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Topical Questions

Volume 626: debated on Tuesday 4 July 2017

Yesterday I updated the House on the action that we are taking to address delayed discharges from hospitals in advance of the winter. Since February, there has been a record decrease in delayed discharges, but faster progress is still needed to free up beds for the sickest patients and to reduce pressure on A&Es. Yesterday we therefore set out further measures to support the NHS and local government to reduce delays, including specific reductions required in all local areas, a prospective review of next year’s social care funding for poorly performing local authorities, and immediate CQC reviews in the worst-performing areas.

The latest figures from the British Medical Association show a huge rise in the number of patients with mental health conditions who are being sent hundreds of miles away from home for treatment. Is not any talk of parity of esteem meaningless unless and until patients can access the support they need close to home?

I completely agree with the hon. Lady that that is a very important issue. It is particularly important because people with mental health conditions need regular visits from their friends and family to help them to get over a crisis. Indeed, their chances of getting discharged and being able to go home are much higher when they are nearer home. She will be aware that we have a commitment to eliminate all out-of-area placements for children by 2020, and we are making big efforts with adults as well.

T4. Leicester and Leicestershire MPs, irrespective of party and led by the hon. Member for Leicester West (Liz Kendall), are united with local people, patients and medical professionals in opposition to NHS England’s badly thought out and, frankly, wrong proposals to close Glenfield hospital’s children’s heart unit. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me that he continues to appreciate the strength of feeling on this issue and that he will ensure that the eventual decision reflects the responses received to the consultation? (900202)

My hon. Friend and other Leicestershire MPs have made their views very clear to me. I hosted a number of them, from both sides of the House, to discuss this issue. He is aware that the public consultation on congenital heart disease services continues until 17 July. Obviously, we will take all the comments made into account when we come to the conclusions from that report.

Today is the sixth anniversary of the publication of the Dilnot commission’s report on the funding of social care. In those six years, Ministers have legislated for a cap and a floor on care costs, and then abandoned those measures. They brought forward disastrous proposals in their manifesto for what became known as the “dementia tax”, and they appear to have abandoned those measures, too. Will the Secretary of State confirm that those policies have indeed been abandoned? Will he tell me, and more than 1 million people with unmet care needs, when he expects to have some new proposals for reform?

I have great respect for the hon. Lady, because she campaigns consistently on this issue, but I do not think that what she says is a fair reflection of what has happened. In the last year of the previous Labour Government, 45,000 people had to sell their home to pay for their care costs, whereas this Government have made it the law that no one has to sell their home. There is more work to do, but we have made important progress and will continue to do so.

T5. Nothing is more important than that people can access a GP when they need one. With that in mind, will the Minister join me in welcoming the move made by South Tees clinical commissioning group to enable 90,000 more appointments a year to be generated for people in Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland by ensuring that appointments are available on evenings, weekends and bank holidays? (900203)

I do indeed welcome that. Improvements to GP access in the NHS in South Tees have been put in place. Patients in Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland can now benefit from accessing GP appointments at a time that is convenient for them, seven days a week—that is exactly as it should be.

T2. With the Scottish Government now committed to a soft opt-out system for organ donation similar to that implemented in Wales in 2015, is it not time that the UK Government followed the lead of the Welsh and Scottish Governments by introducing a similar system south of the border? (900200)

There is a lot of merit in the opt-out system that has been developed in Wales for some time and is now happening in Scotland. We are looking closely at the evidence, but we have a lot of sympathy with this. If the system does lead to an increase in organ donations, it is certainly something we would want to pursue here.

T6. One-year cancer survival rates are now at a record high of 70%, but does the Minister agree that we should and can go further by improving early diagnosis and screening? (900204)

Yes. Progress is really encouraging, and I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will have been encouraged to see today’s press coverage about the chief medical officer’s independent report on genomics—the age of precision medicine is truly here. The NHS has always been at the forefront of new technologies, and so it must be with this; we are determined that it will be.

T3. Would a Minister be willing to meet the all-party group on blood donation after it has been reconvened next week and would they be able to provide an update on the work of the Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissues and Organs in respect of lifting or easing the deferral period for gay men who want to donate blood? (900201)

T8. Last week I met doctors and nurses at the Friarage, an excellent small hospital serving a rural population spread over 1,000 square miles. Will my right hon. Friend urge South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to do everything it can to ensure the continued provision of emergency care clinicians and anaesthetists at this vital local hospital? (900206)

I am aware that my hon. Friend has taken a strong interest in the number of consultants and anaesthetists available at the Friarage hospital. I will be happy to meet him to discuss his concerns in person.

T7. At the height of the recent election campaign, NHS England took forward plans to merge, in effect, six south London CCGs, including Greenwich CCG, under one single chief officer. Does the Minister agree that that would be a retrograde step, not only in terms of local accountability, but at a time when primary care has been devolved downwards and all the emphasis is on collaboration and integration at a local borough level? (900205)

I think the answer is that this varies from area to area. The CCGs grew up organically following the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Some parts of the country are discovering that the groups can be more effective if they combine forces, but these things have to be decided locally.

In addition to the Government’s welcome focus on mental health first aid, may we have equal focus on mental health keep fit, looking particularly at the Mental Health Foundation’s 10 pointers, so that we can all keep our mental health in good condition?

As ever, my hon. Friend makes an important point. I think that every child should leave school as knowledgeable about how to remain mentally resilient as about how to be physically healthy.

T9. What recent assessment has the Secretary of State made of the financial sustainability of Coventry and Rugby clinical commissioning group? (900207)

Like all clinical commissioning groups, Coventry and Rugby CCG is under a great deal of pressure, but our view is that, given the recent funding increases, it should be entirely possible for it to be sustainable.

May I return the Minister’s attention to the issues facing Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust? My constituents are worried that both Grimsby and Scunthorpe hospitals are in special measures for the second time in as many years. Will he meet me and neighbouring MPs to discuss the situation?

I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend, but he should be confident that we have put in place a substantial support package, including a buddy relationship with another trust and special teams from NHS Improvement, to turn the situation around.

T10. What action does the Secretary of State intend to take to address the link between suicide and socioeconomic deprivation highlighted in the Samaritans’ “Dying from inequality” report as he seeks to reduce the suicide rate by 10% by 2020? (900208)

We will look carefully at the Samaritans’ report, as we always do with what the Samaritans say. I think the signs are that our policies are having an impact and reducing suicide rates significantly, but suicide remains the biggest cause of death among men under 50.

Funding our national health service to meet the needs of UK residents is one proposition; funding an international health service open to the world is another proposition entirely. Are there any indications that advance charging for non-emergency treatment for overseas patients is putting more money into our NHS?

My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for ensuring that non-resident visitors to this country contribute for healthcare received here. We put in place a number of measures to enhance the appropriate charging structures and increased the funding received by the NHS from £89 million to £289 million in 2015-16. We expect similar action to result in a further increase.

NHS Property Services has just signed a £1 million lease on a central London location. May I suggest that other properties were available? Would the Secretary of State like me to inquire in my constituency, where NHS Property Services increased Knowle West Health Park’s rent threefold? Better value for the taxpayer is available.

I know that Ministers share my passion for ensuring that a bereavement suite is attached to every maternity unit in the country. What steps can the Government take to make that a reality?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his dedicated work. The Government understand the importance of bereaved parents having a dedicated place where they can be cared for and not hear other babies crying. We have funded better bereavement spaces in nearly 40 hospitals and continue to work with Sands—the stillbirth and neonatal death charity—to see what more we can do to improve provision.

It is always quite interesting to study the habits of colleagues. The hon. Member for Feltham and Heston (Seema Malhotra) has perambulated from one side of the Chamber to the other; nevertheless, she is here and I suppose we should hear her. No? The hon. Lady had a question on the Order Paper. Your opportunity is now—get in there!

During the election campaign, a lady in my constituency told me that she had had to wait nearly four hours for an ambulance to arrive at her home to help her off the floor. Does the Secretary of State have confidence in the ambulance service in London and other regions where targets have been consistently missed? Will he now look at extra resources for the ambulance service across the country, which is so urgently needed by all of our constituents?

If I may say so, that was a brilliant recovery. The hon. Lady is absolutely right to focus her attention on the performance of ambulance services. They are under pressure. They are hitting around 71% for their category A calls, and the target is to hit 75%. However, there are some bigger issues with the way those targets work, which we are looking at. Her ambulance service has just had a Care Quality Commission inspection.

As a result of the capped expenditure process, the wider Devon sustainability and transformation plan is being asked to make £78 million of savings at short notice—within the next nine months. Does the Secretary of State share my concern about the impact on patients, the short timeframe and the undermining of savings already agreed by the STP? Will he meet me to discuss this matter and the wider CEP?

I am more than happy to meet my hon. Friend. The principle behind the capped expenditure process is that we should have fairness between patients in different parts of the country. We should not see patients in one part of the country disadvantaged because the NHS has overspent in their neighbouring area, but the way in which we implement the process must be sensitive and fair. We must ensure that we get it right.

What advice would the Secretary of State give to my constituents who receive their urgent care from Virgin Care, and are told that wounds should be dressed only once and that, in the event that they need to re-attend, they should purchase further dressings from the local chemist? Free at the point of delivery?

I suggest that the hon. Lady gets in touch with the details. What I would say is that when care is not satisfactory—whether it is delivered by the public sector or the independent sector—we have an independent inspection regime to root out the problems.

I was delighted to hear that, in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), the Minister was positive about the progress of genome screening. On a recent visit to Nottingham University, I saw similar techniques applied to Alzheimer’s research. Will he back using the process for that, as well as for cancer diagnosis and treatment?

The chief medical officer’s report—I am sure that my hon. Friend will read it in due course—is clear that this is an exciting new innovation in medicine. We will tackle cancer first, but there is real potential for applying it to rare diseases and the other disease that she mentioned.