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Topical Questions

Volume 617: debated on Tuesday 15 November 2016

I am pleased to report to the House something I was not sure I would ever be able to say: last week, the British Medical Association called off its industrial action and committed to working with the Government on the implementation of new contracts for junior doctors. This will make a significant contribution to our commitment to a safer, seven-day NHS, and the Government will work constructively with junior doctors to address their concerns, because they are a vital and valued part of our NHS.

The South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw STP sets out some very positive ambitions, but it warns that there will be a financial shortfall for health and social care services in our area of £571 million by 2020-21. Those ambitions are unachievable unless the Government address the shortfall. What is the Secretary of State going to do about it?

We are working very carefully with all STP areas to make sure that their plans are balanced so that we can live within the extra funding we are putting into the NHS—an extra £10 billion—by 2020-21. We will look at that plan and do everything we can to help to make sure that it works out.

T3. Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking Dr Ollie O’Toole of the Kirby Road surgery in Dunstable for representing all of the very best in a family doctor? Will he also explain what more we can do to encourage people to go into general practice rather than working for locum companies, which so many seem to want to do at the moment? (907150)

I am happy to do that, and I would like to pass on my congratulations to Dr O’Toole, who obviously does a fantastic job for my hon. Friend’s constituents. We are investing significantly in general practice, with a 14% increase in real terms over this Parliament and our ambition to provide an extra 5,000 doctors working in general practice. This will mean that the need for locums will become much less and we can have much more continuity of care for patients.

The Secretary of State and the Minister will be aware that Capita has wreaked havoc in GP surgeries across the land, placing extra pressures on already overstretched NHS staff, compromising patient safety and breaching confidentiality. Last week, I met a group of practice managers who told me that some patient records have been missing for months, while others have turned up apparently half-eaten by mice. Given that this contract was introduced to save the NHS money, will the Minister tell us how much it is costing to rectify the mess and what steps she is taking to compensate GPs for the expenses they have incurred as a result of ill-conceived and poorly implemented contracts?

The hon. Lady is right that the current delivery of this contract by Capita is unacceptable. I have met NHS England and Capita regularly to make sure that rectification plans are in place. We are assured that these steps are now in place and that the programme will improve.

T4. Across north Northamptonshire there is an enormous appetite for the new urgent care hub to be built at the site of Kettering general hospital, relieving pressure on A&E and improving services for patients. Will the Minister update us on progress? (907151)

As I said to my hon. Friend’s parliamentary neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), we are aware that Kettering hospital has put forward a proposal. The outline business case is due to be discussed with NHS England in the coming weeks. In the meantime, we are looking at an interim solution for relieving pressure on A&E services in the area.

T2. Diabetes is a big problem in my constituency, and the number of unnecessary lower limb amputations due to diabetes is on the rise. Will the Minister ask clinical commissioning groups to provide fully staffed community podiatry foot protection services to avoid amputations, keep people in work and make huge cost savings? (907149)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that diabetes is a major health risk in the UK. That is why we have rolled out the first ever NHS diabetes prevention programme this year on 27 sites, covering nearly half of England and referring nearly 10,000 people. Next year, the second wave of the programme will reach a further 25% of the English population. The aim is for the NDPP to be rolled out across the whole of England by 2020 to support 100,000 people at risk of diabetes each year.

T6. Proper integration of adult social care and health services requires co-operation on both sides. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is really not acceptable that in a borough such as Bromley, the CCG top-sliced only 3.5% of its funding to go into the better care fund—nowhere near enough to make a difference to hard-pressed local services? (907154)

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing up that issue. Everyone recognises, on both sides of the House, that the health and social care sectors need to work together. That happens very well in some parts of the country, but not in others. I think all hon. Members have a job to make sure that people behave responsibly in their constituencies.

T5. Both Public Health England and Food Standards Scotland support restricted advertising of junk food to children, yet this was entirely omitted from the Government’s completely underwhelming obesity strategy. Given that we clearly cannot rely on the UK Government to take this forward, will the Secretary of State support the devolution of broadcasting powers to allow the Scottish Government to tackle the obesity crisis and its devastating impact on society? (907153)

The obesity plan is one of the most ambitious in the world. It will reduce obesity by a fifth by cutting the amount of sugar in our food, helping all children to engage in an hour of physical activity a day, and making it easier for families to make healthy choices. We already have some of the toughest advertising rules in the world, and we have consulted Scotland closely on these arrangements.

T7. The anti-coagulation service at the Furnace Green general practice was recently moved to Crawley hospital, which has caused concern to some local patients. Will a member of the health ministerial team agree to meet me to discuss that further? (907155)

I understand that the clinical commissioning group has provided an alternative which is no more than two miles away, but I should be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter.

Climbing obesity rates are expected to lead to increases in type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and the need for joint replacements, which will put even greater pressure on the NHS. Given such threats to health, does the Secretary of State really think that now is the time for timidity and sucking up to business?

As I have made absolutely clear today, I am determined not to allow the House to get lost in a debate about what the plan could or should have been. Our children deserve more from us. We should not politicise this debate; we should get on with delivering the plan that we have before becoming involved in a lengthier conversation about what a long-term obesity programme should be.

T8. General practices in Winsford are being underfunded by 3.6% in terms of the formula that should apply to them because of the slow rate of change, while nearby Merseyside practices are being overfunded by 5%. That is resulting in a £30 million loss to my local surgeries. Will the Minister commit himself to looking into it and introducing a quicker rate of change, so that local residents can benefit from the funds that they should be receiving? (907156)

In 2016, the Government implemented a new formula for allocation, which means a better deal for underfunded areas such as Winsford. As my hon. Friend has noted, however, the extra money is being phased in over a few years to prevent distortions. This year her local CCG received an increase of more than 3%, and the funding will continue to catch up as a result of the new mechanism.

The Minister rightly said that greater integration between health and social care was a prize worth striving for. Why do local government leaders on Merseyside feel that they have been excluded from discussions about the STP process? If we are to make progress, they need to be part of the solution.

As I said earlier, local engagement with all stakeholders is necessary. The STP for Cheshire and Merseyside will be published tomorrow. It is essential for local authorities to engage in it as it evolves, and it is essential for MPs to engage in it—as critical friends—to make the plans better.

T9. According to a report published recently by the British Lung Foundation, 1.2 million people are suffering from and have been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, while many more sufferers have not been diagnosed. Will the Minister support the establishment of an independent respiratory taskforce to help diagnosis and improve lung health for everyone? (907157)

I know that the British Lung Foundation has called for a taskforce on lung health. Given that a million people have been diagnosed with COPD and a further million remain undiagnosed, the Government and the NHS are keen to work with the NHS and the voluntary sector to find practical and innovative ways of improving outcomes for patients with respiratory disease, and I will consider my hon. Friend’s proposal as part of that process.

The number of nurses working in mental health has fallen by 15% since 2010, from 45,384 to 38,774. Why is that, and does the Secretary of State believe that it will achieve real parity of esteem for mental health in our country?

What I can tell the hon. Lady—who, I know, rightly campaigns hard on mental health—is that we are treating 1,400 more people in our mental health services every day than we did in 2010, and we will be treating a million more people every year when we have implemented the taskforce report. We are investing more, and we are making good progress.

Shared care allows GPs to provide complex prescriptions for drugs such as methotrexate, but in my constituency the Beacon surgery recently withdrew from those arrangements. Can the Secretary of State assure me that the Department will support not only patients who now face potentially longer round trips, but GPs themselves, so that they can continue to provide those vital services?

The arrangement my hon. Friend describes is a special relationship whereby a GP agrees with a hospital consultant to prescribe complex drugs which are normally only hospital-prescribed. This is not part of the standard GP contract and they cannot be required to provide this service. On the specific issue raised, we have asked NHS England to determine whether there are alternatives and I will revert to my hon. Friend on that.

Is the Minister satisfied that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence procedures for the approval of anti-cancer drugs are sufficiently speedy, because the waiting times for approvals can be months or even years, and there is a widespread feeling that that is too slow?

We have tried to speed this up with the cancer drugs fund, which helped 84,000 people in the last Parliament, but we always keep the NICE procedures under review and I take on board what the hon. Gentleman says.

We recently had an excellent debate in Westminster Hall on the Government’s tobacco control strategy. When will they publish the new strategy, which was promised for publication this summer?

The UK is a world leader in tobacco control and we have a proven record in reducing the harm caused by tobacco. We should be proud of the fact that smoking rates among adults and young people are at the lowest ever level, but my hon. Friend is right to push for the tobacco control plan because there is unacceptable variation. We are working on developing that plan, which we will be publishing shortly.

In Northern Ireland in 2014-15, 870 deaths were due to the cold weather. Will the Minister engage with other Ministers to ensure that fuel poverty is looked at by all Departments, so that the pensioners who raised this in Parliament do not suffer from the health matters that are killing them off?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for making that point. We do of course have the cold weather payment system in force across the UK, and later this week I will attend a meeting with other Government Ministers to look at winter preparedness across the board.

The Minister will be aware of the concerns in Torbay about the impact on accident and emergency services from the potential loss of the minor injuries unit at Paignton hospital. Does he agree that it is vital that MIU services are kept within Paignton given that it is the second biggest town in Devon?

My hon. Friend is aware that a consultation is going on regarding services in south Devon. The point he makes has been well made and I am sure it will be taken into account by the clinical commissioning group and the local community hospital trust.

Order. I am sorry but we must move on. Demand at Question Time tends to exceed supply. I recognise the intense interest in these matters, but it would help if questions and answers were shorter—or maybe the Government want to propose a larger allocation of time for Health questions. But there is much interest and only limited time in which to accommodate it.