House of Commons
Tuesday 23 July 2019
The House met at half-past Eleven o’clock
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]
Oral Answers to Questions
Health and Social Care
The Secretary of State was asked—
Leaving the EU: Access to Drugs
Our highest priority is for patients to continue to have access to medicines and medical products in all Brexit scenarios. As a responsible Government, we will minimise any disruption in our exit, deal or no deal.
On 26 June, we set out our approach to ensuring continuity of supply. I discussed this last week with the head of the NHS, and Professor Keith Willett wrote to all NHS trusts yesterday to advise on no-deal planning.
Concerned breast cancer charities have asked me and others to ask the Secretary of State if he will confirm to us, and to them, whether he is leasing enough ferry capacity to ship in medicines in the very likely event of shortages in the UK when we leave the EU.
My constituent Jonathan Fisher, known as the Bold Joff, has complex health needs due to a rare genetic condition called Lowe syndrome. He requires six regular medications, three of which come from the EU. They are all vital to his health, but one in particular, Epilim, is critical to his epilepsy care. What reassurances can the Secretary of State give to Jonathan and his mother, Fiona, that when we leave the EU there will be no disruption to his supply of this vital medication?
The assurance I can give is that, ahead of 29 March, we put in place the measures that are necessary to ensure that the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and others get the medicines they need, and we have taken forward those proposals and that work ahead of an exit from the European Union on 31 October.
The Secretary of State will be aware of the expert evidence, including from the BioIndustry Association, warning that, although we may be able to stockpile the bog-standard drugs, it will be very difficult to do so for specialist treatments. What guarantees can he give that we will have access to those specialist medicines?
Ahead of 29 March, we managed to put in place a full programme to ensure access to drugs. Of course, the approach is not just about ensuring stockpiles—there are adequate stockpiles for so many medicines all the time—but is about ensuring the flow of materials and finished drugs across the channel via ferries and, where necessary, aircraft.
Rural Areas: Health Service Funding
NHS England is responsible for funding allocations to clinical commissioning groups, which already take into account the relative health needs of local areas. NHS England is now introducing a new community services formula, which will better recognise the needs of rural, coastal and remote areas.
Will the Minister update the House in more detail on how the Department plans to support CCGs such as Northumberland, where managing the extra costs associated with the extreme rurality of communities like the Coquet valley, the most rural in England, means it simply is not possible for community nurses and general practitioners to reach as many patients in a day?
Adjustments are already being made in the funding formula for differences in costs related to rurality or location. Northumberland CCG will receive an extra £1.1 million in funding this year to provide emergency ambulance services in sparsely populated areas. By 2023-24, Northumberland CCG will receive £98.5 million more funding.
My hon. Friend has already spoken to me about Rothbury Community Hospital in her constituency, and I would be delighted to speak to her about it again.
People in rural areas need more investment in social care services. I do not always agree with the Daily Mail, but is it not right when it says that we now need a national dementia fund and an all-party approach to defining the nature and funding of the social care system in this country? Successive Governments have failed in that respect, and older people, disabled people and their families are being let down as a consequence. When will we see some action?
My right hon. Friend is right to raise that point, which has been raised with me several times. The new funding formula that the independent advisory committee is setting up will take into account the growth in population. It will look at the growth in the electoral register every year, rather than over a five-year period, as it does now, so it will be able to respond more quickly than is currently the case.
Will the Minister bear in mind the fact that dementia comes in many different forms? My mother had one form and she lasted a number of years, but it finally took hold. My sister, on the other hand, went within a short period of time, because she would not eat at all. My best friend at the time in the National Union of Mineworkers, Peter Heathfield, finished his life being violent, struggling with three people who tried to get him to the toilet. Bear that in mind carefully, Minister. Dementia is not a static illness; it is very different for different people.
I do not always agree with the hon. Gentleman, but he is right to make that point. I know from very personal experience that dementia affects people in different ways, which is why I am proud to be part of a Government who are committed to delivering in full on the challenge on dementia 2020, to make England the best country in the world for dementia care.
The huge rural area covered by the Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust has and needs three hospitals, but it is funded as if it had only one. As a result, the trust has been fined more than £4 million in debt interest over the past three years. That money could have been spent on nurses, paramedics or doctors. Will the Minister intervene to stop this at once?
I met the hon. Gentleman recently to talk about ambulance provision in his constituency and the Morecambe bay area, and I hope he is now satisfied with the progress we are making on that. I will look into the individual case he mentions and respond to him.
Rural Areas: Access to Health Care
The long-term plan that the Department published in January commits to delivering fully integrated community-based healthcare in primary and community hubs. It confirms that the standard model of delivery will be developed for use in smaller acute hospitals that serve rural populations.
I thank the Minister for his answer, but some rural villages, including some in Devon, have no ambulance service at all—a fact masked by high-level statistical reporting. Will the Government work with me and the National Centre for Rural Health and Care to expose the real rural healthcare deficit, which is so masked, and work with us to rectify the situation and provide the appropriate care and medical support necessary by putting in place a robust and accountable rural health and care strategy and plan?
I know that my hon. Friend has worked with the National Centre for Rural Health and Care and chairs the all-party group on rural health and social care. She is right to mention the fact that there are particular challenges in the delivery of the best-quality healthcare that we want to see in rural areas. I would be delighted to work with her and the all-party group on the matter.
It has now been almost 18 months since health commissioners proposed that the two options for acute medical care in east Kent be put forward for public consultation. My constituents, particularly those in rural areas, are simply fed up with waiting for a new hospital. Will the Minister please confirm for me today just when a full public consultation on the future provision of acute services in east Kent will finally take place?
One in 10 women have endometriosis. The average wait for diagnosis is seven and a half years and can be even longer in rural areas, and there is currently no test for it. Researchers at the University of Hull previously developed biomarkers for cancer testing and have recently developed a project to test for biomarkers in urine to help to identify endometriosis. They need £10,000 in seed funding to get the project off the ground; will the Minister please meet me to discuss how we can secure the funding?
Cystic Fibrosis Treatment
We want patients living with cystic fibrosis to get the best care possible. Progress in specialised treatment for patients with CF means that people are living healthier and longer lives, but I recognise that it is frustrating for everyone, in particular patients and their families, that a deal on Orkambi has not been reached. It is for Vertex and NHS England to enter negotiations. I urge Vertex to consider the latest offer from NHSE.
I have heard from people in Dudley and across the country about the difference that those new treatments make, but patients have been waiting for three and a half years now. Some families are having to take extreme measures to secure access to the drugs. Will the Minister and the Secretary of State meet me, people with cystic fibrosis or their parents, and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust so that we can get the whole thing sorted out and the wait for the drugs is not drawn out any longer with another summer or year of impasse?
I recognise and share the frustration of patients and their families. The situation has been going on for far too long. I again urge Vertex to accept the offer. The hon. Gentleman has been in touch about a meeting, and I understand that we have responded to say that we will give him a firm date shortly.
Sufferers of CF, as we have heard, are well used to the new hope of changes in the Government, but it soon becomes yet another false dawn: they are left drowning in their disease without access to Orkambi. The Minister has to lean in on the business end of the job that she has to do. Will the Government use their leverage, support the buyers’ club—the drastic action that CF sufferers are having to take—and supplement access to the equivalent of Orkambi? That might finally get Vertex to the table to do a deal on this important issue.
As I said to the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members in the Westminster Hall debate on the drug, a deal is the preferred option. However, the attitude taken by Vertex, which has been called an outlier in this situation, means that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has instructed NHS England to look at other options.
Over the past three years, all of us in this House have heard the numerous calls for Orkambi to be made available to cystic fibrosis patients. The Minister could go down in history if she takes the all-important step this week, while still in her job—I hope she will still be in the job tomorrow—of announcing an alternative route to access cystic fibrosis drugs, such as a Crown use licence or clinical trials. Today, before we break for recess, will she commit to that so that families can have Orkambi now?
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence process is important, because it is an independent expert review and the way in which we allocate resources sensibly. The Crown use licence is not a quick or easy solution, and it is open to legal challenge, which might delay things even more. Vertex has been offered the biggest settlement in NHS history, and I urge the company to accept it. However—I have said this on numerous occasions from this Dispatch Box and in Westminster Hall—the Secretary of State has urged and asked NHS England to look at other options, such as the ones to which the shadow Minister has referred.
Healthcare Staffing Levels
Across the UK, the number of registered nurses and doctors has increased over the past nine years. In England, there were over 112,000 doctors in NHS trusts in March 2019, 17,000 more than in March 2010, and over 8,000 more nurses than in 2010. There is more to do, and the NHS people plan will ensure a sustainable workforce for the long-term future of the NHS.
As the Secretary of State may be aware, earlier this month—conveniently in the Holyrood recess—we learnt that medical students who come from the rest of the United Kingdom and want to apply for an undergraduate course at Scottish universities will find their chances greatly diminished. Most Scots are appalled by this policy. In fact, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners and medical schools are all expressing concern. Does the Secretary of State agree that the Scottish Government need to be attracting the brightest and the best—no matter where they come from across the United Kingdom—to address the GP crisis?
Yes, I do. I was surprised by the recent news that I read about medical schools in Scotland being told to discriminate against medical students from elsewhere in the UK. I understand that the Scottish National party itself accepts that this is discriminatory. I doubt that the policy will last and I look forward to an SNP U-turn.
Mitie recently signed a £150 million contract at St George’s Hospital, but staff are already facing job cuts. My union, the GMB, balloted its members; 99.6% of them voted to take industrial action. Will the Secretary of State commit to visiting staff on the frontline and show them solidarity during this very difficult time?
The Secretary of State has quite rightly outlined the global progress that has been made on the medical and nursing workforces, but he will be aware that the picture is very different in mental health services, with the loss of 4,000 mental health nurses over the last decade. Indeed, the fill-rate for doctors entering higher training in child and adolescent mental health services this August is only 63% and only half the higher trainee posts in general adult mental health have been filled. What is the Secretary of State going to do to turn the very good rhetoric on mental health into a reality on the ground for patients?
The increase in funding for mental health services, which is the largest increase as part of the overall £33.9 billion increase, goes to mental health services. Of course, the vast majority of that will go towards employing more people. As my hon. Friend says, we need to encourage more people into training in mental health services and psychiatry, as well as mental health nursing, which is also under pressure. The expansion of these services ultimately means that we need to have more people doing the work: supporting people to improve their mental health and supporting people with mental ill health. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue, which is right at the top of the priorities for the NHS people plan.
We have recently announced that the way in which we are going to proceed with regard to sexual health services is co-commissioning between local authorities and the local NHS. This is the best way to ensure that we get the services on the ground. I would just slightly caution the hon. Gentleman; although he mentioned that some sexually transmitted diseases have been on the rise, others have been falling quite sharply. We have to ensure that we get the details of what we try to implement right, but I support the direction of travel that he proposes.
What can we do to make the workload terms and conditions more attractive for salaried GPs and GP partners compared with locums? GPs in my constituency tell me that a great number want to be locums, but that not so many want to be salaried or GP partners because of the workload. What can we do about that?
My hon. Friend is dead right. This is an important part of the work that Baroness Dido Harding is leading in the NHS people plan to ensure that we can make careers in the NHS—whether as doctors, other clinicians or more broadly—the most attractive that they possibly can be. This week we announced a pay rise for doctors and earlier this month we announced a long-term agreement with junior doctors, which I am delighted they accepted in a referendum with over 80% support. But there is more work to do.
The rules around annual and lifetime allowances are having an impact on the NHS workforce in Scotland, and the options contained in the recent consultation on doctors’ pensions do not provide the level of flexibility necessary to resolve this situation. We know that the solution lies with the Treasury, so what pressure can the current Secretary of State put on the Chancellor to ensure that urgent reform takes place to stop this terrible impact on our NHS workforce?
I have been working hard with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that we can resolve this important issue. The hon. Gentleman will have seen the consultation document that we put out yesterday to resolve the problem. The consultation is open and asks open questions about the best way to fix it. I am absolutely determined that we will fix it to remove some of the unintended consequences of changes in pension tax law. It is a pity, though, that the SNP spokesman did not stand up to accept that the proposal mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Angus (Kirstene Hair), which would discriminate against people from outside of Scotland, is wrong and should be withdrawn.
The Secretary of State is in denial. There is a crisis in GP retention. In fact, there are now 1,200 fewer fully qualified permanent GPs than there were in 2010. Because of this, patients are waiting longer than ever to get a GP appointment. He has promised, as he did again today, to address this, but it is a fact that the situation is getting worse, with a pension system that is effectively charging GPs to work extra hours. Does he really believe that this is the best way to retain GPs in the NHS? Does he have a detailed plan, and can he explain how he is going to sort out this mess?
I think it is worth starting with a few facts. One fact is that I published a detailed plan yesterday, on which we are consulting, to tackle the pension issue. The other two facts that are worth noting, and that the House will want to know about, are the following. First, there is a record number of GPs in training—3,473. Secondly, the overall number of GPs is rising, with, as of March 2019, 300 more doctors working in general practice than a year earlier. I want to see that number continue to rise.
Social Care Services: Accessibility
All councils have a statutory duty to look after people’s care and support needs in their areas. In total, between 2016 and 2017, and in 2019-20, the Government have given councils access to £10 billion more social care funding.
Given that the Government have promised a spending increase for the NHS in the regions, is the Minister aware that at the current funding levels, Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership will be operating on a predicted deficit of £2 billion by 2021? Will she advise on what work has been done in partnership with the GMHSCP to avoid this huge deficit?
There is no doubt that the system is under pressure, but that is why the Government have been putting an enormous amount of money in and giving councils access to additional funding to be able to address the growing need—up to £10 billion over the past three years. We know that people are living longer and living with much more complex conditions. This situation is only going to get worse, so we do need to find a more sustainable way to deal with it in the long term. The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that Manchester will receive an additional £42.9 million for adult social care funding in 2019-20.
Figures from the Care and Support Alliance and Age UK show that at least 1.4 million older people in England are not receiving the care and support they need. We know that this figure will be much, much higher owing to the number of working-age disabled people who are being denied the care and support they need to lead better lives. Speaking as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on adult social care, how much longer do we need to wait until the Government publish the long-awaited Green Paper on social care and finally start to show some much needed leadership in this vitally important area of public policy?
First, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for her work in the APPG on adult social care. It is really important that we have an APPG that represents this really important issue. As I said, the fact that we have an ageing population is a growing issue that we have to face as a nation, and, in fact, as a world. Her area of Wolverhampton will receive an additional £22.1 million for adult social care in 2019, but we know that that is not a long-term solution and we will be publishing a Green Paper at the earliest opportunity.
The Government’s utter chaos over Brexit has already impacted on recruitment in the social care sector. Scottish Care told the Scottish Affairs Committee that providers have lost 67% of their intake from the European economic area. The fact is that this Government’s actions are putting the health of the sick and elderly at risk. Will the Government make an assessment of how the staffing crisis in social care is impacting on the rate of hospital admissions?
The hon. Gentleman is right: we do have a number of vacancies—a large number of vacancies—in adult social care. That is why, earlier in the year, the Government announced a recruitment campaign, “Every day is different”. It ran for a few months, with enormous success. There have been 14% more apply clicks on the relevant Government jobs site as a result, so we have just announced that we are going to expand and extend that recruitment campaign, with an additional £4 million of funding.
Among those most affected by lack of access to social care are the 2,300 autistic people and people with learning disabilities stuck in inappropriate in-patient units because of a lack of funding for community placements. Labour, my party, has pledged to spend £350 million per year to support moving as many of those people as possible into community placements. I note that the Health and Social Care Secretary actually pledged extra funding for social care if he became Prime Minister, so will the Care Minister tell us if he now promises to match Labour’s pledge and ensure that autistic people and people with learning disabilities can live in homes, not hospitals?
The hon. Lady is absolutely right. One of the biggest issues we have had with people with learning disabilities and autism ending up in in-patient settings is a lack of community provision. That is why the NHS long-term plan commits to an extra £4.5 billion a year for primary and community health services, and local areas will be expected to use this investment to develop the sort of specialist services and community crisis care that will help divert people away from in-patient care settings.
Mental Health: Young People
We are committed to improving early intervention and prevention to ensure that young people with mental health problems do get the best start and the earliest possible treatment. To that end, we are introducing new school-based mental health support teams. The first 59 of these will start being operational by the end of December this year. The next wave of 124 more teams was announced on 12 July.
My hon. Friend is right: people with mental health conditions do tend to develop them as children. Clearly, the earlier we can give them support to help them manage those conditions, the better for their long-term wellbeing. Equally, however, we need to make sure we have sufficient community services when they leave school and get older, so that having invested in their wellbeing, it can be continued through later life.
Is the Minister confident that the mental health of the 5,000 children with special educational needs who spent time in school isolation booths last year was not harmed, and if not, what representations has she made to the Secretary of State for Education about this practice?
The hon. Gentleman, as usual, raises a very important issue indeed. Of course, people with special educational needs will be at risk of mental ill health more than any other cohort of children. I am having regular meetings with the Under-Secretary of State for Education, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), who has responsibility for children and families, about this very vulnerable group. Having targeted mental health provision across mainstream schooling generally and put in such investment, we now really need to home in on the groups at highest risk.
Will the Minister outline what discussions have taken place with the devolved Administrations to ensure that best practice and best results are implemented UK-wide, especially considering that Northern Ireland has the highest level of mental health issues pro rata in the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland?
As usual, the hon. Gentleman raises an extremely important point. Of course, health is a devolved matter, but that is not to say that all four nations cannot learn more from best practice in each place. I am pleased to say that we are now increasing our contact with representatives of the devolved Governments, and we will very much be sharing such best practice.
Referrals to child mental health units from primary schools for pupils aged 11 and under have risen by nearly 50% in three years. BBC research last week also found that primary school children are self-harming at school, and in four cases children under 11 had attempted suicide while at school. This is deeply shocking, so what is the Minister doing to ensure that primary school children will have support from trained mental health professionals when they return in September?
The hon. Lady is quite right to raise that, and it is incredibly troubling to see those figures. The investment we are making in mental health support teams will be of assistance. For primary schools that are well led and gripping this issue, there is some very imaginative and innovative practice to bring emotional wellbeing into the classroom from the moment pupils arrive. We need to make sure that those mental health teams start acting as soon as possible. This is something that we need to address collectively with schools and as a society to make sure that we get treatment to people at the earliest possible time.
Modern, fit-for-purpose facilities are better for patients, the NHS staff who work in them and the taxpayer, so the Government have already provided £3.9 billion of new capital investment to deliver new, upgraded facilities across the country.
I thank the Minister for visiting the site of the proposed new Longton health centre in my constituency recently. Does he agree that we must deliver new primary care facilities such as this to make sure that improvements in health in my local community continue?
I very much enjoyed the visit. The new £5 million Longton medical centre will provide general practice service for more than 12,000 patients, and it will be a fantastic community health scheme. My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that yesterday I wrote to him outlining the capital options that might be available. He is right, and that is why this Government believe in transforming the primary care estate. It is a key enabler for delivering the long-term plan, and it provides better care for patients.
A year on, NHS Property Services is now having to remarket the site of Bootham Park Hospital. In the light of this complete failure and the failure to listen to health professionals locally, will the Minister ensure that the One Public Estate bid is seriously considered as the sale moves forward?
I met the hon. Lady about this disposal last December, and I have followed the matter carefully. The local health system has not wanted to continue using the site, but I am happy to assure her that I will look at bids from all comers. It is not my decision; it is a decision for local healthcare bodies and NHS Property Services.
The Minister will be aware that our general district hospital was closed to new admissions in recent weeks, and the reason given was delayed transfers of care. Ever since I was elected, many others have joined me in looking at how we can provide a step-down, step-up facility—a community healthcare hub—with beds in the St Ives constituency. I wonder what funding is available to achieve that aim.
My hon. Friend is right. He will have heard me say in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) that we are already making available £3.9 billion extra to provide these facilities. We should not be complacent, however, and it is important to recognise that we want world-class facilities for world-class care. One of the benefits of the long-term plan is that we can create a stable environment for capital investment, and we can make the case for more capital investment at the spending review.
Government cuts have already resulted in significant downgrading and loss of vital services at South Tyneside District Hospital. Since the Department refused to fund the next phase of downgrading, the trust has approached the local authority to borrow £35 million from the treasury to see it through. Does the Minister agree with me and my incensed constituents that it is wrong that we are now being asked to pay for further cuts to our hospital?
NHS Workforce Vacancies
Question 10 is about workforce vacancies, and I can tell the House that one workforce vacancy has just been filled, because Boris Johnson has just been elected as the leader of the Conservative party.
The NHS employs more staff now than at any time in its 70-year history, with significant growth in newly qualified staff from 2012. Our full people plan will help to tackle these issues for the long term.
Words are all well and good, but it is actions that actually count, and the Government are not creating a health service that supports its workforce. The striking health visitors in Lincolnshire have each lost more than £2,000 a year since they were transferred from the NHS to the Conservative-controlled county council and many have had their professional status downgraded. Does the Secretary of State agree that rather than shifting the responsibility for cuts to health services on to local government, the NHS should deliver fully resourced healthcare services and pay its staff properly?
The NHS is delivering healthcare services and it is paying its staff properly. It is working with local authorities to deliver the best possible health services right across the country. We absolutely need to recruit more people to the NHS and we are recruiting more people to the NHS.
Vulnerable Older People
The NHS is responsible for ensuring adequate resources and a high-quality workforce that can deliver a comprehensive health service for all people, including vulnerable older people. That is clearly happening. We are supporting that through investing an extra £33.9 billion in the NHS.
I have also just heard the news that we have a new Prime Minister. I am thinking of the man who stands outside with a sign saying that the end of the world is nigh.
The fact of the matter is that the end of life for many of my constituents is tough, because the people in the care sector who support them are poorly paid, poorly resourced and poorly trained. Surely we should go for well-managed, highly trained, highly skilled people in the NHS for every age?
The hon. Gentleman is right, which is why we have ensured that we are putting more money into the NHS and more money into primary care, with £4.5 billion in real terms on primary medical care and community health services. It is why we commissioned Baroness Dido Harding to produce the “Interim NHS People Plan”, which she has done, and why we are working on ensuring that we have the health service workers to provide excellent care for all people in the community.
The Government recognise the importance of reducing inequalities and have included a commitment to that in the NHS long-term plan. We know that public health services, such as immunisation, screening programmes, smoking cessation services and many other initiatives, can significantly improve health outcomes to combat some of the inequalities faced by ethnic minorities and those living in less affluent areas.
I thank the Minister for her response. After nine years of Tory austerity, advances in life expectancy, which steadily increased for 100 years, have now ground to a halt and have even gone backwards in some of the poorest areas. How does the Minister plan to reverse that damning trend?
Life expectancy has been increasing year on year, but it is also true that it is an international phenomenon that that rate of increase is coming to a halt. None the less, life expectancy in England is the highest it has ever been: 79.5 years for men and 83.1 years for women. We will continue to invest in our public health programmes and look at the wider issues facing society that can also contribute to good health outcomes, such as housing, work and so on. There is a lot that can be done; it is not just about NHS spending.
One of the best ways of getting early public health help across the doorstep is by investing in health visitors to give that much needed early support, especially to new parents to help to ensure that every child gets the best start in life. One of the best achievements of the Cameron Government was the creation of 4,200 additional health visitors. Does the Minister share my concern that since 2015, with the responsibility now having gone to local government, there has been a 26% reduction in the number of health visitors? That is something of a false economy.
I do share my hon. Friend’s belief that health visitors are probably the most important army in the war against health inequalities. They provide an intervention that is very family-based and not intimidating. It is based on good relationships and means we can provide intervention at the earliest possible time. He is right to highlight the massive investment we made during the Cameron Government. There has been a decline since, which we really must address if we are to get the earliest possible intervention and the best health outcomes for children.
We finally got to see the prevention Green Paper yesterday evening, and it rightly highlights the appalling inequality in healthy life expectancy and the fact that being overweight or obese is now the leading risk factor for disability and years lived with disability. Will the Secretary of State please reassure the House that he will act on the evidence? The prevention Green Paper makes it very clear:
“The Soft Drinks Industry Levy…has been hugely successful in removing the equivalent of over 45,000 tonnes of sugar from our shelves.”
The House really needs to hear reassurance that we will not roll back on those kinds of issues.
I reassure the hon. Lady that the Government are committed to following the evidence; that is very much a theme in the prevention Green Paper. The evidence will speak for itself. Clearly, she is absolutely right to highlight obesity as the biggest risk factor in impeding healthy life expectancy. That is why, across Government, we should be vigilant about tackling it.
King George Hospital A&E Department
I thank the Minister for that reply. I hope that it will stop some of the more lurid scaremongering and campaigning, which is unfortunately diverting people in my constituency from looking at the most important issue: how we use the King George Hospital site in future. Will he confirm that steps are being taken to integrate North East London NHS Foundation Trust and King George Hospital services to deal with social care and other matters?
Autism and Learning Disabilities
The NHS long-term plan commits to an extra £4.5 billion a year for primary and community health services by 2023-24. Local areas will be expected to use part of this investment to develop specialist services and community crisis care to reduce avoidable admissions and lengths of stay for autistic people and those with learning disabilities.
I do not know whether the Minister has seen the report from the Children’s Commissioner, but it says that the number of children with autism or learning difficulties in mental health hospitals has doubled in recent years. Many are very far from home. Their parents are not consulted properly on their care, and they are in for much longer than they need to be. What proportion of the money that she mentions will go towards trying to ensure that children can have support in their home, so that they are not in this situation?
The hon. Lady has hit on a really important point. The truth is that a lot of children who end up in an in-patient setting are not diagnosed with autism or a learning disability until they are there; they normally come in on a mental health diagnosis. There are a few points to make here. One is on making sure that early intervention is there as early as when a child is in school. That is why the Government have made a commitment to having mental health support available from a very early age, in schools. This is also about making sure that families do not get to crisis point, and that the investment is there in the community, so that children get the support that they need at every possible step.
Missed GP Appointments
Missed appointments are a waste of NHS resources, and we believe that encouraging patients to use the NHS sensibly and responsibly is the right approach. We are encouraging a range of local schemes to help to reduce missed appointments, with clinical commissioning groups and practices embracing technology and adopting a variety of approaches, such as text reminders, patient-recorded bookings and the increased use of online systems that make it quick and easy for patients to change and cancel appointments.
A GP surgery in my constituency has reported that in one month this year, 78 people failed to keep their appointment and failed to cancel it. Those failures led to the surgery losing 11 hours’ working time. The surgery has announced that it will consider removing patients from its register if they miss three consecutive appointments. Does my hon. Friend support that proposal, and does she think that the policy should be rolled out across other surgeries?
Local NHS organisations know their populations best, and that is why the Government support locally led initiatives to reduce missed appointments. The evidence shows us that people are less likely to miss an appointment if they have a convenient option. Swale CCG has a “Did Not Attend” campaign, which will run across the region this summer and support his constituents in making sure that they use their appointments responsibly.
Is the Minister aware of any research that has been done, not just on missed appointments, but on repeat offenders who periodically miss their appointments, and the effect that has? What can be done to ensure that that is not repeated beyond today?
There is no overall estimate of the number of people who miss their appointments. We want to encourage people to be responsible, but we also want to make booking appointments as easy as possible by having things such as online and text booking. NHS England will shortly conduct an access review, which will look at ways of developing a coherent offer to patients in terms of how they access their practice appointments. We will therefore make things easier, and hopefully bring down the number of people who miss an appointment.
Strategy and Action Plan: Improving Lives
I am pleased to say that we have made strong progress against the commitments in the Command Paper my hon. Friend refers to, and I thank her for her role in delivering those advances. I can advise the House that the number of disabled people in employment is now 400,000 higher than it was in 2017. There is, however, much more to do, and on 15 July we launched a consultation on measures to reduce ill health-related job loss. We are seeking views on how employers can best support people with disabilities and people with long-term health conditions to stay and thrive in work.
I thank the Minister for her really helpful response, and I congratulate her on the fantastic work she has done in her position. Last week, the next Prime Minister announced his intention to look again at the tax treatment of at-work referral health services as a benefit in kind to employees, given how crucial fast access to health and support is to so many people. Will the Secretary of State and the Minister work with the new Prime Minister in bringing forward an urgent review, as the current tax regime goes against our focus on prevention and reducing demand on the NHS?
Absolutely. We will continue with the emphasis on work being good for people’s health. We need to look at what we can do to make it easier for employers to help their employees, which is good for everybody—it means that everyone can still make an economic contribution, and that we retain the existing workforce, and it is good for people’s wellbeing. We absolutely will look at what we can do to incentivise best practice.
It is difficult to see how lives will be improved and people supported to stay in work by NHS England’s decision, supported by Ministers, to encourage CCGs to phase out their walk-in centres—I am thinking, in particular, of the three walk-in centres that serve my constituents. I urge Ministers, even at this late stage, to set aside new funding streams so that Alexandra Avenue, the Pinn and Belmont Health Centre can continue to provide a 365-day, 8 am to 8 pm walk-in service to my constituents.
I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s view on this. Clearly, it is important for CCGs to have the freedom to determine their best primary care arrangements. Walk-in centres are convenient for people who are in work and who perhaps work away from home, but ultimately, we keep people with disabilities in work by having bespoke support for them, and that is better organised by having good primary care services near the home.
This week, the Department has released a consultation on the future of clinicians’ pensions, a new five-year deal to support our approach to community pharmacy, the Government’s prevention Green Paper and a £20 million collaboration with the Prince’s Trust on the NHS widening participation initiative, which will allow and support more apprentices into the NHS. There has been a lot done just this week, and there is a lot more still to do.
Another item for the Secretary of State’s list might be to engage with his counterpart in Scotland on the issue of the NHS taper on the pensions programme. When I raised the issue with a Treasury Minister, she seemed unaware that there was more than one NHS in the UK. If there is some co-ordination and joint representation to the Treasury, that might assist matters. Would the Secretary of State agree?
Of course, in solving this problem, many of the changes can take place within the NHS, and we are working on that with the Treasury. I am happy to ensure that discussions take place with devolved colleagues, but of course, the NHS is devolved in Scotland.
My hon. Friend is right: the postcode lottery is not acceptable, and patients manage to get around it; my local clinical commissioning group, having funded three courses of IVF, has had to reduce that to two, because demand has doubled owing to the lack of provision in neighbouring CCGs. I have made it very clear that it is unacceptable for any CCG to offer no IVF cycles at all; I have given them that guidance.
My I pursue the question asked by the Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston)? We know that obesity is a major cause of cancer and other diseases, and we know that we have severe rates of childhood obesity, so why does the prevention Green Paper say only that the sugar tax “may” be extended to milkshakes? The evidence is clear. Is the Secretary of State not kicking this into the long grass?
A year ago the Secretary of State said, to great fanfare, that prevention was one of his priorities. Now the prevention Green Paper has been sneaked out in the night on the Cabinet Office website. Health inequalities are getting wider and wider, and life expectancy is stalling, but the Secretary of State still cannot give us any clarification on the future of the public health ring-fenced grant. Is it not the truth that he has buckled under pressure from the sugar industry, is not taking on the alcohol industry, and is not taking on the tobacco industry? That is more about trying to get in with the new Prime Minister than putting the health needs of the nation first.
I thought that the hon. Gentleman would welcome the prevention Green Paper, which was published yesterday. We have been working very hard to publish a huge amount of policy, including the Green Paper, which contains about 80 different policies to ensure that we prevent people from becoming ill in the first place. However, it is also part of a broader drive, which Conservative Members support, to ensure that we are the healthiest of nations, and that people can take personal responsibility for their health, as well as relying on the NHS, so that it is always there when people need it.
My hon. Friend has campaigned on this matter for a while, and I was pleased to meet him to discuss it earlier in the year. We absolutely recognise the challenge that small acute providers face, and over the past two years the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation has been considering how we might meet that challenge. The committee has endorsed a new community services formula to reflect the pressure in remote areas, which may help the two hospitals mentioned by my hon. Friend.
When drugs have been approved by NICE, there is an obligation to prescribe them. If the hon. Lady will write to me, I shall be able to look into this matter more closely.
I welcome the consultation on NHS pensions that was announced this week, and while I do not think that 50:50 is the ultimate solution, I welcome the invitation to present other proposals. However, given that this is causing an issue now, how quickly does the Department think that it will be able to turn the outcome of the consultation into action?
The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government have produced an interim people plan setting out the course and the trajectory that will mean more doctors and nurses being trained. He will also know that we have opened new medical schools this year, and that more doctors are now being trained.
I should declare that I am chair of the all-party group on eating disorders. Despite eating disorders affecting 1.25 million people across the UK and being the most deadly of mental health issues, the average time dedicated to training about eating disorders in a five-year medical degree was found to be only three or four hours; in some cases, there was none at all. Will the Minister agree to look into this and perhaps report back to the all-party group?
I certainly will. This recommendation was also made by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee following its report into the death of Averil Hart, and we are in discussions with the royal colleges to see what more can be done, in terms of training medical staff and doctors in mental health, because we want to make sure that intervention happens at the earliest possible stage, which means that all our medical professionals need to understand it better.
Yes is the short answer, and the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that I have regular discussions with colleagues in the DWP to see what we can do to humanise all our processes for benefits claimants, because it is important that when people suffering from mental ill health interact with organisations of the state, we are not causing them harm. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is very high on the list of things in my in-tray.
Technology and the data that show these inequalities are an important part of the answer, but of course it is much broader than that, and tackling health inequalities is an underpinning part of the long-term plan for the NHS; it is absolutely critical in order to address the sorts of inequalities that the hon. Lady rightly raises.
Life skills courses can be key to helping people out of depression, loneliness and isolation, and into work and training, yet the course in Glossop in my local area has been cut by the county council, in spite of it having a £2.8 million underspend this year. Do Ministers agree that local authorities should be looking to spend the public health money that they have, and to use it effectively?
Yes, emphatically we do, and there is a drive across the country for more of the sort of social prescribing that the hon. Lady talks about. The clinical solution to many people’s health issues, and in particular mental health challenges, is often about changes in behaviour and activity, and the support people are given, rather than just drugs. On the face of it, the project the hon. Lady mentions sounds very good; of course I do not know the details, but I would be very happy to look into it. However, we wholeheartedly and emphatically support the broad direction of travel of helping people to tackle mental illness both through drugs where they are needed and through activity and social prescribing.
I recently met three care workers who work for Sanctuary Care. Between them, they have 60 years of experience of, and dedication to, caring for vulnerable people, but Sanctuary Care has decided to cut their pay and conditions because they were TUPE-ed over from the Borough of Greenwich. Is this the way to treat dedicated care staff? Will the Minister meet me and those care staff to discuss what is going on at Sanctuary Care, whose chief executive gets a handout of almost a quarter of a million pounds a year, while it cuts low-paid staff’s wages?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that, because one of the things that I have learned in this role is that working in care should never be described as unskilled. It is probably one of the most skilled professions, and it requires people with exactly the right principles and values to deliver it. We are clear that people should be paid a fair and decent wage, and I am more than happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss it further.
The Minister with responsibility for mental health is a very sympathetic person. Unfortunately, that does not seem to translate into action. Our clinical commissioning group has stopped funding the voluntary sector to provide counselling, and now it is taking counselling services out of GP surgeries as well. Will she look into that?
Yes. What the hon. Lady has just outlined to me flies in the face of the advice that I and the clinical directors of NHS England are giving CCGs. We are clear that voluntary sector provision of additional services is crucial in the support of people with mental ill health. Unfortunately, some commissioners seem to want to medicalise everything, but that is not the key to good treatments, and I will look into it.
The prevention Green Paper talks about the risk of an opioid epidemic. In Scotland, we feel that that is already here, with 1,187 deaths in Scotland last year, 394 of them in Glasgow. Will the Secretary of State work with the Scottish Government and Glasgow health and social care partnership and support the opening of a medically supervised drug consumption room in Glasgow?
Yes, the risk of an opioid epidemic across the UK is a serious one. We have seen that risk materialise in the United States. I was as shocked as anyone to see the recent figures for the growth in opioid addiction in Scotland. While public health and the NHS are devolved to the Scottish Government, and they must lead on tackling this issue, for the UK elements of my responsibilities, we in England will do absolutely everything we can and put aside all party politics to tackle this serious problem.
In January the Health Secretary declared air pollution a health emergency, yet today, tomorrow and Thursday we will see ozone layers in the south and south-east of England that will be a health hazard to the old, the young and the sick. Unlike in equivalent situations in other countries, the Government have released no warnings to people or advised how they should take appropriate action. How bad does air pollution have to get before the Government use their not inconsiderable communications budget to warn people to take appropriate action?
We have. Through Public Health England, which is the responsible agency, we have absolutely put out communications, which I heard this morning. The communications that the hon. Lady asks for are out there. Of course air pollution is a significant risk to public health. I am delighted that it is falling to its lowest levels since the industrial revolution, but there is clearly much more that we need to do.
Can the Secretary of State confirm that the Care Quality Commission has recently inspected Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, and that patient safety was raised as an issue during that inspection? If that is the case, what action is he taking?
Personal Independence Payments: Supreme Court Ruling
The Supreme Court has ruled on the case of Secretary of State for Work and Pensions v. MM, which is known as MM. The case was about the definition of “social support” when engaging with other people face to face in the PIP assessment, and how far in advance that support can be provided.
We took the case to the Supreme Court because we wanted clarity on the issue and the judgment gives us that clarity. We welcome the Court’s judgment. We are pleased it accepted that there is a difference between “prompting” and “social support”, and that there must be a need for social support to be provided by someone who is trained or experienced in providing such support.
PIP is already a better benefit for people with mental health conditions than the legacy disability living allowance. The proportion of them who get the higher rate of PIP is five times higher than under DLA, with PIP at 33% and DLA at 6%.
It is clear that there is an increasing understanding in society about mental health and how important it is to make sure that individuals with poor mental health get the right help. It is not an exact science, but the desire for an increased understanding of mental health issues is one of the few areas that have cross-party support.
Getting this clarity ensures that even more people who need help to engage face to face may now be eligible to benefit under PIP. I want to be clear that supporting disabled people and those with mental health conditions continues to be a priority for this Government. That is why we will now carefully consider the full judgment and, working with disabled people and engaging with Mind and other stakeholders, implement it fully and fairly so that claimants get the PIP support they are entitled to.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question and the Minister for his response.
The individual concerned in the case is a Glasgow South West constituent. As the Minister said, the Department appealed the decision by the Scottish courts.
Will the Minister confirm that the judgment means that ongoing encouragement from a family member to help someone leave their house and engage socially will result in additional points in the PIP process? Does he accept that it is now clear that PIP assessments need to be overhauled and that, once again, we have found that the process discriminates against those with psychological conditions?
The Minister appears to accept the judgment, so will he tell us whether any estimate has been made of the number of people who will be affected by the decision and how long it will take to initiate any back payments? Will he confirm that that will be new money and that it will not come out of existing budgets?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his questions. I pay tribute to him, because through his constituency work and as a valued member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, he has been a real champion in this area.
I repeat that the Government are committed to supporting people with mental health conditions. I push back on the suggestion that PIP needs fundamental reform, because only 6% of claimants with a mental health condition were able to access the highest rate of support on legacy benefits, compared with 33% under PIP.
We recognise that there is more to do. That is why we will engage with stakeholders and disabled people. We have already met Mind since the judgment was passed down. We want to get this right and to ensure that people are treated fairly and are fully supported. I cannot give an exact timeline but, as with all legal judgments, we will update the House once we have had time to consider it. We do, however, take this very, very seriously.
I commend my hon. Friend for the excellent job he is doing and for his statement. He is right that more people with mental health conditions are receiving more support than ever before, but clearly there is more to do. Will he kindly update the House on the progress that is being made on training Department for Work and Pensions staff—not just the PIP assessors, but the people in the jobcentres and the people who pick up the phones—to make sure that everybody has a positive experience and is treated with respect and dignity?
I thank my hon. Friend, who did so much in this role before me and is widely respected across the House. She is right to highlight how much more is done in terms of training. I am grateful for the support of the stakeholders who helped to shape that training. One of the biggest improvements is that we now have a mental health champion in each PIP assessment centre who can support claimants who may be more anxious when they arrive to make sure that their experience is as positive as can be.
This landmark judgment by the Supreme Court should act as a serious wake-up call for the Government.
According to Mind, more than 425,000 people with conditions classed as psychiatric disorders have been turned down for PIP. What percentage of those people would have been successful in the light of this judgment? Will the Minister be clear that the Government will look again at those cases where people have been turned down?
The assessment framework for PIP is not fit for purpose and has created a hostile environment for disabled people. After the ruling, Mind commented:
“Far too many are struggling to claim benefits they need because of draconian assessments, which often fail to take fully into account the impact a mental health problem can have.”
Does the Minister agree? Many people with mental health problems can feel socially isolated, so surely the Government should be providing a system that supports people in need.
It was revealed recently that more than 60,000 appeals against the tests for PIP ruled against the Government in 2018. That is 72% of all tribunals. Clearly this is wholly unjust. The fact that such a high proportion of PIP assessments are overturned on appeal speaks volumes about the failings of the Government’s record when it comes to providing support to disabled people. Ill and disabled people should not have to fight through the courts to receive the support that they are entitled to. Ministers at the Ministry of Justice recently revealed that the Government spent £26.5 million in 2018 on PIP hearings that ruled against the Department. The Minister must surely also be aware that the introduction of PIP has ended up costing the taxpayer more than the system it replaced, so will he commit today to scrapping the cruel and discredited PIP assessment framework and replacing it with one that treats disabled people with the respect they deserve and provides them with the support they need?
To repeat: we do welcome the judgment. It was the Government who referred this matter to the Supreme Court to get clarity. Across society, there is a deeper understanding of mental health, and that is welcome. This is not an exact science, but it is one of the few areas where there is cross-party support as, together, we get a better understanding of how to identify and support people with mental health conditions. This will be a complex exercise, and we will need to work carefully through the detail of the judgment before we start the exercise of checking claims. We are committed to doing that as soon as we can, working with disabled people and stakeholders, so that we can pay people as quickly as possible. I remind the hon. Lady that we are committed to supporting those with disabilities and long-term health conditions. We are now spending £10 billion more than when we came into office in 2010 on supporting people with long-term health conditions and disabilities. This represents a record high of 6% of Government spending, and we are committed to seeing that rise in every single year for the rest of this Parliament.
On the specific point of appeals, we know that the vast majority of successful appeals are because of additional written and oral evidence, but we recognise that the independent appeal process is too long and that it adds anxiety for claimants who are in too many cases having those decisions changed over. We are therefore determined to improve the mandatory reconsideration stage so that we can proactively contact claimants to get that additional written and oral evidence at that point. We have already piloted this in all the PIP mandatory reconsideration assessment centres, and that has been so encouragingly positive that we will do the same with the work capability assessment mandatory reconsiderations. This is a really important area of work, and we are determined to get it right for all claimants as quickly as possible.
Many people will be unaware of the way in which PIP supports people who have mental health conditions far better than the predecessor benefit, disability living allowance, but mental health conditions can fluctuate and people can find it very difficult to get the right support and advice. How is my hon. Friend ensuring that PIP best supports those people, particularly in finding their way through what can be a very complicated and difficult application system?
My right hon. Friend raises the really powerful point that we collectively need to do more to support claimants with mental health conditions. This is why we now have mental health champions in all the PIP assessments, and we are putting videos online so that people can see what to expect. We encourage claimants to bring a trusted third party—family, friends or a support worker—with them during the process, and we are working with the Department of Health and Social Care to identify ways to get hold of the crucial medical evidence that can improve the decision making at the first time of asking.
Will the Minister please answer the question that the hon. Member for Glasgow South West (Chris Stephens) asked him at the beginning: how many more claimants will now be eligible for PIP who previously were not? Also, will he again clarify a commitment that he will look at all those claimants who have had their PIP application turned down, to see whether they are now eligible under the new rules?
We must consider the detail of the judgment and how it needs to be implemented before we can estimate how many people will be affected, but we will look back at cases. We are committed to engaging with stakeholders and disabled people, utilising their expertise, to ensure that the people who should receive support get it fully, fairly and as quickly as possible.
The Liberal Democrats welcome the Supreme Court judgment, and I welcome much of what the Minister has said today about making things easier and more appropriate. However, does he accept that, as has already been mentioned, mental health assessments bring with them a particularly difficult set of circumstances? People’s conditions may fluctuate, and assessments affect individuals in different ways, so will he consider, yet again, bringing assessments back in-house and having specialists who deal specifically with mental health cases to ensure that individuals get not only a mental health champion, but an appropriate champion with knowledge of their particular condition?
I understand the thrust of the hon. Lady’s point, and I know that she works hard in this area. As I have said, our collective understanding is getting better, and we are working with stakeholders—people with real frontline experience—to help shape our training. All the assessors—trained health professionals—have people behind them who are experts in all conditions, not just mental health. Remember, many claimants have a menu of health conditions to be navigated. Where an assessor feels that they need additional support, they will get it from those experts before the assessment and while writing the report afterwards.
To be dragged to the courts yet again in relation to PIP and the totally inadequate support that it provides to disabled people is a shame on this Government. According to Mind, two thirds of people on DLA for mental health conditions have had their PIP refused or reduced, which is just not good enough. On top of that, 60 disabled people a month—a month—die after being refused PIP. To say that PIP is an okay support system for the most vulnerable people in this country is an absolute disgrace, so will the Minister write to me and answer the questions that I put to him in my letter of over two months ago?
I remind the hon. Lady that the Government took this case to the Supreme Court because we wanted to get clarity on this important issue. I also remind her that, under DLA, only 6% of claimants with a mental health condition got access to the highest rate of support. Under PIP, 33% of claimants are getting that support—more than five times higher than under DLA. We are doing everything we can to support people, and we are continuing to work with stakeholders and disabled people to ensure that the process continues to improve. I am proud that this Government are spending a record amount of money on supporting the most vulnerable people in society, something that Opposition Members continue to vote against at each Budget.
The judgment is welcome, of course, because it will provide more support to people with mental health conditions, but it does prompt a question, regardless of who brought the case, about whether the PIP and ESA assessment processes still contain significant flaws. I was under the impression that the Government were looking at the processes, potentially bringing them back in-house, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) that there should be more specific assessments for people with certain types of health conditions. Why are the contracts with Atos and Capita being extended for another two years when they are not meeting their targets?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The key thing is that we will continue to engage with stakeholders and disabled people and be held to account by the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, of which the hon. Lady is an active member. We will continue to make improvements, which is why increasing amounts of money are rightly being spent on vulnerable people in society. The Secretary of State is personally committed to improving the process, and we will do all that we can to do so.
The change from DLA to PIP has meant that my constituents have lost £2 million collectively—[Interruption.] That is a matter of fact, so I do not know why the Secretary of State is shaking his head. There is clearly a lot of despair behind that figure, and the recent judgment clearly proves that the situation is unsound. What is the Secretary of State going to do to fix it?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for elevating me to Secretary of State. I am just a Minister of State, but he is very kind. To be clear, 33% of people with a mental health condition will now access the highest rate of support under PIP, compared with just 6% under the legacy benefit. That is significant progress, but we are committed to work with stakeholders and disabled people to continue the improvements that we are proud to be making.
Just last week, I had a constituent in my surgery who had not been awarded points in their PIP assessment for which I could clearly see that they were eligible. After the ruling, and considering that people have hidden and fluctuating conditions, what can my constituent now expect?
As I have set out, we will be looking carefully at the judgment, but the hon. Gentleman highlights something. As constituency MPs, we all have cases in which it is clear that, with additional written and oral evidence, a different decision could come about. That is why it is right—it is a departmental priority—to improve the mandatory reconsideration stage, so that more people can get the correct decision much quicker, without the long independent appeal process.
There is a letter in the post to the Minister about this case, but I do not know whether he will be there to receive it, so I thought that I would ask about it here. My constituent has a long-standing diagnosis of Asperger’s, but her PIP assessor ignored the detailed medical evidence that she had provided and performed a five-minute mental state test involving taking 25p away from £1 and spelling the word “world” backwards. Her decision letter stated that she had
“no cognitive sensory impairment diagnosed”
“no evidence of a cognitive impairment”.
Surely constituents should not have to come to their MP to get such evident mistakes overturned. The Minister should be getting things right first time, rather than going for mandatory reconsiderations.
I have gone from being the Secretary of State to potentially not having a job in the next couple of days in the space of one question, but I will look at that letter carefully. I actually agree with the hon. Lady’s point that we want the right decision the first time. We want claimants to be able to access the crucial medical evidence that can assist with assessments. Assessments are right more often than not, and only a small percentage of claims ultimately need to be appealed, but we need to learn lessons wherever there are mistakes, and I will take that case seriously.
I also welcome the ruling, but it is important not just that we get rulings, but that people on PIP get the support that they deserve. I was concerned by the release of figures a couple of weeks ago showing that the Department’s own equality impact assessment expected 14% of the 1.6 million people on PIP who were reviewed after previous court rulings to get an additional award, but just 0.8% of people reviewed have actually received an increase in their entitlement. Will the Minister commit to an urgent audit of what is going on in those reviews to ensure that people affected by this case do not see their awards quashed yet again?
The hon. Lady refers to the mental health estimates, which were done before the final guidance was implemented. We have consulted with Mind and other key stakeholders on the revised guidance, and we will continue to ensure that those who are entitled to additional support get it as quickly as possible. We are on track to complete that work by next year, as initially set out.
We all have casework in our surgeries involving people suffering from mental health issues who have been denied PIP or have had it taken away from them, but the situation goes beyond that. I have a profoundly deaf constituent who was transferred from DLA to PIP, but they were then denied PIP. Other people with chronic illnesses have failed to score enough points through the question and answer system. Will the Minister take on board the fact that other people in the system will be suffering similarly? We need a fundamental review to ensure that those people do not suffer in the way that they are currently.
We have made a real commitment, and we work closely with stakeholders representing a huge variety of disability and health conditions, empowering them to challenge, to make suggestions, and to work with our teams to help shape the training guidance. That is why an increasing amount of money is being spent each year on supporting people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. As I said, at £55 billion a year, spending is up £10 billion since we came to office. That is a record high, and it will continue to increase as we work, listen and engage with the people who have frontline experience, which the Government have committed to do.
I have a constituent who is rebuilding his life after spending some time in jail. His mental health condition means that he has communication issues and that crowds are a problem for him, which makes travel on public transport more problematic. All of that makes it difficult for him to maintain family contact and access the necessary support groups. He was denied PIP despite my office sending supporting letters and trying to help him hit the PIP descriptors. What changes will the Government make to the system so that my constituent will get the support that he deserves, as in the Supreme Court ruling, and be able to go forward and fully integrate into society?
I would be happy to look at that specific case. On the broader point of supporting people transitioning from prison back into society, I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Will Quince), who has responsibility for family support. He has been working with the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Robert Buckland), the prisons Minister, to make sure it is joined up. We have had successful trials to make sure that work coaches go into prison in advance of a person’s leaving, as it is key that those who need the support can access it as quickly and as smoothly as possible. The case raised by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) highlights why that is so important.
Decriminalisation of Abortion
(Urgent Question): To ask the Home Secretary to make a statement on the repeal of sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 in England and Wales, in consequence of the decriminalisation of abortion in Northern Ireland.
I have been asked to answer this question. As with other matters of conscience, abortion is an issue on which the Government adopt a neutral stance and allow Members to vote according to their moral, ethical or religious beliefs. As the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has responsibility for abortion policy, I am an instrument of the House in that regard and I will discharge the instructions of the House in the best interests of patient safety.
The Government have a duty to see that the provisions of the Abortion Act 1967 are properly applied until, and unless, Parliament chooses further to amend that law. The hon. Lady will be aware that the Abortion Act—the legislation affecting England and Wales—is an amendment to the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. Notwithstanding the issues in Northern Ireland, the Government currently have no plans to amend sections 58 and 59 of the 1861 Act in England and Wales.
Abortion is an extremely sensitive issue, and there are very strongly held views on all sides of the debate. Given this, any significant changes to the law require careful consideration and full consultation with the medical profession and others. Moreover, it is right that MPs and peers—or the devolved legislatures, as the case may be—have adequate opportunity to scrutinise any legislation fully. The Joint Committee on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill has also made it clear that abortion is not a matter for the Domestic Abuse Bill, which the House will consider shortly.
The question of potential reform to Northern Ireland’s abortion laws, through the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, if no restored Government are in place, should not be cause to reform the system in England and Wales. Abortion in England and Wales is already accessible and serves the needs of women seeking to access such services. The law also provides protection for the medical profession in carrying out its functions and duty of care to women.
As abortion is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, the Government’s preference remains that a restored Executive and a functioning Assembly take forward any reforms to the law and policy on this issue. It is our hope that devolved government will be restored at the earliest opportunity through the current talks process.
We do, however, recognise the strength of feeling expressed by the House in the amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which place a duty on the Government to make regulations to reform Northern Ireland’s abortion laws if there is no restored Executive by 21 October 2019. The Government will work expeditiously to take forward this work, should that duty come into effect in the absence of devolved government.
The Government will also work with service providers to ensure that, in the meantime, the scheme provided in England for women from Northern Ireland continues to be fully accessible and that appropriate information is provided to those seeking to access those services. It remains my priority to provide safe access to abortion services under the law, as set by Parliament.
I appreciate this is an emotive issue, on which there are strongly held views, and I am sure it is something we will continue to debate in Parliament over the coming months, but I end by reminding the House that, over the past 50 years, the Abortion Act has ensured that women have access to legal safe abortion, which has contributed to a significant reduction in maternal mortality and has helped to empower women to make informed choices at what can be a very sensitive and difficult time in their lives.
I thank the Minister for her response, although it is a very disappointing response that does not address the subject of my question: England and Wales. I am also disappointed that we do not have a Minister from the Home Office, because this is a matter of criminal law.
The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, which repeals sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 in Northern Ireland, completed its parliamentary passage yesterday, but those sections still apply in England and Wales, meaning that any woman who ends a pregnancy without the permission of two doctors faces up to life imprisonment. That includes women who obtain pills online, and they might be women in abusive, coercive or controlling relationships, women living in rural areas and women who have childcare responsibilities who cannot access services in clinics.
Despite legal access to abortion in Great Britain, two women a day seek online help on abortion from Women on Web. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, the medicines watchdog, has over three years seized almost 10,000 sets of abortion pills headed to British addresses.
The House will be pleased to know that there are no arguments about jurisdiction on repealing these provisions for England and Wales, and we are the competent body to do so. We have voted to decriminalise abortion on two recent occasions, 13 March 2017 and 23 October 2018, which alongside last week’s vote on the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill clearly shows the will of this House that abortion should no longer be part of our criminal law but should be a regulated health decision between a woman and her doctor. I must stress again that decriminalisation does not mean deregulation, and a whole range of legal and professional regulation would still apply, just as it does to other healthcare procedures.
The situation in which we now find ourselves is unjust, irrational and confusing. The British Pregnancy Advisory Service released polling this morning showing that only 14% of people are aware of the current law and that 65% of British adults and 70% of women do not support the current criminal sanction.
Decriminalisation is supported by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Midwives, the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing, so I ask the Minister again. When will the Government act to repeal sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act, and will there be a moratorium on any prosecutions under these sections in the meantime?
I know I will disappoint the hon. Lady, and I know she has been a passionate campaigner on these issues for many years, with the welfare of women at her heart. I answer this question with great respect for her desire, but it remains the case that the Government are not minded to repeal the provisions of the 1861 Act in England and Wales, recognising that we have an Abortion Act that provides for access to abortion services.
From the perspective of the safety of women accessing abortion services, the issues raised by the hon. Lady do concern me. It is not good for the welfare of women that pills are being accessed online. I also observe that the Abortion Act is more than 50 years old and was the product of a very different time. Abortions were then entirely surgical, and the medical abortions to which we now have access are clearly far safer.
This is very much a personal view, and I am not speaking for the Government in advancing this view, but I think that making provision for early abortion and for recognising medical abortion in law will get us much further. We need to make sure we have a safe regime that enables women to access abortion services as safely as possible.
I supported decriminalisation, I supported the regularising of the abortion law in Northern Ireland last week, and on Friday I shall visit my local BPAS clinic. But changing the law is only part of it. Last year, I was out with an ambulance crew and we were called out to a woman who had been at an abortion clinic and taken the pills. She was bleeding heavily and had been taken very ill, and there was no out-of-hours service—this was on a Friday evening. Does the Minister agree, particularly in respect of the availability of do-it-yourself pills on the internet, that it is absolutely essential that, at a very difficult time for a woman who has taken that decision, the ongoing support is there 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
My hon. Friend reminds us that this is not always an easy process for women to go through. As with any medical procedure, full consent must be given, based on full information. As long as pills can be accessed via the internet rather than via medical professionals, it is clearly more likely that women will not be informed of the risks of taking the pills. Any medication can have risks and consequences, and women need to be fully advised so that they can manage what they are going through.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) for and congratulate her on securing this urgent question, and thank her for her tireless campaigning on this issue. I share her disappointment that no Home Office Minister was available to respond to this urgent question; waiting for a call is obviously more important. I thank the British Pregnancy Advisory Service for its excellent work on this issue, and for its new campaign, launched today, called #PunishedForPills.
Following the passage yesterday of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, we find ourselves with a discrepancy across the UK when it comes to abortion. As we have heard, sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 no longer apply in Northern Ireland, but still apply in England and Wales, which means that if a woman does not seek the permission of two doctors before having an abortion, she could face up to life imprisonment in Britain, but not in Northern Ireland. The same goes for women who access abortion pills online. There are a whole host of reasons why women may do that, including not being able to get an appointment at a clinic, which now happens more and more often; not having childcare; living in a rural area; or being in an abusive relationship. Although women in Northern Ireland will no longer be persecuted for accessing abortion pills, the same cannot be said for women in Britain. I know this issue does not fall under the Minister’s brief, but will she ensure that abortion will be decriminalised, but not deregulated, throughout the UK? That would increase access to and the safety of abortions for women throughout the UK.
No one takes abortion lightly—this is a very sensitive issue—but I am sure that we in the House can all agree that women deserve access to safe and legal health procedures, and that includes abortion. A woman’s right to choose is a human rights matter. We need to seize on the momentum of the great result in the Republic of Ireland and deliver equality of rights for women throughout the UK and equality of resources across the whole NHS. The Government need to make this a landmark year in which women’s reproductive rights are fully respected and realised. That is why I call on the Government to repeal sections 58 and 59 today, to make abortion rights equal throughout the UK.
I thank the hon. Lady for the characteristically constructive spirit in which she has engaged with this issue. The nub of the point she makes is that decriminalisation must not be met with deregulation. Whatever we do, we must make sure that in repealing those sections of the 1861 Act—if that is what Parliament chooses to do—the regime that replaces it must not only guarantee the rights of women to take decisions for themselves but protect them and keep them safe. That is my priority in addressing this issue.
I am very aware that this issue rouses passions on both sides of the argument, which is why I reassure the House that, from my perspective, I just want to make sure that I deliver Parliament’s instructions in a way that is safe. I should add that perhaps the way in which both sides of the argument have been debated in the House has not led to good lawmaking, because it has meant that the law has not been revisited in 50 years and has not kept pace with medical advancement.
The Minister herself just made exactly the case that my good and hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) made so powerfully about the need to make sure that the law works for the 21st century. The votes we had in this place in the past two weeks were to recognise that human rights are not a devolved matter and should be available to every UK citizen. Although I enjoy the irony that potentially we could end up with the most progressive abortion laws in Northern Ireland, my constituents in Walthamstow and, indeed, all our constituents in England and Wales deserve to be treated equally as an adult, able to make their own choices.
In reading out what I believe someone had given to her as the Government’s stated position on this legislation, which puts having an abortion on the same level as child stealing and using gunpowder to blow up a building, the Minister said that there would need to be a consultation with medical bodies “and others”. Will she tell us who the others are and why, when it comes to something medical, it is only women who seem to have non-medical professionals getting involved in deciding what their rights to access treatment might be?
As with any consultation, “others” would include all members of the public, and everyone here is a representative of members of the public. There are a number of ways that we can get to the outcome of legislation fit for the 21st century. It is the Government’s position that the simple repeal of those two aspects of the 1861 Act is not sufficient to guarantee safe legislation for women in this country. We have an Abortion Act that empowers women to take decisions themselves. Again, I come back to the fact that this is an issue of conscience. As Minister, I will implement the law as decided by Parliament.
I have great respect for the Minister, but I do not think there is any case at all for inviting amateurs to comment on what should be medical, clinical assessments. The criminal law always bears down most harshly on the most vulnerable and marginalised women: very young women, those with literacy or learning difficulties, those with poor language skills and those who may be in an abusive relationship. Will the Minister therefore consider again her stance—the Government’s stance—on the impact of encompassing this offence in our criminal law, and look at steps that can be taken urgently to repeal it?
The specific offences to which the hon. Lady refers are a matter for the Home Office. The Government’s position is that they should not be repealed for England and Wales at this point. I absolutely understand the issue she raises with regard to the most vulnerable, and she and I have had discussions on that basis, but that is also a reason why simple repeal is not necessarily the best tool. To have a safe regime in place is also to protect exactly the people she identified. As I have said, from a personal perspective I do not think that the current law is in any way satisfactory, and I hope that in future we can have sensible discussions about how we might modernise it.
In my role as a member of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, the committee on which I serve, which is chaired by the noble Lord Dubs, has for the past two years been looking at abortion policy across the whole of Ireland and Britain. Our report should have been available already, but there was some disagreement as to its final content. We will be updating it, hopefully for publishing in October. It would be helpful to discuss that report with the Government. As well as online medication, we have found other particularly concerning issues: we need to remember that there are no borders for healthcare for women across these islands, and there are no borders for how women across these islands will continue to support each other. We want to see more equality. Of real concern are the often very traumatic cases of late terminations. The workforce across our islands are not skilled—there are not enough of them and there are not enough good-quality skills. Does the Minister agree that the Government should at least look into those points regarding workforce?
Yes, absolutely. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady about her report. That there is difficulty in getting agreement comes as no surprise to me but, given the intentions of the people behind it, having that discussion would be useful. Yes, I have heard concerns expressed about skills levels, in particular to perform late-stage terminations, which are incredibly dangerous, as she is aware. I will endeavour to take that forward with the relevant bodies.
I sense that the Minister is genuinely trying to help. There is some irony in that we have been trying for so long to amend legislation in Northern Ireland to reflect what we have here, but now it has gone the other way—in the absence of any Executive, with the repeal of sections 58 and 59, Northern Ireland will in fact have more modernised legislation than we have. May I ask her explicitly what she thinks—personally, I suspect—would be the most effective tool to modernise abortion law right across the UK, which the majority of Members want?
That is a difficult question to answer given that the matter is now completely devolved. In respect of England and Wales, I think that the most effective method would be to revisit the Abortion Act, which is itself an amendment to the Offences Against the Person Act providing an exemption for women making that choice in those circumstances. My personal view—the Government do not have a view on such matters of conscience—is that, after 50 years, the Abortion Act does not reflect medical practice today, and therefore restricts the choices of women and their ability to exercise those choices in the safest way.
Other jurisdictions in Canada and Australia have already removed abortion from the criminal law without any increase in the rate of abortion or in late terminations. The Minister cloaks the issue in words such as “emotive” and “sensitive”, but this is actually a legal issue, and women in England and Wales deserve the same protection now afforded to women in Northern Ireland. Given that this is a legal issue, when will we get an answer from the Home Office, rather than the buck being passed to the Health Minister?
At the risk of being flippant, obviously I can only relay the policy given to me by the Home Office. I can give the hon. Lady my views on how we best keep patients safe, but clearly, when it comes down to it, how Parliament decides to manage such issues is a matter for Parliament; the Government and I as a Minister will do as instructed.