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Seven-day NHS Services

Volume 600: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2015

Eighteen million patients will benefit from seven-day GP appointments by March next year, and seven-day hospital services will reach a quarter of the country by then.

In my borough of Croydon, the clinical commissioning group is currently consulting on the possibility of having three seven-day-a-week, 12-hour-a-day combined minor injury and GP centres, with one at Purley hospital in my constituency. Can the Secretary of State confirm whether any additional funding is available from central Government to facilitate this seven-day-a-week service?

Yes, I can. I should have said that seven-day hospital services will be available to a quarter of the country by March 2017. We are putting an extra £10 billion into the NHS in the course of this Parliament, which will help in the roll-out of seven-day services—I hope in Croydon, as well. I commend my hon. Friend for his efforts in that respect.

I met a large group of junior doctors in my constituency on Friday, and we talked a lot about seven-day working. They asked me to put two things straight with the Health Secretary: first, the vast majority of junior doctors are already working seven days a week; and, secondly, on their contract, it was not terms and conditions that they were worried about, as I thought they were, but safety. In respect of those new contracts for junior doctors, what assessment has the Secretary of State’s Government made about patient safety?

I am very happy to do that, and to correct some of the misleading impressions given by the BMA about what the changes are. The changes are about patient safety. They are about the fact that someone is 15% more likely to die if admitted on a Sunday than on a Wednesday because we do not have as many doctors in our hospitals at the weekends as we have mid-week. I want to give better support to the doctors who work weekends by making sure that they have more of their colleagues and more consultants there, as well as proper safeguards, which I do not believe we have at the moment. I will be getting that message out, and I hope that the hon. Lady will, too, when she next meets her junior doctors.

I urge my right hon. Friend to continue on his drive to improve patient safety and to reduce avoidable harm in our NHS because that is crucial for patients and the professions.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his question, and for the interest that he showed in these issues when he was a Minister.

The reality is that about we have about 200 avoidable deaths every week in our hospitals. It is the same in other countries—this is not just an NHS issue—but it is a global scandal in healthcare, and I want England and our NHS to be the first to put it right. I think that that is consistent with NHS values, and consistent with what doctors and nurses all want.

It is good of the Secretary of State to join us today. If he had been here yesterday to discuss the small issue of the £2 billion NHS deficit, he would have heard me say that I hoped we could have a mature and constructive relationship.

As has already been said, junior doctors are key to the delivery of a seven-day NHS. The Secretary of State said recently:

“I don’t want to see any junior doctor have their pay cut.”

Can he now guarantee that no junior doctor will be paid less as a result of his proposed new contract? Yes or no?

I welcome the hon. Lady to her post. I hope that, just occasionally, we might agree on some things, although I suspect that today may not be one of those occasions.

Let me be absolutely clear about the commitment that we have made to junior doctors. We will not cut the junior doctor pay bill, but what we do need to change are the excessive overtime rates that are paid at weekends. They give hospitals a disincentive to roster as many doctors as they need at weekends, and that leads to those 11,000 excessive deaths. Let me gently say that that was a change to the doctors’ contracts made in 2003, so for members of the Labour party to say that this is nothing to do with them is not accurate, and they should help us to sort out the problem.

I think it is fair to say that junior doctors will make up their own minds about that response.

Last week I received an e-mail about a seriously ill woman who had needed to be admitted to hospital over the weekend, but had stayed at home for two days because of recent interviews given by the Department of Health that had made her think

“that the NHS was not staffed at weekends.”

Her doctor went on to say:

“This delayed her operation, put her life in danger and ultimately will have cost the NHS more”.

Does the Secretary of State feel any responsibility for that?

Let me give the hon. Lady the facts. According to an independent study conducted by The BMJ, there are 11,000 excess deaths because we do not staff our hospitals properly at weekends. I think it is my job, and the Government’s job, to deal with that, and to stand up for patients.

The hon. Lady talked about being constructive. There is something constructive that she can do, which is to join the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Nursing, and urge members of the British Medical Association not to strike but to negotiate, which is the sensible, constructive thing to do. Will the hon. Lady tell them to do that?

The question is about the seven-day NHS, but there is no point in our having a seven-day NHS if it is not an NHS across the country. I have a constituent with advanced prostate cancer who, as his oncologist says, needs docetaxel chemotherapy. In fact, all east midlands oncologists say that it is needed, but it is not provided by the NHS in my constituency, although it is provided in Birmingham. If we are to have a seven-day NHS, we need treatment across the board. Will the Secretary of State step in and do something about this?

I will look into the individual case that my hon. Friend has raised, but I think patients recognise that sometimes they need to travel further for the most specialist care, and can receive better care if they do so. However, the way in which what we are doing will help my hon. Friend’s constituents, and other people with cancer, is not just about consultants and junior doctors working at the weekends; it is about seven-day diagnostic tests, which will enable us to get the answers back much more quickly and catch cancers earlier.