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Topical Questions

Volume 598: debated on Tuesday 7 July 2015

The Government’s priority for the NHS this Parliament is to put Mid Staffs behind us by transforming the NHS into the safest healthcare system in the world, and in particular, through seven-day hospital care so that we end the tragedy of up to 6,000 lives lost because people do not have access to consultants or diagnostics at weekends. It means recognition that safer care costs less, not more, which is why we are cracking down on expensive agency staff who cannot give the continuity of care that is best for patients.

Almost two years ago, Lewisham took the Secretary of State to court over the closure of Lewisham A&E and maternity services—and won. In the light of the new report, “Our Healthier South East London”, can the Secretary of State promise me that any further shake-up of the NHS in south-east London will not involve the closure of services at Lewisham Hospital?

What I can assure the hon. Lady is that we inherited deep-seated problems in the old South London Healthcare Trust and we have dealt with them. We have more doctors and nurses looking after her constituents, and care is getting better as a result of the difficult decisions we have taken.

T2. Part of my constituency is served by Eastbourne District General Hospital, which is run by East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust. The trust was recently deemed “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission. Residents are obviously concerned, and both East Sussex County Council and Polegate Town Council have gone on record as saying that they have lost confidence in the hospital’s management. Will the Minister look into the matter urgently, in order to reassure my constituents? (900767)

My hon. Friend has been an extremely active champion of healthcare services for her local community, and I congratulate her on continuing to raise this matter. The CQC is due to publish the findings of its latest inspection of the NHS trust shortly, and we expect the trust to work closely with the regulators to deal with the concern that has been expressed. I know that there is concern locally, and I believe that Polegate Town Council will be discussing the matter soon.

We have heard a number of fair questions from Opposition Members, and, I am afraid, nothing but woeful and inadequate answers from Ministers so far. Let me try again by asking the Secretary of State about GPs. As we have already heard, before the election he promised that there would be an additional 5,000 GPs by 2020. However, now that the election is over, he says that that promise requires “some flexibility”, and he was similarly evasive in an earlier answer. Given that there is, in the words of the Government’s own taskforce, a “GP work force crisis”, will the Secretary of State now clear things up? By 2020, will there be 5,000 extra GPs—on today’s figures—as he promised, or is this yet another example of the Conservatives not being straight with people on the NHS?

I think that those were woeful and inadequate questions. What I said after the election was exactly the same as what I said before the election, which was that a number—[Interruption.] Yes, we will have about 5,000 more GPs by the end of the Parliament, which is just what I said before the election. I said that a total of 10,000 more people would be working in primary care. I also said before the election that the woeful problems in general practice would be dealt with only if we unpicked the terrible mistakes made by Labour in the GP contract. That is why this year we are bringing back named GPs for every single NHS patient.

T4. Does the Secretary of State accept the verdict of the Competition Commission, which decided recently that it would be against the interests of patients for Royal Bournemouth General Hospital and Poole Hospital to merge? The clinical commissioning group has responded by saying that one of the hospitals will have to give up all its services. (900769)

I think that we must respect the independent view of the Competition and Markets Authority, but I also think that there are lessons to be learned by the NHS more generally from the way in which that process was conducted. There will have to be changes on the ground if we are to give patients the care that they need in the very constrained financial circumstances in which we operate.

T3. In March this year I had a very useful meeting involving Devonshire Green & Hanover Medical Centres in my constituency and the then Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), who recognised the threat posed to practices that serve patients with complex, demanding, and therefore costly needs by the withdrawal of the minimum practice income guarantee. The hon. Gentleman promised to follow up that meeting, but since then we have heard nothing. Will the Secretary of State guarantee that no practice will close as a result of the withdrawal of MPIG, and what will he do to ensure that that is the case? (900768)

The withdrawal of the minimum practice income guarantee was announced in 2013 because it was unfair. In fact, more practices will benefit from its removal than will lose from it. As for those that will lose, NHS England is already in contact with people about transitional care support. The practices that the hon. Gentleman mentioned have received some of that support, and I understand that the conversations are continuing.

T5. Following my fourth Adjournment debate on the future of Public Health England at Porton Down two weeks ago, I remain concerned about value for money for the taxpayer. Will the Minister confirm that she has assessed the full value of the life sciences work at Porton Down to the United Kingdom economy, and that she remains committed to maximising the site’s potential regardless of the outcome? (900770)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing so many Adjournment debates. Our most recent debate took place only a couple of weeks ago. He is right to continue to remind us of the contribution that the Porton Down site makes to the UK economy. I can assure him that the outline business case has been and is being scrutinised by Ministers, and that that includes an economic assessment. However, as I have said on previous occasions when we have debated the matter, Public Health England will remain committed to the site even if research staff are relocated.

T6. What concrete steps is the Secretary of State taking to increase the number of GPs and ensure my constituents can be seen by one when they need to be? (900771)

As has been discussed extensively during this Question Time, the Secretary of State has announced a programme that will include increasing the numbers training to be GPs, improving not only the recruitment but the retention of GPs, and work to make general practice more attractive to those who are worried about that. With all these measures, we will do our best to boost the position of general practice within an expanded primary care system in future, and I hope we can meet the concerns of the hon. Gentleman and his constituents.

T7. This is a request really: will the Secretary of State please meet me and GPs from the surgery in Cambourne—which we could call a new town—who are significantly underfunded? The funding model does not work for them; they are at breaking point, and they need your help. (900772)

I can confirm that the Minister for Community and Social Care will be delighted to meet my hon. Friend. NHS England is looking into how the fair funding formula works between different clinical commissioning groups, which is the reason for the uncertainty, and I, too, would be happy to meet my hon. Friend and confirm the process.

T8. Millions of people are worried about the privatisation of our national health service, so it is a real concern that the health sector remains part of the negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Tomorrow the European Parliament votes on TTIP, but the European Commission has already said it will not remove health from those negotiations, so can the Government confirm that they will defend the NHS and support the removal of health and other public services from future TTIP negotiations? (900773)

Really, the Labour party has got to stop this scaremongering that it did so much of, and to so little effect, at the election. Privatisation is not happening, but I will tell the hon. Gentleman what is happening: at his hospital, 85 more doctors in the last five years, 185 more nurses, 7,700 more operations, 20,000 more people being seen within four hours at A&E—progress in the NHS with a strong economy.

T10. The disparity in health funding allocations due to the imbalance in the system which favours deprivation over age has yet again been highlighted, this time by the British Medical Association’s annual meeting a couple of weeks ago. Having met the Secretary of State in the last Parliament, I know he is looking to address that. Will he update me and the House on this issue? (900775)

Yes, age and rurality come up quite regularly in discussions about funding for the contract. It can plainly be seen that there might be an increase in costs for rural areas, but it has been difficult for those involved in contract negotiations to pin it down to specific evidence. I assure my hon. Friend, however, that both age and rurality issues will remain very important for those deciding on the future contract and he can be sure that they will be taken into account.

T9. Given the proven link between poverty in childhood and ill health in adulthood, what advice has the Secretary of State given the Chancellor about not driving more children into poverty and ill health through cuts to tax credits? (900774)

We take the issue of childhood health extremely seriously. We want every child to have the best start in life. That is why, for example, we are bringing record numbers of health visitors into the health service and why health is now part of the troubled families programme. In my area of responsibility, public health, it is why we have taken measures on matters such as smoking that particularly affect children in deprived communities.

On adolescent mental care, capacity in my constituency can require lengthy in-patient care to be undertaken from Roehampton in south London. A constituent of mine makes regular visits to her young daughter making work impractical, but is unable to qualify for travel assistance as she is deemed physically able to work and does not qualify for benefits. As transport reimbursement is normally available only to those eligible for out-of-work benefits, will my right hon. Friend consider recommending widening the parameters to include those who have to travel outside their area?

I will look at the issue my hon. Friend raises. Clearly, in the first place, we want to make sure that more beds are available more locally, so that the issue does not arise. Greater concentration is being given not only to that, but to the level of care that can be provided before in-patient treatment is considered. I will take the point he makes about benefits and raise it with the relevant Department.

A recent study suggests that the NHS is starting diabetics on insulin much later than in other countries. What will the Department do to address that issue?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his interest in this important subject. As he knows, we are looking at care right across the diabetes pathway, with a view to building on the first ever at-scale national diabetes prevention programme. I will take up the issue he raises and look at it in the context of all the other aspects of diabetes care we are examining.

Last week, Reeth medical centre in my constituency received an “outstanding” Care Quality Commission rating. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating it and recognise that small practices in rural areas are still an important part of our healthcare system?

I am always ready and very willing to congratulate rural practices and general practices anywhere on the work done by our family doctors and those in primary care. It is so important and it is nice that they get a big boost and a thank you every now and again, which they do not get nearly often enough. My dad would be really pleased, thank you.

A large number of my constituents have advised me that they are unable to obtain a dental appointment and inquiries reveal that not a single dental practice in my constituency is accepting new NHS patients. Will the Minister meet me as soon as possible with a view to resolving that unacceptable situation?

I will indeed meet the hon. Lady. Access to NHS dental practices has been improving, but I am aware that there are some difficulties in some areas. The best thing we can do is meet and talk about it, and see what I can do.

In the last Parliament we made great strides using transparency to drive improvement in the quality of patient care. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we can and should go further, particularly on the transparency of performance in primary and community care?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right and has great experience in this area. We are now having a lot of transparency at an institutional level, but individual doctors and nurses in primary and secondary care are still finding it too hard to speak out if they have concerns. Getting that culture right has to be a big priority for this Parliament.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. On 22 June, the Life Sciences Minister said in a written answer:

“The decision on the interim funding of Vimizim…will be made by NHS England by the end of June 2015.”

The families involved, and also families affected by Duchenne muscular dystrophy and tuberous sclerosis, were then told that there would be a decision on 30 June and 1 July—

Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. It is a discourtesy to the House to be long-winded, especially when exhorted not to be. The hon. Gentleman has got—[Interruption.] Order. Do not argue the toss with the Chair, Mr Mulholland. Don’t shake your head, mate. I am telling you what the position is: you were too long. [Interruption.] Leave, that is fine—we can manage without you. [Interruption.] You were too long and you need to learn. That is the end of it. I call Mr Peter Bone.

They cause a lot of grief to many people, which is why we have issued new guidance that tells people to take particular trouble for people who have to visit hospitals on a regular basis.

Will the Secretary of State outline when compensation will be made available to those who were infected by contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 1980s?

The hon. Lady is right to draw attention to this tragedy, and we will be bringing our plans forward to the House shortly.

When will the Secretary of State be making a full statement in response to the Penrose inquiry into those affected by contaminated blood?

Only last week, I met the autism board in the Department of Health. There is a widespread piece of work being done to improve access to services involving those with autism. Just last week, I went to see Linden House, which is run by the National Autistic Society. The matter is very high on our agenda, and the hon. Gentleman was right to raise it.

Order. May I say thank you to colleagues? I am sorry but demand always exceeds supply—as it does in the health service—[Interruption.] Under any Government.

For the avoidance of doubt, I hope that colleagues will understand that I appreciate—I have been on those Benches—that all Members’ questions are important. Of course Members feel very strongly about them. I am sympathetic to that and I respect that, but people cannot simply take the attitude, “My question is important and therefore I can be much longer” because that is not fair on other Members. I am simply trying to be fair to all Members.

Bill Presented

Health Services Commissioning (Equality and Accountability) Bill

Presentation and First Reading (Standing Order No. 57)

Rehman Chishti, supported by Tom Brake, Yasmin Qureshi and Jeremy Lefroy, presented a Bill to make provision to reduce inequalities in the commissioning of health services for people with mental illness and learning disabilities; to require commissioners of health services for people with mental illness and learning disabilities to make an annual report to the Secretary of State on the equality of service provision to, and the health outcomes for, such people and of their qualitative experience of health care services; and for connected purposes.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 11 September, and to be printed (Bill 49).