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Topical Questions

Volume 640: debated on Tuesday 8 May 2018

I would like to give an update on the breast cancer screening failure. I met the Public Health England chief executive this afternoon, and I am informed that 65,000 letters were sent out last week, and the helpline has taken nearly 14,000 calls to date. Further letters are going out this week, and the first invitations to catch-up screenings will go out next week. Due to the lack of clinical consensus about the effectiveness of screening for older women, we will provide advice and support for all who missed scans and support them in making their own decision as to whether to proceed. We will also publish the terms of reference for the independent inquiry shortly, and I can assure the House that no stone will be left unturned in uncovering the truth.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that update, but I would like to ask him about the Brexit transition agreement, which cuts the UK out of the European Medicines Agency. Can he give this House a cast-iron guarantee that that will not stop the regulation of new drugs in the UK to help patients, and will not prevent our world-class pharmaceutical companies from basing themselves here to do world-class research and development?

T2. The Secretary of State has visited Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow on a number of occasions and he will recognise that, despite excellent staff, the hospital is not fit for purpose. Will he confirm that Harlow is at the top of the list for capital funding, and that we will get the new hospital our town desperately needs? (905183)

We recognise that the Princess Alexandra Hospital estate is in a poor condition. NHS Improvement is working with the trust to develop an estate and capital strategy by summer 2018 to be assessed, with other schemes put forward, for the next capital announcement for sustainability and transformation partnerships. I am very happy to meet my right hon. Friend to have further discussions about it.

I thank the Secretary of State for his update on breast cancer screening. I welcome his letter this morning with respect to patient safety in the private sector, but is not the truth that the best quality of care is provided by a public national health service? Is it not time to legislate to ensure that private hospitals improve their patient safety standards, and if he accepts that levels of safety are not acceptable in the private sector, why is the NHS still referring patients to the unsafe private sector? Should there not be a moratorium on those referrals until these issues are sorted out?

The hon. Gentleman should be very careful in making generalisations about the independent sector, just as he is about the NHS sector, because the truth is that there is too much poor care in both sectors, but both sectors also have outstanding care. I have always said that there will be no special favours for the independent sector, which we will hold to the same high standard of care, through the Care Quality Commission regime, as we do with NHS hospitals. Let me just say to him that if we stopped referring people to the independent sector, 140,000 people would wait longer for their operations, and that is not good care.

We have seen the private sector fail—the NHS is sued by Virgin Care, patient transport contracts have to come back in-house, and Carillion collapses and cleaning contracts have to come back in-house—and now we learn that the hotline for women affected by the breast cancer screening failures is provided by Serco and staffed by call handlers who, far from having medical or counselling training, have had one hour’s training. Do not the women affected deserve better than that? Will the Secretary of State provide the resources for that phone line to be brought back in-house and staffed by medical professionals?

I normally have so much respect for the hon. Gentleman, but I think those women deserve a lot better than that posturing. The helpline was set up at very short notice because, obviously, the call handlers could not do all their training until I had made a statement to Parliament, which I judged was the most important thing to do first. It is not the only help that the women affected will be getting—on the basis of the advice received, they will be referred back for help at their local hospital, with Macmillan Cancer Support or through specialist clinicians at Public Health England—but we thought it was right that that number was made available as quickly as possible.

T9. I hope the Minister will join me in congratulating the mayor of Walsall, Marco Longhi, whose mayoralty has raised a significant sum to support WPH Counselling and Education Services, which provides adolescent mental care and counselling in Walsall. (905191)

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for raising this matter, and I very much welcome the contribution made by the charity to support teenagers in his constituency with psychological therapies and to help to address their mental health conditions. I join him in extending my congratulations to the mayor for choosing this very important cause and for endeavouring to raise so much money for it.

T3. Chapelford medical centre in my constituency has been operating out of a portakabin on waste land for many years, due to excessive delays and the failings of various NHS bodies involved in this project. What action will Ministers take to resolve these shocking delays, and will they meet me to give assurances to my constituents? (905184)

I welcome the Green Paper on mental health in schools, which was published earlier this year, but it does prompt a question about the mental health of students in further and higher education. Does my right hon. Friend have any plans to look into that issue? If he does not, may I urge him to do so?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and her continued industry on these matters. As she mentioned, the Green Paper outlined plans to set up a new national strategic partnership focused on improving the mental health of 16 to 25-year-olds. That partnership is likely to support and build on sector-led initiatives in higher education, such as Universities UK’s #stepchange project, whose launch I attended in September. The strategy calls on higher education leaders to adopt mental health as a strategic priority, to take a whole-university approach to mental health and to embed it across policies, courses and practices. [Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) need not worry; her Zebedee-like qualities will always make her visible. I am saving her for later. We will hear from her shortly.

T4. There is a clear connection between obesity and type 2 diabetes. Will the Secretary of State confirm that that issue will be addressed in the national diabetes prevention programme? (905185)

Obesity has rightly had a strong outing today. We know that it is a leading cause of type 2 diabetes; supporting people to live healthier lifestyles can only reduce the incidence of the disease. So far, more than 170,000 people have been referred to the national diabetes prevention programme. Those who are referred receive tailored, personalised help, including education on healthy eating and lifestyle choices, and bespoke physical exercise programmes.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that following his decision to make the capital allocation to Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust before Easter, that trust has had sufficient confidence to successfully appoint five additional consultants in 10 days in April, thereby improving resilience in acute healthcare in Shropshire?

I very much welcome the progress that my hon. Friend has shared with the House. Many of us will also want to pay tribute to his leadership during his time at the Department in recognising the opportunity for reconfiguration that the capital would unlock and is now delivering.

T5. On 21 March, the Secretary of State told the House that he would look at the impact of private finance initiative deals on NHS hospital budgets. What has he done since then? How many meetings has he had about the issue? Will he commit not to use PF2 deals, given the concerns? (905186)

I can absolutely commit that we are very conscious of the failings of PFI when we have any discussion about NHS capital funding, including the previous question. We are very conscious of the need not to make the mistakes that saddled the NHS with £71 billion of PFI debt.

Dispensing practices are a lifeline in rural constituencies such as Sleaford and North Hykeham. Does my right hon. Friend agree that patients who live far from a pharmacy and attend their local dispensing practice should all have access to that dispensing service?

Yes, I do: dispensing practices are an important part of the widening primary care mix. That is important for constituents in rural areas such as my hon. Friend’s. Community pharmacy and dispensing practices, which she refers to, are increasingly important when they are part of an integrated primary care pathway. That has got to be the future.

T6. What discussions have the Government had with Vertex regarding the availability of Orkambi? Many Members packed out Westminster Hall in a debate about that issue. Will the Government give us an update on this really serious issue? (905187)

This issue has received a lot of publicity in recent weeks. My noble Friend Lord O’Shaughnessy and I wrote to Vertex following that debate and asked it to be reasonable and continue, with vigour, its negotiations with NHS England. That letter was made public, as was the company’s actually quite positive response last week. I urge the company again to come to a reasonable conclusion.

Healthcare delivered by app and other new technologies is increasingly popular with patients. Will my right hon. Friend undertake to ensure that the NHS fully explores the possibilities of new technologies when delivering front-line services?

I will absolutely do that. I congratulate my hon. Friend on the excellent report that he published last week on that very topic. We want to be the first country in the world where all patients can access their own medical record through an app.

T7. Does the Secretary of State share my concern that, according to the Royal College of Physicians, 43% of advertised consultant vacancies were left unfilled in 2016-17? Will Ministers be brave and argue publicly that there should be more visas for overseas doctors? (905188)

Last year we gave more than 4,000 visas for overseas doctors and since I have been Health Secretary we have had nearly 10,000 more doctors, so we absolutely want to address that problem.

My constituent Susan is desperately waiting for the Government to bring forward the remedial order for single parent surrogates. The Joint Committee on Human Rights published its response to the original draft in March. Is there any update on when we will get the next version?

I can reassure my hon. Friend that the Government are giving careful consideration to the implications of the JCHR’s recommendations and what changes may be necessary to address them. It is our current intention that a revised order be laid for JCHR scrutiny before the summer recess.

Does the Minister agree that eating a nutritionally balanced meal can reduce snacking between meals and therefore help to reduce childhood obesity? If so, will he speak to his colleagues in the Department for Education and ask them to ensure that the 6,400 children in Kirklees who are set to lose out on a well balance nutritious free school meal do not?

I talk to colleagues across Government all the time. The first round of the child obesity plan—it was maligned earlier—contained many good things, such as the sugary drinks tax. A couple of months ago we launched, with Public Health England, changes in relation to the nutrient profiling of foods marketed to children. That is positive for the hon. Lady’s constituents and for mine.

There are still many things to tackle when it comes to patient safety, but I think the NHS has risen magnificently to the challenges in the report. There are nearly 45,000 more doctors and nurses across the system. Although there is more to be done, much credit should go to the NHS.

This week marks two and a half months since the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse recommended that compensation be paid urgently to children sent abroad by their Government and subjected to the most appalling child abuse. In that time, the Secretary of State’s Department, despite repeated requests for action, has made not a single statement. Many former child migrants have died and others are dying. How many more will have to wait, and die waiting, for justice before this Government get their act together and pay them the compensation that is owed?

We have been quite frank about the fact that the child migration policy should never have happened and this Government have apologised repeatedly for it. I can assure the hon. Lady that I am currently working with officials to come up with a formal response to the committee of inquiry.

Will the Minister update me on the FIT—faecal immunochemical test—for bowel cancer? It has long been promised and we know it saves lives. When will it materialise?

I updated Members on this last week in a Westminster Hall debate. Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. My hon. Friend is right that the FIT has long been promised. There have been a lot of challenges—making sure we get it right and referrals into the secondary sector—but the FIT will be rolled out from autumn.

The European health insurance card enables British citizens to get medical treatment in the EU, including kidney patients who need dialysis. Without it, many of them simply could not go on holiday at all. Will the Secretary of State tell the House whether it remains the Government’s objective to keep the EHIC in place after we have left the EU, and, if so, what progress is being made to ensure that that happens?

It is absolutely our intention. We think it is beneficial for Brits and beneficial for Europeans. We are very confident that we will be able to negotiate reciprocal healthcare arrangements to protect those benefits, but our first preference would be a continuation of the current scheme.

Will the Minister explain how and when the community pharmacy sector will gain access to the pharmacy integration fund? Millions have been promised. When will it be delivered?

The pharmacy integration fund is a great success. It needed to be ramped up and it is being ramped up. Pharmacists, working within general practice, are making a great difference to the multidisciplinary team within primary care.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg) and I set up an all-party group on the impact of social media on the mental health of children. With all the work the Secretary of State has done to date on that, I wonder whether he and his ministerial team will agree to engage with the all-party group’s inquiry and look at how we find solutions to these problems, including mental health.

Several of my constituents have contacted me to welcome the Government’s recent announcement of additional investment for prostate cancer funding. Will the Minister update the House on what the money is and what it will be spent on?

Gladly. Prostate cancer survival rates are at a record high, but we want to do even better, so last month the Prime Minister announced £75 million to support new research into the early diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer. The National Institute for Health Research will recruit 40,000 more patients, which is a lot, for more than 60 studies into prostate cancer over the next five years.

I welcome the recent news that NHS England has committed to redirecting extra funding for dental services to Bradford as an area of need—it comes after a high-profile campaign in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus—but I urge the Minister to recognise the need for long-term reform of the dental contract and for a sustainable funding settlement for all. Will he meet me and others campaigning on this issue to discuss what progress has been made?

Yes. The dental contract has had a good outing this afternoon. I am always happy to see the hon. Lady and I can tick the Telegraph and Argus off my bucket list if they come along as well.

I have been enjoying listening to my colleagues so much that I inadvertently lost track of time, but it seems only right that the final question should go to the Chair of the Health Committee—I call Dr Sarah Wollaston.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will the Secretary of State commit to publishing the progress report on sugar reduction and the next steps strategy on the reformulation programme, so that the Health Committee can examine that when Public Health England appears before us on 22 May?

I had a conversation with Public Health England before questions this afternoon, and it committed to publishing that before that hearing.