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Topical Questions

Volume 596: debated on Tuesday 2 June 2015

During the previous Parliament I made it my priority to ensure that NHS hospitals learned from the tragedy of Mid Staffs to transform themselves into the safest hospitals anywhere in the world. That work will continue. Today NHS England has announced measures to ensure that even more funding is available to improve the quality of care. These include restrictions on the use of agency staff and management consultancies, and on senior pay. It is right that the NHS takes every possible measure to direct resources towards improving patient care.

I thank the Secretary of State for supporting the bid by East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust for £15.6 million to improve the surgical centre, opthalmology and out-patient services at Burnley General hospital, on which I lobbied him extensively. Thanks to the hard work of the trust’s staff, it has exited special measures. What progress has been made on improving safety in hospitals via the special measures regime?

I thank my hon. Friend for his campaigning for that hospital. The simple answer is that hospitals put into special measures end up recruiting more doctors and nurses and delivering safer care to patients, and his hospital is a shining example of that.

Order. I remind the House at the start of the Parliament—this might be of particular benefit to new Members—that topical questions are supposed to be significantly shorter than substantive questions: the shorter the better, and the more we will get through.

The Secretary of State has said that safe care and good finances go together, but clinical negligence claims are up by 80% since 2010, while trusts are posting huge deficits. Does he think that finances have deteriorated because care quality has deteriorated or that care quality has deteriorated because finances have deteriorated?

The evidence is very clear that safer hospitals end up having lower costs, because one of the most expensive things that can be done in healthcare is to botch an operation, which takes up huge management time as well as being an absolute tragedy for the individual involved. My message to the NHS is this: the best way to reduce your costs and deliver these challenging efficiencies is to improve care for patients. Our best hospitals, like Salford Royal and those run by University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, do exactly that.

T2. Bringing health and social care together in meaningful integration is a priority for me and my constituents in St Ives. What can the Secretary of State do to help achieve this for the good people of west Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly? Will he accept an invitation to come to west Cornwall to discuss this challenge and see some of the good work that is already being done? (900026)

May I welcome my hon. Friend to his place? Among the many good reasons to go to Cornwall over the next few months will be to visit the Cornwall better care fund, which is part of the Government’s £5.3 billion better care fund, and get the opportunity to see the work of the Cornwall pioneer. Integration of social care and healthcare is extremely important, and it will be great to see it in Cornwall.

T3. For the first time in recent history, many of London’s more prestigious teaching hospitals—King’s College, University College London, Guys and St Thomas’s, and the Royal Free—are all forecasting deficit budgets. Apart from crossing his fingers and hoping the economy picks up to fund investment, what exactly is the Secretary of State going to do to tackle this problem? (900027)

I would not expect the hon. Lady to want to listen to me on the “Today” programme, but I have been talking a lot today about the measures, including in my topical statement. I will tell her exactly what we are doing: this week we are announcing measures to restrict the use of agency staff, which was an important, necessary short-term measure in response to what happened at Mid Staffs. We need to move beyond that. Later in the week we will be helping trusts reduce their procurement costs and taking a number of measures, so a lot is happening. There are a lot of challenges, but I know that NHS trusts can deliver.

T5. Burton hospital trust and the Heart of England foundation trust are discussing how they can make better use of the facilities at the Sir Robert Peel hospital. Will colleagues on the Treasury Bench encourage both trusts to make better use of the facilities, provide new facilities and services at the hospital, and make sure that local people are properly consulted? (900029)

It is a particular pleasure to see my hon. Friend returned to the House. He will be aware that local commissioning decisions are the responsibility of local commissioners, which is something that this Government will continue, as per our reforms in the last Government. I am making it expressly clear to NHS England that I expect consultations to be full and proper and to engage everyone in the local community.

T4. The Secretary of State has admitted this morning that under his watch the NHS and the taxpayer have been ripped off to the tune of somewhere in the region of £1.8 billion for temporary workers and £3.3 billion for agency workers. How many fully qualified NHS nurses could have been employed with that type of finance? (900028)

I will tell the hon. Gentleman what we have done: on my watch, there are 8,000 more nurses in our hospitals to deal with the tragedy of the legacy of poor care left behind by his party. That is what we have done. As part of that, trusts also recruited temporary staff. They have become over-dependent on them, which is why we have taken the measures we announced this morning.

T6. What measures are being taken to improve A and E departments such as that at Broomfield hospital in Chelmsford? (900030)

I am very aware of the problems at Broomfield hospital. The Care Quality Commission has used its enforcement powers to impose an urgent condition on the trust. We will be following it closely, but we need to see urgent change there.

T8. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for agreeing to meet me and some inner- London MPs to discuss the crisis of GPs in Islington and the surrounding area. In preparation for that meeting, will he look very carefully at the funding formula? It has changed, which means that resources have moved out of inner London to areas such as Bournemouth, where there are more older people. We need to look very carefully at that. Three surgeries have closed in Islington. (900032)

Of course we will look at the funding formula, but it needs to be fair to the whole country. The hon. Lady’s area is not the only one facing pressures in the GP system. Our ambition is to solve the problem everywhere.

T7. The rate of hospital-acquired infections improved dramatically and halved in the last Parliament. Having lost my own father to a hospital-acquired infection, I am fully aware of the challenges we face. Will the Secretary of State look into ensuring that surgical site infections are included in all future statistics? In doing so, we can work on eradicating them, as they are a common way to catch an infection. (900031)

May I, too, welcome my hon. Friend to her seat. I was aware of the tragic death of her father, so she will be pleased to know that we are already collating information on SSIs resulting from orthopaedic surgery. That is done by Public Health England and the information is available from NHS England as a set of statistics. We are looking at what else we can do to include indicators on SSIs for other procedures.

T10. May I invite Ministers to comment on the recent statement by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges that the Government’s anti-obesity strategy is“failing to have a significant impact”and that there is a“huge crisis waiting to happen”? (900034)

The Government is quite clear, as was the coalition Government, that tackling obesity is one of the great challenges of our time for the whole of the developed world, not just this country. We are looking at a comprehensive strategy right across all aspects of Government, including local government and so on. We will address that and rise to the challenge. Everyone has a part to play, including, as has been said during this Question Time, industry and, of course, families themselves.

T9. My constituent Daniela Tassa has lost her hair while being treated for secondary breast cancer. Sadly, Miss Tassa has been turned down by Solihull clinical commissioning group for a hair replacement treatment called intralace. Is there any guidance that Ministers can offer CCGs when it comes to the sanctioning of such hair replacement treatments? (900033)

I welcome my hon. Friend to his place. I am very sorry to hear of his constituent’s diagnosis of secondary breast cancer. It is of course vital that the NHS supports all patients in the best way possible, but clinical commissioning groups need to make decisions on whether to commission a particular hair-replacement service for patients based on their clinical benefit and cost-effectiveness. I very much hope his CCG will be looking carefully at that.

The planned closure of a GP surgery in my constituency means that more than 1,000 patients will have to go elsewhere to seek basic primary care needs. Local doctors are particularly concerned about the impact this will have on the A&E department at the Royal Free hospital. Will the Minister agree to meet me and local doctors to address those concerns and to ensure that the future of GP surgeries in my constituency is protected?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her place. As has already been covered, the closure of GP surgeries is an issue. They happen from time to time. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, there will be an opportunity to meet inner-London MPs to discuss this matter.

The all-party group on cancer has long campaigned on the importance of holding clinical commissioning groups accountable for their one-year cancer survival rates as a means of promoting earlier diagnosis. That will be part of the delivery dashboard from April onwards. What steps will the Government take to ensure that underperforming CCGs take corrective action?

My hon. Friend has long championed this issue and I look forward to debating it with him further. He is right to say that the CCG scorecard is currently being developed. Academic experts are looking at a range of indicators, including the one-year cancer survival data which he has brought to the House so often, for inclusion in the scorecard. It is likely to be published this summer. I will of course look carefully at the points he makes ahead of that.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, may I join others in marking the tragic death of Charles Kennedy? He was one of the most able politicians of his generation, and was loved and admired across the political spectrum. He was a brave and principled man, and he will be missed enormously.

May I raise with the Secretary of State my passion for mental health? He will be very much aware of my absolute determination to achieve equality for those who suffer from mental ill health. Will he guarantee that he will do everything to ensure that people with mental ill health get the same timely access to evidence-based treatment as everyone else?

May I start by saying that it was an incredible privilege to work with the right hon. Gentleman on the Government Benches on mental health issues over many years? He was a great inspiration to many people in the mental health world for his championing of that cause. It is my absolute intention to ensure that his legacy is secure and that we continue to make real, tangible progress towards the parity of esteem that we both championed in government.

I welcome the expansion of GP services to seven days a week. Will the Secretary of State remember rural areas such as Ribble Valley when GP services are expanded? Funnily enough, people who live in rural areas also get ill at the weekends.

We will absolutely remember them. That is why it is so important to embrace new technology. Sometimes people who have to travel long distances are able to use such things as Skype or to make a phone call to receive important advice. This is a big priority for us.

With almost 82,000 people living with diabetes in Northern Ireland over the age of 17, does the Minister agree that this ticking time bomb needs more research into better treatments? One way of doing that would be to ensure that there is sufficient funding for Queen’s University in Belfast, in the hope of providing a superior treatment for the many who are affected and living with that disease.

The hon. Gentleman is right to draw attention to the important role of research. We will leave no stone unturned in looking at all aspects of the treatment or prevention of diabetes. The issue of research is something I recently discussed with the chief medical officer. I will draw to her attention the point he makes. As he knows, although health is a devolved matter we always make a point of sharing all research right across our United Kingdom.

May I invite the new Minister with responsibility for GPs to meet me and a couple of excellent GP surgeries that want to expand their services for the local community but are being prevented by the local clinical commissioning group?

Of course I welcome my hon. Friend’s invitation. The innovative work being done by a number of GP practices around the country to expand services is welcomed by all; there is an opportunity to take good practice from one GP practice to another. In addition to my visit to Cornwall, I am clearly on the way to Derbyshire.

With the accident and emergency crisis, over which the Secretary of State has presided, more and more police officers are queuing outside fewer A&E departments in ever-lengthening queues. Last year, there were 1,000 incidents in the Metropolitan police alone. In Liverpool, Patrick McIntosh died after waiting for an ambulance for an hour. Does the Secretary of State accept that after 17,000 police officers have been cut by his Government, this is the worst possible time to ask the police service to do the job of the ambulance service, and that he is guilty of wasting police time?

I think that is harsh. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman some of the progress that was made under the last Government, and that this Government will continue, to reduce the pressure on police, particularly with regard to the holding of people with mental health conditions in police cells. We are in the process of eliminating that; it has seen dramatic falls. We recognise that the NHS needs to work more closely with the police, particularly in such circumstances, and he should recognise the progress that has been made compared with what happened before.

Order. I am genuinely sorry that some colleagues were disappointed today; I ran things on a bit, but we need to move on. In one respect, Health questions is analogous to the national health service, under whichever Government, in that demand always exceeds supply, but I have noticed colleagues who were trying to take part today and I will seek to accommodate them on a subsequent occasion.