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Topical Questions

Volume 659: debated on Tuesday 7 May 2019

It is the goal of the Department to support everyone to live longer, healthier lives. I will be working right across the health and social care sector to deliver the goal of five years of extra healthy life for people in the UK. In doing that, I am delighted that we will now have on the ministerial team the enthusiasm and assistance of the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy).

In achieving those goals, the Secretary of State will be concerned that while many patients can obtain GP appointments for emergency cases on the same day, quite a lot of people have to wait three or four weeks for non-emergency appointments. Can the Government do anything to improve that situation?

Yes, I entirely understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. We are acting to make sure that there is better access. We have a review of access to primary care. But, more than that, the biggest increase of the £39.9 billion of extra taxpayers’ money that we are putting into the NHS is in GP access, primary care and community care to make sure that we get ahead of the curve and help people to stay healthy rather than just treat them in hospital.

Can the Secretary of State explain why 200,000 nurses have left the NHS since 2010 and why today we are short of 40,000 nurses?

The good news is that we have record numbers of nurses in the NHS. We have more staff in the NHS than at any time in its history. While of course in any very large organisation like the NHS there is always turnover, what matters is having the people we need. We are putting more money in, we are going to need more people, and we are developing a plan to make that happen.

We have about 90 nurses a day leaving the NHS, so rather than posing for the newspapers by the stables like a character from a Jilly Cooper novel, why does the Secretary of State not show some actual leadership and reverse the cuts to development, reverse the cuts to training places and reverse the abolition of the training bursary so that we can start to recruit the nurses and midwives our NHS needs today?

What I will not reverse is the increase in the number of people who are helping to improve lives and save lives in our NHS. It is only because of the extra money that we in this Conservative Government have put into the NHS that we can be confident that we are securing its future to deliver better care for every single person whom we represent in this House.

T5. Patient-GP ratios across the Witham constituency are under pressure and the highest in the country. Will my right hon. Friend use the forthcoming comprehensive spending review to secure more investment in not only GPs but Witham health services? (910742)

My right hon. Friend is right to raise that. That money is already committed. Of the extra £33.9 billion that is going into the NHS, the biggest increase is going into community and primary care, because I understand how important it is for people to get decent access to their GP services in Witham and across England.

T2. The council chair of the British Medical Association recently said:“The only thing that is certain, is how disastrous leaving the EU will be for the NHS… no type of Brexit can ever offer the same benefits we currently have.”Does the Secretary of State agree with that sentiment, or can he tell the House how he thinks Brexit will improve the NHS? (910739)

No, the NHS is going to be there for us no matter what the outcome of Brexit is. The British people voted for Brexit, and we are going to deliver Brexit, and then we are going to get on to doing all the other things. Even over the last few months, we have been able to put extra money into the NHS to ensure that its future is guaranteed.

T6. I was pleased when the Department of Health and Social Care accepted that changes to our pensions legislation are driving early retirement and reduced hours among senior consultants. Can the Minister give an update on what discussions are being had with the Treasury to attempt to find a solution to that issue? (910743)

My hon. Friend will have heard me say in answer to the earlier question that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the Chancellor are in discussions about that matter. It would be unfair of me to comment on the progress of those discussions, but we hope to resolve them soon.

T3. Maternity Action reports that migrant women requiring maternity care from NHS hospitals are being deterred from receiving treatment by charges and fear of immigration sanctions. Will the Secretary of State meet me and campaigners to discuss what we can do to address that worrying situation? (910740)

T9. Some 1,486 of my constituents have been diagnosed as suffering from dementia. The Alzheimer’s Society is urging that, to provide the best support and care, carers should have tier 2 training. Is the Minister doing everything possible to achieve that? (910746)

T4. In the north-east, over half of domiciliary care workers are on zero-hours contracts, 40% have no relevant qualification and, as the recent Low Pay Commission report shows, rates of non-payment of the minimum wage are rising, but enforcement is not. What will the Secretary of State do to improve the pay, conditions and training of careworkers who provide such an essential service? (910741)

This is all about getting more money into the system. That is why we have increased spending on adult social care by 9% over the last three years. We are focusing on attracting more people into adult social care, which is why we had the “Every Day is Different” recruitment campaign, to ensure that we get more brilliant-quality staff into adult social care roles.

T10. Does the Secretary of State agree that nursing associates are an excellent new role on the frontline of the NHS, delivering hands-on care for patients? If so, what more can be done to get more of them across the country? (910747)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That role has been introduced to help build the capacity of the nursing workforce and support nurses and wider multidisciplinary teams. As he will have heard me say earlier, I am delighted that Health Education England is leading the national nursing associate training programme, with a commitment to train 7,500 nursing associates this year.

T8. Tens of thousands of children are born every year with brain damage as a result of pre-natal exposure to alcohol, yet most clinical commissioning groups are not providing support for those with foetal alcohol spectrum disorders, despite Government guidance telling them to do so. Will the Government take the action needed and provide support for those suffering with this life-limiting and lifelong condition? (910745)

The hon. Gentleman is right. Foetal alcohol spectrum disorders are not sufficiently widely understood across the NHS. We must ensure that we give support to those who are affected and also raise awareness, not least to encourage people to understand the risks they are taking when they drink alcohol during pregnancy.

Over many years, High Wycombe has established a dramatic way to help tackle obesity. To that end, a week on Saturday, the mayor, a number of councillors and I will be weighed in public, to check whether we have put weight on at taxpayers’ expense. If the Government wish to extend that programme to other Members of the House, I will be happy to ask to borrow the weighing tripod.

The only thing that is weighty about the hon. Gentleman, in my experience as a county colleague, is his brain.

I would be delighted to encourage that which my hon. Friend encourages. One thing that leads to people putting on weight is high levels of stress, so perhaps we could put some contentious issues behind us to reduce stress levels and allow all of us to lead healthier and happier lives.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) is experiencing no stress. I rather imagine that she is still celebrating that rocket of a goal last night by Vincent Kompany.

It was a magnificent and very important goal, Mr Speaker.

I would like to put it on record that my husband is an A&E consultant. The Secretary of State will know that one of the massive factors in gaps in rotas is that A&E doctors and other hospital doctors are facing notional tax rates of 90% or more from taking on extra shifts. It is not a very Tory policy, this. What is he doing about it?

This policy has come up a couple of times in questions today, and rightly so. I am having discussions with the Chancellor. It is a tax policy, and I do not think that my right hon. Friend would be incredibly enthusiastic about me announcing tax changes at the Dispatch Box. It is something that we are talking about and working on. It is the unintended consequence of tax changes that were designed for other parts of the economy.

The appropriate and safe disposal of drugs and medical equipment has recently been raised with me by my constituents in Corby. Will he keep in mind these concerns when reviewing policy in terms of both awareness of what to do and the ease with which it can be done?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. The NHS faced the loss of a contract last year, which was then safely put back into place. The point he makes about guidance is absolutely right, and if he wants to come and talk to me about it, I will be happy to discuss it.

It is deeply concerning that in the past 10 years the number of prescriptions for opioid drugs has risen by 9 million. In this time, codeine-related deaths have more than doubled to over 150 a year. While I welcome moves to label opioid medicines, what further measures will the Secretary of State take to protect people from the dangers of opioid addiction?

As the hon. Lady may know, I am very concerned about this. We are working on what we can do to ensure that opioids are prescribed and used only when they are the most appropriate and right treatment. Opioids save people from significant pain and are used every day right across the NHS, but opioid addiction is a very serious problem. Some other countries have got this wrong, and we must get it right.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for coming to County Hospital in Stafford on Saturday. Does he agree that he saw there the importance of small accident and emergency departments sustaining the whole of the regional health economy by giving support to the larger ones?

Yes. It was brilliant to go to County Hospital in Stafford and see the hard work and team work and to be able to thank NHS staff both in Stafford and across the country working over the long weekend. My hon. Friend is a brilliant and diligent voice of Stafford. I have already stopped A&E closures in west London. I do not think that we should be seeing the closure of small A&E units, and I will work with him on the issue.

As the Minister is aware, I have become concerned about the rising number of suicides in my constituency. When I talk to professionals in the area, they tell me that it is not just funding that is causing some of the problems but the lack of staff. What more can the Minister do to ensure that we have the mental health staff that we desperately need?

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that. She is right to do so. We are aware of some of the specific issues in her constituency, and I look forward to visiting and taking up some of the discussions directly.

The Secretary of State has been kind enough to visit Worcestershire Royal Hospital, which serves people in my constituency. He saw for himself how small the emergency department is there. With £20 billion going into the NHS, does he agree that there is a good opportunity to look again at returning services to Redditch—in particular, the maternity and A&E departments, which have been removed?

It was brilliant to visit Worcester hospital—another medium-sized hospital, but with a small A&E department that was working incredibly hard given the facilities. I pay tribute to all the work of staff there and very much take on board the points that my hon. Friend has made.

Order. We have a lot to get through. I shall take one more question, and then we must move on.

Today I met representatives of the Teenage Cancer Trust. As we await the publication of the workforce implementation plan following the publication of the NHS long-term plan, what plans does the Minister have to ensure sustainable funding for the teenage and young adult cancer specialist workforce?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question; I had the pleasure of meeting representatives of the Teenage Cancer Trust recently as well. Cancer is an absolute priority for the Government. Our aim is for 75% of all cancers to be detected at an early stage by 2028. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, the workforce plan will be reporting imminently.