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Topical Questions

Volume 638: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2018

Following the Government’s commitment to expand medical school places by 25%—one of the biggest expansions in the history of the NHS—I am pleased to announce to the House the results of the competition to set up five new medical schools. They were chosen following a rigorous and independent bidding process, which prioritised attracting doctors to harder-to-recruit areas and increasing the number of GPs and psychiatrists. Many congratulations to the winners, which are: the University of Sunderland; Edge Hill University in Lancashire; Anglia Ruskin University in Chelmsford; the University of Lincoln working in collaboration with Nottingham University; and Canterbury Christ Church University.

With the death of Professor Stephen Hawking in all of our thoughts, can the Minister tell us what steps his Department will take to support research to develop a cure for motor neurone disease?

Professor Hawking was an inspiration not just because of his scientific thinking, but because, to many people with motor neurone disease, he was an absolute exemplar: he was given two years to live at the age of 21 and ended up living until he was 76. This disease is a big area of priority for us. In the last year for which we have full-year figures, £52 million was invested into it, and we are currently recruiting for 24 clinical trials.

Order. I am about to call the shadow Secretary of State, but I say very gently to him that he needs to be brief because there is a lot of pressure on time. He would not want a situation in which those on the Front Bench dominated at the expense of those on the Back Benches, because that would be absolutely wrong, and the hon. Gentleman is always opposed to that which is wrong.

Thank you for your instructions, Mr Speaker. We have heard today more warnings that the winter crisis will stretch beyond Easter. We have seen the worst winter crisis for years. The Secretary of State will blame the flu and the weather, but patients are blaming years of underfunding, blaming years of social care cuts, and blaming years of cuts to acute beds, so will he now apologise for telling us that the NHS was better prepared than ever before this winter?

The NHS did prepare extremely thoroughly for this winter, but the hon. Gentleman is right to talk about funding because of course it matters. He will be interested in these figures, which are for the last five-year period for which we can get all the numbers: in Wales, funding for the NHS went up 7.2%; in Scotland, it went up 11.5%; and in England, it went up 17.3%.

This Government are moving into their eighth year, not their fifth year, and yet, after eight years, life expectancy is going backwards in the poorest parts of the country and infant mortality is rising. New research shows that, in the first 49 days of 2018, an additional person died every seven minutes. That is shameful. Is it not time that we had a full national inquiry into widening health inequalities? In the 70th year of the NHS, will this Government now bring an end to the underfunding, cuts, austerity and privatisation of our health services?

Really, the hon. Gentleman can do better than that. The truth is that the NHS has had its most difficult winter in living memory, which is why last year, in preparation, we invested £1 billion in the social care system; invested £100 million in A&E capital; and gave the flu jab to 1 million more people. He still has not explained why, for every additional pound that we have put in per patient in the NHS in England, the Labour Government in Wales put in only 57p; that is underfunding.

T5. Although my younger daughter, being at the discerning age of one, is a particularly fussy eater, childhood obesity is becoming one of the most quickly rising and important issues of our time. Does my right hon. Friend recognise that it is something that we really need to tackle, and quickly? (904488)

We are already delivering an ambitious plan to address childhood obesity, including taxing sugary drinks and helping children to exercise more, but we need to keep a close watch on this. We have taken the first few steps in a long race, and we are always looking to learn from successful initiatives elsewhere. Last week I was in Amsterdam looking at the system-wide approach there, which has led to very impressive reductions in child obesity. We should be listening and we are.

T2. Head- teachers in my constituency tell me that they are asked by the child and adolescent mental health services to prove that children have tried to commit suicide before CAMHS is prepared to accept a referral. The Minister has just admitted that less than half of children who are referred are treated, and that under the new plans less than two thirds will get treatment. There is so much rationing going on. Will the Secretary of State please commit to improving the amount of ring-fenced funding now? (904485)

That is totally unacceptable, which is why we announced a £300 million expansion of CAMHS in the autumn. CAMHS funding went up by 20% last year. We are specifically trying to end precisely the situation that the hon. Lady mentioned, whereby people are told that they are not yet ill enough to get treatment. We have to put a stop to that.

T8. Will the Secretary of State join me in paying tribute to all the staff of my local Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which he knows very well? Indeed, the Minister—my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay)—also knows the hospital very well because it serves his constituency. Does he agree that the hospital has done a superb job this winter, and that assurances and clarity on the current nurses’ pay negotiations will help with both recruitment and retention in the future? (904491)

My neighbour is correct that I know the hospital, not least because my son was born there, and he is absolutely right to highlight the importance of the work done at King’s Lynn and of the staff there. In the Budget the Chancellor signalled his additional commitment for the “Agenda for Change” staff, and those discussions are ongoing.

T3. My constituent, Rebecca, is a podiatrist. Last week she told me that the care that she provides is having to be rationed because of a combination of insufficient funding and staff shortages. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the removal of the NHS bursary on the training of future podiatrists, and what action will he take to address the funding shortage? (904486)

The reality is that the number of places is increasing, even if the number of applications is lower. The Government have signalled their commitment on pay. We have more clinicians, doctors and nurses, and we are treating more people. That is part of the success of the NHS under this Government.

T9. I thank the Secretary of State for visiting Kettering General Hospital recently. In his opinion, on what main issues does the hospital need to concentrate in order to get itself out of special measures? (904492)

I was very inspired by how hard the staff there are working. My hon. Friend always champions them in this House, but it was a great privilege to see that for myself. There is new leadership coming into that hospital, and I am confident that that leadership will put in place some simple changes that will enable the hospital to get out of special measures, hopefully quickly.

T4. This morning I met the family of Alfie Dingley and members of the End Our Pain campaign. Alfie’s case, along with those of Murray Gray and Billy Caldwell—and many, many more—highlight the case for medical cannabis. Will the Minister liaise with the Home Office to introduce medical cannabis for the thousands of people who would benefit, but who do not want to be branded as criminals? (904487)

Obviously, everybody in the House is aware of this case, and our thoughts are with Alfie and his family. The policing Minister has met Alfie’s family and discussed options that may assist him. No decisions have been made, and any proposal would need to be led by Alfie’s clinicians using sufficient and rigorous evidence.

Despite not hearing it from Opposition Members, I am sure that all Members in this House welcome the five new medical schools announced today. Will the Minister also welcome the extra medical school places in Brighton and Sussex Universities, supporting my constituents, and the launch last week of the new nursing apprenticeship scheme by the University of Brighton, which will enable more nurses to enter the profession?

My hon. Friend always, quite rightly, champions the work of nurses. She is also right to signal the importance of the nursing apprenticeships, which offer a new route, particularly for many healthcare assistants, to progress within the NHS. It is right that we increase the number of pathways for nurses in order to deliver the excellent care that they provide.

T6. During the first seven weeks of 2018, 10,375 more people died in hospital than in the same weeks in the previous five years—one extra death every seven minutes. It was not colder than usual and deaths from flu were not up, but our hospitals were under unprecedented pressure. Why did all these extra deaths occur? (904489)

As the hon. Gentleman will know, these figures cover England and Wales. He will also know that they do not take account of changes in population or changes in demography, so we use the age-standardised mortality rate, which, according to Public Health England, has remained broadly stable over recent years.

Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recognise the strong business case for the merger between Luton and Dunstable University Hospital and Bedford Hospital in terms of delivering value for money for our local health economy?

My hon. Friend has been assiduous, as have his neighbours, in lobbying the case for Luton and Dunstable and Bedford. He will be aware that the ongoing business case is being reviewed as part of that, but ultimately this is about the £3.9 billion of additional capital investment that the Government have funded. That is why these cases are being reviewed.

T7. Over a third of children in the UK are either overweight or obese. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has warned that a trade deal with the US could lead to an influx of junk food with high fat, sugar and salt content. Will the Health Secretary make sure that health is put above trade going forward? (904490)

As I have said, we are concerned about child obesity, which is probably the big public health challenge, not least in the impact that it can have on diabetes, heart disease and cancer. That is why I so welcome Cancer Research UK moving into this space. We have one of the most ambitious plans in the world. We have already said that it is the start of a conversation, not the end, and if we need to go further, we will.

May I welcome today’s announcement on a new medical school for Kent? In an area that struggles to attract doctors, this will make a huge difference: it is genuinely a game changer. Will my right hon. Friend congratulate the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University on their successful bid?

I absolutely congratulate them, but I also congratulate my hon. Friend, because I know that she worked incredibly hard on this bid. Thanks to that, I am sure, they are among the successful bidders today.

T10. The Independent Reconfiguration Panel’s report on the downgrading of Huddersfield Royal Infirmary is sitting on the Secretary of State’s desk, and I have been told that it will be made public “in due course”. May we now have the exact date on which it will be published? (904493)

I am aware of the issues raised by Kirklees Council, and I understand that local campaigners have referred this to judicial review. Given the imminent legal proceedings, it would not be appropriate to comment further at this stage. A decision on the referral to me by the local council will be made in due course.

Cheltenham General is a wonderful hospital, but it needs investment in theatres and wards. May I take this opportunity to commend the application for over £30 million of capital funding, which would make a huge difference to my constituents?

I have met the management team for my hon. Friend’s trust and he has talked to me on many, many occasions about that. I hope that he will have a positive answer, and if it is, that will be in no small part thanks to his campaigning.

Bowel cancer remains a major killer in the UK. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence recognises the new FIT—faecal immunochemical test—to be a far more effective bowel screening process, but there remains a lack of clarity about when it is going to be rolled out nationally. Will the Minister provide that clarity today so that people can be saved down the line?

The UK National Screening Committee has recommended that FIT be the primary screening test for bowel cancer, and NHS England remains absolutely committed to implementing it in 2018-19. We expect to make a decision very shortly on when that will be.

May I thank the Minister for his concern about what is going on at Arrowe Park Hospital? Will he meet Wirral Members shortly so that we can be assured that the existing governance is very short-term and that the issues of bullying and the way the hospital cripples primary care are dealt with effectively?

The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise that serious issue. There needs to be a culture change in Wirral, and I am happy to continue to meet him and other Wirral Members to discuss that. He will be aware of the NHS Improvement report on that issue on 5 March.

According to Lord O’Neill, diagnostics prior to prescription of antibiotics is the most important of the 10 commandments in the O’Neill review on antimicrobial resistance. Will the Minister update the House on progress towards that very important goal?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are totally committed to the O’Neill recommendations and are working internationally to bring them about.

My local paper, the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, has recently launched its “Stop the Rot” campaign, as children in Bradford have some of the worst dental health outcomes of anywhere in the country. Does the Minister agree that prevention is key to improving children’s dental health? Can he tell us what steps the Government are taking to ensure that prevention is a key element of any new dental contract?

I think that would be the brilliant Bradford Telegraph and Argus. As I said, 75 dental practices are continuing to test the preventive focus clinical approach alongside the new remuneration system, which supports an increased focus on prevention through the dental contract. I know it is taking time, but I want to get it right.

We know that early diagnosis of cancer is crucial for successful treatment outcomes, but for many cancers, such as pancreatic and ovarian cancer, early symptoms can be vague and the chance to diagnose early easily missed. What are the Government doing to ensure that hard-to-detect cancers are diagnosed early?

That is an excellent question. We are testing the new Accelerate, Co-ordinate, Evaluate programme—ACE—which I visited recently at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford. Patients with vague symptoms can be referred for multiple tests and often receive a diagnosis or an all-clear on the same day. I do not get excited very easily, but that promises great excitement.

It is a delight to see the Minister in a state of high excitement. We hope to see it repeated on innumerable occasions.

Seventy MPs from across the House in yesterday’s Westminster Hall debate all agreed that we need Orkambi on the NHS now. Can the Minister tell me what he will be doing differently for sufferers of cystic fibrosis and when we will hear news of a breakthrough? Sufferers of cystic fibrosis are slowly drowning in their disease without access to Orkambi.

It was a very good debate, and the hon. Gentleman spoke very well in it on behalf of his constituents. We have made a counter-offer to Vertex. I call on Vertex to be reasonable, and I call on Vertex and NHS England to get back round the table and get this sorted.

Order. In Question Time, as in the health service under all Governments, demand tends invariably to exceed supply. We have time only for two more—we do not really have time, but I am creating it.

I would like to thank the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Winchester (Steve Brine), for his response to the all-party parliamentary group on blood cancer report. Will he continue to ensure that cancer alliances and GPs are diagnosing early?

With a significant amount of public money at stake, should not NHS trusts that are proposing to set up subsidiary companies publish their full business cases?

The point is that trusts are 100% owned by the NHS, so any benefit accrued from the subsidiary goes to the NHS, because it is fully owned by the public sector.