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Topical Questions

Volume 621: debated on Tuesday 7 February 2017

We know that a strong primary care system is the bedrock of the NHS, which is why I am pleased to announce today that NHS England will publish the new GP contract, agreed by the Government, NHS England and the British Medical Association. It will see almost £240 million extra invested in GP services; require GPs to establish whether overseas visitors are eligible for free care, allowing the NHS to better recoup the costs of that care; and improve access for patients by removing extra funding if GPs regularly close for afternoons during the working week.

Will the Secretary of State consider putting a GP in every A&E department so that they can additionally triage patients who are not so ill and advise them to go home and see their own GP on another occasion?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Actually, the policy is that all A&Es, where space is available, should do that. The hospitals that do it have by far the most successful results—not least Luton and Dunstable, which has pioneered that model.

With respect to A&Es, diverts have been at twice the level of last year, 4,000 people have had urgent operations cancelled, 18,000 people a week in January were waiting on trolleys in corridors, and nine out of 10 hospitals have been overcrowded and are at unsafe levels. I have even read in the Secretary of State’s local paper that his local hospital had to put patients in the gym overnight. Does the Secretary of State agree with the Prime Minister that the crisis facing our NHS amounts to a “small number of incidents”?

The NHS is under a lot of pressure, but what we never get from the hon. Gentleman is any solutions. Our solution is 600 more A&E consultants since 2010, 1,500 more A&E doctors, 2,000 more paramedics, and 2,500 more people being seen within four hours every day. His solution at the last election was to cut the NHS budget by £1.3 billion.

The Secretary of State’s solution has been to blame everybody else but never take responsibility himself.

What is the Secretary of State going to do about the crisis that we are now facing in staffing? Last week, we learned that half of junior doctors are abandoning specialist training. We have already heard that applications for nursing degrees are down by a quarter following the axing of the student bursary and we heard today that there is a shortage of midwives. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has been in the US and that he will try to give us his alternative facts, but when will he give us an alternative plan and deal with the staffing crisis—an issue that the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne), could not respond to a few moments ago?

Let us look at the reality, instead of the hon. Gentleman’s rhetoric. In his own local trust in Leicester, there are 246 more nurses than in 2010 and 313 more doctors. Some 185 more patients are being seen in A&E every day and next year a new £43 million emergency floor will open at the Leicester Royal Infirmary. That is because we are backing the NHS instead of wanting to cut its budget.

T2. The recently introduced one-year cancer survival rate indicator is a beacon of light in a system still too focused on process targets. What more can the Government do to hold underperforming clinical commissioning groups to account for that outcome indicator, given that we are still failing to catch up with international averages when it comes to our survival rates? (908612)

My hon. Friend is right to say that we now publish one-year survival rates for every CCG in the country, and I agree that that is a beacon of light and a transformative step. It also shows differences of more than 10% between the best and the worst, which is unacceptable. The transparency itself will bring improvement, but we have also recently established 16 cancer alliances, whose sole job is to roll out best practice and investigate and bear down on poor performance.

T4. Will the Minister update the House about NHS litigations, which rocketed to £1.4 billion last year? Are they anything like under control? (908614)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right; this issue is a very big concern. The only way, in the long run, to reduce those litigation costs is to have safer care. That is why the Government have prioritised safety in everything we do.

T3. If someone in St Ives suffers a severe stroke, they will have a far better chance of a full recovery if they get quick treatment and then proper therapy and rehabilitation in the community. That does not happen for everybody. What is the Department going to do to ensure that there will be a national stroke strategy? (908613)

The current stroke strategy was produced in 2007 and our priority is to implement it fully. Frankly, in my time as a Minister, I would prefer to have detailed implementation plans and not more strategies. My hon. Friend refers to the great differences in performance across the country, in particular in access to speech and language therapy, and we need to achieve better on that.

T5. My Falkirk constituents, Michelle and Justin Young, have been through the lengthy treatment approval process for their son, Michael, to access the Duchenne muscular dystrophy treatment Translarna. Thankfully, Michael is now receiving it. With a growing number of emerging treatments for rare diseases expected in the forthcoming years, what action are the Government taking to increase the capacity of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency when the UK leaves the EU? Most importantly, will the Secretary of State or the Minister agree to meet Muscular Dystrophy UK— (908615)

I pay tribute to the work of the charity the hon. Gentleman mentioned, which does very important work, and have sympathy for the case he mentioned. The UK’s rare diseases strategy has 51 recommendations, which are driving changes through the NHS and improving the life chances of patients with rare diseases. Our genomics work is also bringing life-changing improvements to patients with rare diseases by diagnosing them faster and improving their chances of receiving treatment quicker.

T6. People in Lancashire will be pleased that the emergency department in Chorley has reopened, providing access for people 12 hours a day. Will my hon. Friend welcome that good news and thank everyone involved? (908616)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recognising the work that went into reopening the A&E at Chorley last month. I am delighted, in particular, by the work that was done by the Deputy Speaker and my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy).

T7. Last year, hospital trusts were urged by Department of Health officials to raid their capital budgets to cover resource funding. Does the Secretary of State think that is a good way forward, and what instructions is he giving officials this year? (908617)

I recognise that it is not a sustainable position to have to do that. Pressures on the frontline meant that it had to happen, but we do need to invest for the future and I agree with the hon. Lady that capital budgets are very important.

Young people with severe anxiety can spend years out of school and become very isolated. Does the Secretary of State agree that we need to think more imaginatively about community and voluntary solutions to reach out to those young people, whose futures we must not give up on?

I absolutely agree. About 3% of schoolchildren have severe anxiety, but if we get treatment to them quickly, often we cure the condition and it does not come back. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we need to be as imaginative as possible.

T8. I have to report back to a constituent who is desperate for treatment that the current waiting time for the adult ADHD clinic is two years. In 2014, the Secretary of State and I published a vision to achieve comprehensive maximum waiting time standards in mental health so that people with mental ill health had exactly the same right to access treatment in the same time. Why on earth can the Government not end the outrageous discrimination against people with mental ill health? (908619)

I am always somewhat disappointed by the right hon. Gentleman’s rhetoric, given that we are spending about £1 billion more every year than when he was mental health Minister. This April, we will reintroduce maximum waiting times for eating disorders. As he knows, we have committed to publish pathways for all conditions during this Parliament. That will include his constituent who, I agree, is waiting much too long at the moment.

Some GP practices in east Lancashire have, through sheer frustration, started publishing the number of missed appointments. When will the Secretary of State consider giving GPs the power that they want, and that the public want them to have, to charge those who miss repeated GP appointments, including in east Lancashire?

I have sympathy for people who are frustrated about that issue. As I have said before, my objection is not one of principle; it is whether it is practical to do it. Perhaps that is something that GPs could decide at a local level.

T9. The Health Secretary said there was a “small” number of incidents in the NHS this winter. What is his definition of “small”? We had what I would call a large number in my constituency alone. I extend an invitation to him to visit my local hospital and see that for himself, as the shadow Health Secretary will later this week. (908620)

May I gently tell the hon. Lady that I do not think our debates on the NHS are helped by her taking my comments out of context? I was quoting Chris Hopson, from NHS Providers, talking about a specific week when he said there were, in that week, a small number of incidents. We recognise the pressures across the NHS, which is why this Government are backing the NHS with record funding.

A small business in my constituency was driven out of business by slow payments for relatively small sums by NHS providers. Will he ensure strict compliance with the guidelines for timely payments?

My hon. Friend will be aware that best practice for NHS bodies is to pay within 30 days. I am pleased to be able to tell him that figures for the quarter ending in September show that the Department of Health paid 98.4% of our bills within five days—one of the best performances across government.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists warns that half of all child and adolescent mental health training posts are unfilled. With 11% of trainees being EU nationals, how do the Government plan to avoid a Brexit-inspired staffing crisis?

Because, as we have said many times, post-Brexit this country will remain open to the brightest and the best.

My constituent, Nicola Johnson, has had primary breast cancer. The secondary was discovered at 10 months. Will the Minister meet me and Nicola, because she falls within the six-month to 12-month period? She is eligible for neither pertuzumab nor trastuzumab emtansine.

What further efforts have been made to increase the level of nurses’ pay, many of whom have high levels of training, expertise and qualifications?

We recognise that nurses and other health workers deserve a cost-of-living increase. As the hon. Lady will be aware, the NHS pay review body is due to make its recommendations in a few weeks. We will be looking at them closely.

Demand dramatically exceeds supply, as usual, but we will have one last question. I call Tom Pursglove.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Corby and east Northamptonshire is taking thousands and thousands of new homes. What reassurance can Ministers give to my constituents that GP services will keep up with housing growth?

I can absolutely reassure my hon. Friend that we take that into account in all the funding we give for NHS primary care, but it depends on having a strong economy. That is something this Government will always do for the NHS.