and it is bad for the NHS.

T9. Does the Under-Secretary of State remember the case that I raised in an Adjournment debate of Mrs Monica Barnes and the inadequate service she received from the health service ombudsman’s office? The ombudsman’s office has today announced a consultation on a new service charter. Does he welcome it and hope for a better service for our constituents? (906951)

There have been a number of problems with the service offered by the ombudsman. There has been a lack of expertise in the ombudsman’s office to investigate the most difficult cases. This is obviously a responsibility of Parliament not of mine, but I have had good discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), who chairs the Public Administration Committee, about how the services can be improved.

The last week has been an extremely testing time for Hinchingbrooke hospital in my constituency, for its hard-working staff and for its loyal patients. Will my right hon. Friend please take this opportunity to confirm his Department’s full support for Hinchingbrooke hospital and to give some advice on the way management will be transitioned so as to minimise patient disruption?

I am happy to do that, and I reassure my hon. Friend that our top priority will be to ensure that there is a smooth transition to the new management of the hospital as Circle moves away. I thank him for the measured tone he has taken and I reassure him that his constituents’ safety and care is our top priority.

T10. At Southmead hospital in Bristol, just 81% of patients are seen within four hours and the number of blocked beds is three times the national average. At Bristol Royal infirmary it is double the national average. What is the Secretary of State doing specifically to help hospitals in the Bristol area? (906952)

We have allocated £8.84 million to South Gloucestershire’s strategic resilience group, and that is employing more doctors, nurses and hospital and community staff, and providing more than 100 beds.

All the talk about appointments concentrates on GPs and A and E, but does not seem to focus on pharmacies, which have a hugely important role to play, considering how many years pharmacists train for. My constituent Mr. Dhand of the Headingley pharmacy is undertaking a pilot to see how many people could and should have gone to a pharmacy rather than to a GP. Would Ministers support that?

I very much welcome what the hon. Gentleman’s constituent is doing locally. For many patients the pharmacy is often the first point of contact with the NHS, so the more we can do as a Government to support local pharmacists in delivering community services, the better.

Despite all the warm words we hear every week from the Government about their support for the staff of the NHS, which I welcome, the Government still refuse to pay the award recommended by the independent review body. At the same time the chief executive of the trust in my part of the world has had a 78% salary increase and the people who set the allowances, the board of governors, have had an 88% increase in their allowances. Is this what is meant by “we are all in this together”?

I believe that NHS managers have a responsibility to be sensible about their own pay. This is not decided centrally, but when we are asking NHS staff to make sacrifices in their own pay to make sure that we can recruit enough staff, NHS managers should set an example.

The Institute of Translational Medicine at Birmingham university medical school is probably the top place in Europe for genetic research into innovative cancer cures. I have visited it. Will the Secretary of State visit it, and will he ensure that funding continues for that department?

My hon. Friend is right to champion that project. The Prime Minister’s 100,000 genomes project is leading the world and has the potential to transform the future of health care. The Institute of Translational Medicine in Birmingham will accelerate access to new diagnostics, new drugs and medical devices and provide a focus for life sciences. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that my colleague with responsibility for life sciences, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Norfolk (George Freeman), plans to visit on 3 March.

The Secretary of State refuses to meet Hartlepool borough council and me on the issue of hospital services in Hartlepool. On Wednesday in this House he said:

“I take responsibility for everything that happens in the NHS.”—[Official Report, 7 January 2015; Vol. 590, c. 277.]

If so, will he respond to the 12,000 people who signed the petition organised by the Hartlepool Mail, the 1,000 people who marched on Saturday morning, Hartlepool borough council and me on this issue? Will he stop snubbing the people of Hartlepool, work with us and make sure that hospital services can return to Hartlepool?

I do take responsibility, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will be responsible in his campaigning in Hartlepool and welcome the extra doctors, extra nurses, extra operations and extra number of people seen within four hours in his constituency. It is a record of success, of which this Government are proud.

As it becomes increasingly obvious that the public insist on receiving urgent care in a hospital setting, will the Government move to incentivise the delivery of a new generation of urgent care centre, as specified in the end of the phase 1 report on the urgent and emergency care review?

I have visited my hon. Friend’s local hospital. I commend him for his interest and I commend the hospital for the remarkable turnaround. From being a hospital in special measures, it has done extremely well. We want to implement the proposals in that review and we want also to make sure that for the oldest and frailest people there are alternatives that mean that they do not have to visit hospital.

Order. I am sorry to disappoint colleagues. Including the main Order Paper questions, we have got through 78 inquiries today. Box office records have been broken. I leave it to Back Benchers and the ministerial and shadow ministerial teams to argue among themselves about who wishes to claim credit for that. We will have to leave it there for today. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change makes a very generous and loyal remark from a sedentary position that modesty prevents me from repeating.