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Topical Questions

Volume 612: debated on Tuesday 5 July 2016

As we plan a new relationship with the EU, this Government will continue to ensure that the NHS is given the priority and stability it deserves. I have already sent a message of reassurance to all NHS staff, emphasising the vital role played by the 110,000 EU nationals working in our health and care system. To be able to allow them to continue making their outstanding contribution will be a key priority in our negotiations, and we are confident they will be able to remain in this country as long as they wish. Whatever other changes are happening at a national or international level, the commitment of the British people and this Government to our NHS and its brilliant staff remains unwavering.

A report published yesterday by the health journal Pulse showed that last year two thirds of young people referred by their GP for mental health services received no treatment, and moreover a third were not even assessed. I am a strong supporter of this Government’s commitment to improving mental health care, so what reassurance can the Secretary of State give today that results in child and adolescent mental health services will improve rapidly?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that issue. We, too, are very proud of the progress we have made on mental health, with 1,400 more people accessing mental health services every day than six years ago, but there is a particular job to do with children and young people’s mental health, and we are putting £1.4 billion into that during the course of this Parliament—and there is a specific plan for the Manchester area, which I think will help my hon. Friend’s constituents.

It seems that almost every day there is another report about the deteriorating condition of NHS finances. Today we hear of a survey by the Healthcare Financial Management Association that said 67% of clinical commissioning group finance officers reported a high degree of risk in achieving their financial plan for the year, so does the Secretary of State now accept that the Government need to commit more funds to the NHS?

We have accepted that, which is why in our manifesto at the last election we were committed to putting £5.5 billion more into the NHS than was being promised by the hon. Gentleman’s party, but we have to live within the country’s financial envelope, because we know that without a strong economy we will not have a strong NHS. We will continue to make sure we get that balance right.

T5. In May, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), gave me a very encouraging answer about improving the treatment and diagnosis of Lyme disease. Will she meet me and other concerned colleagues to discuss what more can be done to tackle that terrible condition? (905648)

I am pleased to report that the commissioning of the systematic reviews of the diagnosis and treatment of Lyme disease, which I mentioned at that time, is under way. We expect that work to start in the autumn, and the researchers will approach relevant stakeholders. Once that work is under way, I would be happy to organise a meeting for colleagues at which the experts leading it can brief them further.

T3. Will the Secretary of State join me in welcoming the formation of the all-party parliamentary group on blood donation? Will he agree to take part in and perhaps give evidence to its inquiry into the criteria for blood donation, particularly those regarding men who have sex with men? (905645)

As Members will know, the Department has asked the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs—SaBTO—to review the donor selection criteria for blood donation that relate to men who have sex with men. SaBTO has approved the remit, the terms of reference and the work streams, and it is cracking on. It has a second meeting coming up later this month. The chair of the working group has written to the chair of the all-party group, welcoming its inquiry and inviting it to contribute evidence during the autumn.

T7. To expand on the question asked by the shadow Secretary of State, I too would like to raise the case of my constituent Abi Longfellow who suffers from dense deposit disease and is awaiting a decision by the NHS’s specialised commissioning body. She and her family have been subjected to frequent delays and miscommunications. I first met Health Ministers, NICE and NHS England a year ago to discuss Abi’s situation. What steps will the Government take to ensure that decisions on treatments such as this are taken in a timely fashion and that families are kept updated on the progress of those decisions? (905650)

My hon. Friend raises an important point. NHS England is currently unable to take final decisions on this year’s new treatments, including this particular drug, until the courts have decided whether pre-exposure prophylaxis HIV prevention should compete with other candidate drugs. She makes an important point about timeliness, and that is why I am leading an accelerated access review to speed up the way in which such decisions are taken.

T4. In March, the Scottish Government made a commitment to substantially increase the financial support for the victims of contaminated blood. Initially, that will have to be administered through the current system, but the Department of Health appears to be dragging its feet. Will the Secretary of State explain the cause of the hold-up and say how he plans to expedite these payments to people with life-threatening illnesses? (905647)

No one is dragging their feet and we are trying to get this matter sorted out. I have had a number of discussions with the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, Shona Robison, most recently last Thursday. We are working together to facilitate the increased payments, using the current scheme administrator. We want the payments to be made as quickly as possible to people who were infected in Scotland and across the UK. Officials in the Department of Health and officials in Scotland are working closely together to expedite the matter.

T8. Community hospitals such as John Coupland in Gainsborough are very popular, yet health authorities seem intent on centralising services. Will the Secretary of State today make clear his absolute commitment to supporting local community hospitals and giving them work, and state that there will be no closures without his personal authorisation? (905651)

Community hospitals form an important part of the NHS landscape and are valued by local communities, many of which have contributed to them through their fundraising efforts. The Secretary of State has to abide by the decisions of the Independent Reconfiguration Panel and the advice of clinicians, but it is clear that community hospitals that evolve and modernise will have a place in the NHS in the future.

T6. The cancer drugs fund is due to be handed back to NICE later this month. In May, 15 leading UK cancer charities published an open letter detailing their concern that that would see patients missing out on clinically proven cancer drugs because the NICE system is outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Will the Secretary of State agree to carry out a wide-ranging review of NICE’s health technology appraisal process for cancer drugs to ensure that all cancer patients can access the drugs they need? (905649)

I am delighted to assure the hon. Lady that as part of the accelerated access review, we are considering how we can ensure that the £1 billion commitment to the cancer drugs fund is used to accelerate through the most effective treatments, and, through the new system that NHS England is putting in place, to make sure that patients get access to better drugs more quickly.

T9. The Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust recently signed an agreement to share 1.6 million patient records with Google’s DeepMind subsidiary. The data include medical history, HIV status, past drug overdoses, abortions, and all pathology, radiology and visit records. It is claimed that the data are anonymised, which is impossible given the nature of the data, and no permission was obtained from patients. It is also claimed that the agreement was made under the Secretary of State’s guidelines. Will he tell the House what he is doing to protect the privacy of such information? (905652)

I am very happy to do so. My right hon. Friend has campaigned long and hard, and rightly so, on such issues. The truth is that the guidelines under which the NHS operates for the sharing of patient-identifiable data are not as clear as they need to be. That is why I asked the Care Quality Commission to undertake an independent investigation into the quality of data protection by NHS organisations and Dame Fiona Caldicott to update her guidelines. I hope that we will have news on that soon and certainly before the summer recess, which will please my right hon. Friend.

Happy 68th birthday to the NHS and thank you to its creator, Labour’s Aneurin Bevan.

According to research by the British Lung Foundation, the mortality rates for lung disease have not improved over the past 10 years. Will the Secretary of State take a lesson from the Welsh Government, which have put in place a specific strategy and delivery plan to tackle the issue?

The hon. Gentleman will know that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison), opened an exhibition on this topic yesterday and that the Chancellor recently put an extra £5 million into mesothelioma research. Through the National Institute for Health Research, the Government are committing to invest in that disease area. We are also committed to ensuring that we drive up both research and better treatment for such diseases.

Prevention of ill health has to be given a higher priority if the NHS is to meet the challenges set out in the five year forward view. Central to that will of course be the childhood obesity strategy. Has the Secretary of State had any discussions with the Prime Minister about the strategy’s future? Is he in a position to take over the strategy should No. 10 become distracted?

I welcome my hon. Friend’s close interest in ensuring that this important agenda does not get swept aside. I can assure her that we have had many discussions inside Government about what to do. There is a strong commitment to take it forward as soon as possible, and I hope that she will get some good news on that front before too long.

Will the Minister responsible for public heath confirm when a statement on contaminated blood will be made to the House, and in particular on the response to the consultation that closed in April?

I am not in a position to be specific about when we can make a statement, but I can give the hon. Lady and other interested Members the absolute assurance that we continue to look closely at the issue. We have read every single response that we have received. I was at a well-attended all-party group meeting on 25 May and gave people a sense of the direction of travel of our analysis. I hope to keep the House updated.

Will the Minister confirm how he plans to implement the General Practice Forward View? Will he also confirm that sustainability and transformation plans will be returned to for further development if they fail to deliver the investment in general practice mandated by the forward view?

Yes indeed, we are developing detailed plans to implement the 80-plus commitments set out in the General Practice Forward View, which has been widely welcomed. The development of GP practices will be incorporated into sustainable plans.

There is a shortage of GPs across the country, but certain areas, especially deprived areas such as Halton, have a high rate of sickness, in particular respiratory diseases and cancer. Is any action being taken to target those areas? Has the Minister had any discussions about that with NHS England?

Although there is a general shortage, to which my right hon. Friend referred when speaking about the work being done to recruit, retain and return GPs, bursaries are available in particularly difficult areas as incentives for people to go to such areas. NHS England concentrates on trying to ensure that under-doctored areas are properly resourced.

The recently published Mental Health Taskforce report recommended that NHS England should by 2021 support at least 30,000 more women annually with specialist mental healthcare during the perinatal period. Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the Department will be working to reach that target?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. Thanks to the Prime Minister’s excellent initiative in relation to perinatal mental health and the £390 million extra added to that, I can indeed confirm that work is already under way to increase the number of beds in the 15 existing perinatal mental health units. There are plans for three more in the south-west, the east of England and the north-west. This has been an important initiative, and perinatal mental health is very high up among my priorities and those of the NHS.

Order. Despite the fact that we are late, I am keen to try to satisfy the inquisitorial appetite of colleagues, but can do so best if they are each now very brief.

What is the Health Secretary doing to ensure that the NHS gets the £350 million a week that it was promised during the referendum campaign?

I am a little stumped, because I was never really sure whether we would see that money. All I can say is that I am committed to successful negotiations with the EU, and I am delighted that a number of people who championed the Brexit vote have said that any extra funding should go to the NHS.

As we celebrate the 68th birthday of the NHS—one of the Labour party’s proudest achievements—let us not forget the fact that there are thousands of people across our country with mental health conditions who continue to face stigma, discrimination and prejudice. Recent reports tell us that young people are waiting up to a decade to receive the appropriate treatment, and future plans for children and young people’s mental health are not up to scratch. Will the Minister please tell us how many more NHS birthdays will have to pass before real equality for mental health is secured?

How I miss the hon. Lady sitting on the Opposition Front Bench with her questions on mental health. I pay tribute to the exceptional work that she has done in this particular area. The £1.25 billion extra that is going into children and young persons’ mental health over the course of this Parliament—I along with other Members in the House have absolutely fought to make sure that it stays in the plans—will help. We have done more work than ever before in relation to combating stigma, but she is right to raise that, as it is essential that we do. It is also essential that the money that is provided centrally goes through clinical commissioning groups into mental health spending, and I am quite sure that she and I will make sure that happens.

The Secretary of State and others have sought to reassure us that nothing changes immediately with Brexit, but that is not right for the NHS. The impact on the economy is already clear, and that will have a knock-on effect on our health service. That is why I will meet local leaders in Wirral on Friday to try to formulate a Brexit plan for the NHS. Will the Secretary of State receive that plan and take all necessary steps to protect the health service in Wirral?

Of course, and we will take every step necessary to protect the NHS throughout the country, because it remains our most important public service. I am sure that, economically, the period ahead will be difficult, but now that we have had the argument and the British people have made their decision, it is also important that we talk up the opportunities from the new relationships that we may have in the future, and the extra funding that those could generate for the NHS, and I certainly hope that that is what happens.

An elderly constituent of mine came to my surgery to explain that, sadly, her husband had passed away as a result of being infected with hepatitis C during the contaminated blood scandal. She has applied to the Skipton Fund four times, and has been turned down because her husband’s medical records have been destroyed since his death. Can the Minister offer any advice on how I can best move forward with this? I am also happy to meet her to give her more background information.

I think the latter suggestion might be the better one. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady and talk about the matter in more detail.