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Topical Questions

Volume 607: debated on Tuesday 22 March 2016

The latest performance figures show the challenges that the NHS faces in coping with extraordinary levels of demand. Despite these pressures, however, the Government are making good progress in our ambition that NHS care should be the safest and highest quality in the world. Figures from the Health Foundation show that the proportion of patients being harmed has fallen by more than a third in the past three years, that MRSA infections have nearly halved since 2010, and that C. diff infections fell by more than a third over the same period.

The “Five Year Forward View” said that the NHS would need between £8 billion and £21 billion extra from the Treasury by 2021. It got a commitment of £8 billion, which was opposed by the party opposite. Can the Secretary of State say when the Stevens plan will be formally reviewed, and where in the range between £8 billion and £21 billion he expects the real requirement will be found to lie?

We are actually putting in £10 billion of additional public money to support the NHS over the next few years. That means that we need to find between £20 billion and £22 billion of efficiency savings. We will be reviewing the progress of the plan as we go through it, but I want to reassure my hon. Friend that I meet the chief executive of NHS England to view the progress of the plan every week and that we are absolutely determined to ensure that we roll it out as quickly as possible.

T4. I would like to express my sadness at the news that two people in my constituency lost their lives in a house fire yesterday. My thoughts are with their family and friends at this extremely sad time. The coalition Government legislated for NHS hospitals to earn up to 49% of their money from private patients. Arrowe Park hospital in my constituency is highly valued by local people for the service that it delivers, so for the sake of clarity will the Minister tell us whether he sees an increase in the number of NHS beds being used for private patients and a decrease in the number being used for NHS patients as a sign of success or a sign of failure? (904243)

The matter of private beds is entirely for the trust to decide, but we are very clear that NHS patients should always come first.

T3. In the last decade, under the then Labour Government, Crawley hospital saw its accident and emergency and maternity units close. However, I am pleased to say that in recent years we have seen casualty services returning, as well as the introduction of a GP out-of-hours service and a greater number of beds. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the NHS staff in my constituency who are working so hard to deliver these new services? (904242)

I am absolutely delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the staff in his constituency. A&E targets there have been met in the year to date: at the moment they are seeing 36,509 more people in under four hours every year compared with six years ago. The trust is meeting its 18-week target and its diagnostic waiting time target, so that is a very good performance.

T8. Scotland has consistently outperformed all other nations in the UK on A&E over the past year. With England’s performance dropping in every single month since weekly publication was abandoned last July, does the Secretary of State think it is time to return to more frequent analysis and to eliminate the obfuscation of the six-week delay in publication? (904247)

I am somewhat surprised at the complacency of the hon. Gentleman’s question after Audit Scotland identified in the autumn that performance against seven of the nine key targets for the Scottish NHS had deteriorated in the past three years, that spending since 2009 had fallen in Scotland while increasing in England, and that spending on private sector providers was increasing. The hon. Gentleman should think about that before he criticises what is happening in England.

T5. Successful cardiopulmonary resuscitation often involves people knowing where the nearest public access defibrillator is located. In my constituency, however, it is difficult to find out exactly where such defibrillators are located. Will the Minister ask the Department of Health to carry out a live mapping of public access defibrillators as well as ensuring that every workplace with a first aid point has a clear sign showing where the nearest defibrillator is located? (904244)

This work is already in hand through the British Heart Foundation. I should like to add that last week the Chancellor announced another £1 million to make public access defibrillators and CPR training more widely available in communities across England. Coupled with last year’s funding of £1 million, that means that there are now over 690 more publicly accessible defibrillators in communities across England. That mapping work is important, however, and my hon. Friend is right to raise it.

I believe that the Capsticks governance review, published today, will show that serious harm was caused to patients and staff, that there was a culture of bullying and harassment even after the Francis inquiry, and that Liverpool Community Health NHS Trust is the community equivalent of Mid Staffs. In the spirit of openness and transparency, will the Secretary of State instigate a public inquiry to establish the full extent of the harm caused to patients and staff?

May I commend the hon. Lady for the brave stance that she has taken on this difficult issue? I will certainly take her concerns seriously. I want to read the report now that it has been delivered, and will speak to her at the earliest possible opportunity to establish how the Government and local commissioners can take things forward. It is imperative that the NHS has the best possible culture for how staff are treated and heard. I hope she will look at the announcement made by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about ensuring that people have the freedom to speak up and safe spaces in which to blow the whistle.

T6. At Colchester general hospital, insurance premiums under the clinical negligence scheme for trusts have more than doubled to £11.2 million in four years. What steps is the Department taking to reduce that figure? (904245)

My hon. Friend points to variations across the service. Premiums sometimes go up and down in different trusts. We are examining the whole scheme at the moment, and I am happy to speak to him further about what we are doing.

Does the Secretary of State agree that this week’s public debate about breastfeeding has been destructive and condemnatory of women who suffer from post-natal depression and struggle to bond emotionally, never mind physically, with their children? Do we need to reframe the debate and reduce, rather than reinforce, the stigma for mothers who want to do the best by their children?

As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Community and Social Care, who is responsible for mental health, takes forward the increase in funding for perinatal mental health, he will want to work with me on breastfeeding rates and the relationship between breastfeeding and mental health that the hon. Gentleman correctly raises.

T7. Is my right hon. Friend aware of the agreement struck by President Obama and Prime Minister Modi of India to collaborate on the research and development of traditional medicines for preventive and palliative cancer care? Should we not be aiming for a similar agreement, bearing in mind antimicrobial resistance? (904246)

It is worth saying that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence does not recommend homeopathy to treat any health condition. My hon. Friend mentioned antimicrobial resistance, and an increasing number of studies from around the world show that resistance to common treatments is growing, which serves to underline the importance of the responsible stewardship of all drugs and medicines and why the international efforts on AMR, in which the UK is at the forefront, are so important.

Given the latest, very worrying reports about goings on at the office of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, does the Secretary of State still have confidence in the leadership of this vital regulator?

I have expressed my concerns on the behalf of patients about some of the things that have been happening, but I respect the fact that it is a matter for this House and its relevant Committee, not for the Government, to deal with. I do have concerns, and it is important that patients have confidence in the ombudsman, because it is a vital, independent avenue to challenge NHS trusts when things go wrong.

T9. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating chief executive Glen Burley and the whole team at Warwick hospital on delivering the excellent new orthopaedic ward, which I was honoured to be invited to open? Will he tell the House what support the NHS is being given for similar state-of-the-art facilities across the country? (904248)

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in that congratulation and to confirm the announcement in the autumn statement that the Government are committed to putting £4.8 billion of capital into the NHS every year through to 2021. That will include funding for proton beam therapy and for major new hospitals at Brighton and at Sandwell, in addition to our billion pounds a year for NHS research and our £700 million a year for medical research through the Medical Research Council.

The financial year ends next week. What does the Secretary of State expect the NHS provider budget deficit to be by then?

We know that the deficit will be bigger this year, and that there is extreme pressure. Part of the reason for that is that NHS trusts have rightly said that, in the wake of what happened at Mid Staffs, they want to ensure that their wards are properly staffed, but they have done that by using unsustainable agency staff. The most important thing that we need to do is to move to permanent full-time staff rather than agency staff who are too expensive and not good for care.

T10. A number of my constituents are unable to access an NHS dentist. May I ask the Minister to look at the availability of NHS dentists in my constituency and use his good offices to ensure that there is enough capacity for all of my constituents who want to use a good NHS dentist to be able to access one locally? (904249)

Overall access to NHS dentistry is good, but it does vary from area to area, and West Yorkshire, as the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Paula Sherriff) well knows, is one of the areas that worries us and that we are trying to do something about. Work is being undertaken in the West Yorkshire area to look at issues around NHS dentistry. I have met a number of hon. Members to discuss this matter. It has my attention, so I will be monitoring it closely, and my hon. Friend was right to raise it.

The King’s Fund analysis revealed that there will be not a £10 billion, but a £4.5 billion real-terms increase to the NHS. Will the Health Secretary apologise for misleading not just this House but the public as a whole?

Order. The hon. Lady must not accuse a Member of misleading the House. If she wishes to insert the word “inadvertently” she would spring back into order, which is where I am sure that she wishes to be. Do I take it that the word “inadvertently” has been inserted?

The hon. Lady may inadvertently have not been listening to my previous answers. Let us look at what Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS, actually said about that spending settlement. He said that the Government had listened to and “actively supported” the NHS case for public spending.

Following the very welcome announcement of a graduated levy on sugar, sweet and drinks manufacturers, will the Minister please tell the House what discussions she is having with manufacturers to speed up the reformulation process and also to introduce a differential in price at the point of sale? Given the importance of childhood obesity, will the Department welcome the opportunity to take over the lead on this strategy so that we can make progress on this vital issue?

There are a number of invitations there, some of which I will resist. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the importance of this announcement. Obviously, it is the first step towards the Government’s comprehensive childhood obesity strategy, which we will be launching in the summer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was absolutely right to go ahead with this and to move forward. The burden of childhood obesity, as she knows all too well, falls very, very heavily on poorer communities, and my right hon. Friend was absolutely right to champion that measure, because it will make the most difference in the poorest areas.

Families with boys with Duchenne muscular dystrophy are anxiously awaiting the NICE guidance to be published next week. Can I get an assurance from the Minister that, with this drug already being licensed and available in 18 countries, if NICE approves it, NHS England will bring the funding forward very quickly?

The hon. Gentleman is a doughty campaigner. Although he tempts me to pre-empt the decisions of NICE, I cannot, and it would not be appropriate for me to do so. I am afraid that we will just have to wait for its decisions, which are rightly taken on the best clinical evidence.

Hednesford is a dementia-friendly town, and I am pleased that my office team, who are based on Market Street in Hednesford, will be receiving dementia-friendly training next month. Does the Minister agree that we should be encouraging more towns to become dementia-friendly?

I absolutely recognise the excellent work that is happening in Hednesford, and in South Staffordshire, as a dementia-friendly community. I know that there are more than 2,000 dementia friends in Cannock Chase. Fantastic work is going on, and I thank my hon. Friend for her support.

When will we have a decision on the future of the human papilloma virus vaccination programme? Will it be clear, and is there due engagement with the devolved counterparts?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, two programmes are going on. There is a very large-scale piece of modelling work going on with regard to the HPV vaccination for boys, and that work, as I have previously told the House, will look to report in 2017. We already have guidance on HPV for men who have sex with men from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, and we are working through it in some detail to see how we can take it forward in practical terms.