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Topical Questions

Volume 667: debated on Tuesday 29 October 2019

Since the last Health questions, we have announced 20 hospital upgrades; 40 new hospitals; £200 million for cancer diagnosis kit; £250 million for the NHSX artificial intelligence lab; a social prescribing academy, as mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey); the launch of the “Every Mind Matters” public mental health campaign; a landmark agreement so that cystic fibrosis drugs, including Orkambi, can be available on the NHS; and the firm commitment from the Prime Minister that in any trade talks after Brexit, the NHS is—and always will be—off the table.

There were 1.2 million hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption in England in 2017-18—3% up on the previous year. Hospital admissions due to alcohol-related liver disease have increased by 43% in the last 10 years, and alcohol problems now cost the NHS an estimated £3.5 billion every year in England alone. Why have the Government not properly recognised the enormous and growing scale of the country’s alcohol-related health problems, and why have they failed to bring forward serious and effective measures to address them?

The prevention Green Paper that we published in the summer specifically addresses what is needed. The effort that we put into supporting those who are hospitalised through their abuse of alcohol needs to be enhanced, and there is an enormous amount of effort under way to make that happen.

T8. Does the Minister agree that the latest data on the soft drinks industry levy is encouraging and a positive step in the campaign to improve health, particularly of young people? (900225)

Absolutely; I thank my right hon. Friend for putting it so eloquently. This just shows what can be achieved. We have seen great results from the soft drinks industry levy. The average sugar content of drinks subject to the levy decreased by 28.8% between 2015 and 2018, so we have been able to make significant investments in activity and healthy eating in schools.

Mr Speaker, as this is the last time that we will have Health questions with you in the Chair, I want to thank you for being a fantastic Speaker—particularly through your support for Back Benchers and ensuring that we can be heard through urgent questions.

Last week, we found that the number of people receiving publicly-funded social care has fallen by 15,000 in the past year. We know that 95 people a day die while waiting for care and that cuts of £7.7 billion have been made from social care budgets since 2010. Older and disabled people are paying the price. Labour has set out our plans to deliver free personal care for people aged over 65 who need it. We are providing dignity in old age. When will the Secretary of State give people the dignity and care they deserve, and bring forward the Government’s plans for social care?

The hon. Lady will be aware that the Queen’s Speech announced a Bill to tackle the cost of adult social care. She will also know that the Prime Minister said on the steps of Downing Street that the Government will set out plans to fix the social care crisis once and for all. We need to get through Brexit, and Labour Members need to vote for the methods that will help us to deliver that, because we can then get on to the things in life that really matter, such as ensuring that no one will ever have to use their home to pay for their care.

T9. I thank the Secretary of State very much for agreeing to increase the amount awarded to the Alex—Alexandra Hospital—to begin essential improvement works that the whole community in Redditch have been campaigning for for a very long time. Can he tell my constituents when we will finally see shovels in the ground? (900226)

We will see shovels in the ground, I very much hope, from next year. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has campaigned endlessly for these improvements to the hospital in Redditch. There is no better supporter of Redditch than her. She has badgered me endlessly, met me formally and bumped into me on the campaign. Every time I see her, she says, “Can we have the improvement to the hospital?” and the answer is yes.

The Secretary of State says that the NHS is not on the table, but President Trump and his trade officials have been very clear that they will seek to more than double drug prices, driving up the bill from £18 billion to £45 billion a year. What discussions is the Secretary of State having, and does he accept that this is why devolved Governments must have input in trade deals?

The NHS is not on the table in any trade deal. Medicine pricing and drugs pricing is not on the table in a trade deal. Let me bring the hon. Lady’s attention to this quotation from the former US trade general counsel, Stephen Vaughn, who said that if the UK really is determined to make no changes at all on pharmaceuticals, we can absolutely hold that position and that that has nothing to do with them. Quite right —we do hold that position; they are off the table.

I welcome the announcement of Royal Preston Hospital being included in the hospital upgrades programme, but what plans does the Minister have for Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where services such as opthalmics are now over capacity and could do with some additional investment?

As Members will know, my hon. Friend spoke only last week about his local hospital in Blackpool and the challenges it faces. It is absolutely clear that we need not only to get leadership right there but to continue to invest in it. I believe that I am already meeting him to discuss exactly that.

T2. With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, can I follow on from my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley), our Front-Bench spokes- person, and say that you have been a fantastic Speaker? You and I first got together on the Trade and Industry Committee about 20 years ago, and I recall, before you became Speaker, suggesting to you that you might want to stand for Speaker—I bet you have forgotten that one. Anyway, I wish you and your family all the best for the future. You have always been very fair and very helpful to me, and I think you will be missed in this Chamber, despite what your opponents say. I will come on to more serious matters now. We were promised by the previous Chancellor that the doctors’ pensions tax would be sorted out. He said that he was in negotiations, but this has been raised repeatedly and nothing has happened so far. Doctors are not putting in overtime, patients are suffering and the NHS could be in meltdown this winter. What is the Secretary of State going to do about it? (900219)

Getting this right is incredibly important. The change in the guidance last month allows every single NHS trust to introduce the flexibilities, immediately, to ensure that doctors can do the work and the overtime they need, get paid properly for it and not get penalised through the impact on the pensions system. That change came in at the start of last month. I will write to the hon. Gentleman with the details, so that he can tell all doctors that these flexibilities are available so that they can do the work that they need to.

Earlier this year, the Secretary of State spoke about the importance of introducing new financing mechanisms to develop and deploy drugs and vaccines to tackle antimicrobial resistance. Will he update us on that, please?

Yes. In January, with my hon. Friend’s support, we launched the five-year plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance. We have now taken that to a global level; this is a global problem. We have appointed Dame Sally Davies, who recently stood down as the chief medical officer, to be our AMR tsar so that she can continue the drive both domestically and around the world.

T3. Why, under a Conservative Government, was Airedale Hospital’s £22 million bid for renewal of the ward block turned down? Is it not time that the Government adopted the suggestion of NHS Providers of a far larger multi-year capital programme for the NHS, with decisions based on need? (900220)

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to hear that that is exactly what we have done with the health infrastructure plan, which involves multi-year capital funding settlements and investment in our hospitals. I am happy to discuss separately the specific example he raises.

There are more than 1.5 million people in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire, and they have no access to a radiotherapy facility in either county. Will the Minister agree to bring cancer care closer to people’s homes and join the campaign to establish a satellite radiotherapy unit in Stevenage?

My hon. Friend is a strong local champion for his constituents in Stevenage, particularly on that issue, in which he is joined by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for North East Hertfordshire (Sir Oliver Heald), who is sitting next to him. He is right to highlight the importance of easy access to such facilities. I am happy to meet him and my right hon. and learned Friend to discuss that.

T4. After almost a decade of ideological Tory austerity and underfunding of our NHS, A&E waiting times at Bradford Royal Infirmary have soared, with one in four patients admitted last winter waiting longer than the four-hour target. Patients in Bradford deserve better than being left to suffer in A&E departments and in the back of ambulances. Will the Minister meet me to discuss emergency funding for Bradford NHS services, to avoid another winter crisis? (900221)

We are putting record amounts of funding into the NHS across the country, including in Bradford. If the people of Bradford get their election—if Labour Members vote for it—and they want to know what is the best thing to do to support long-term investment in the NHS, I can tell them that it is to support the only true party of the NHS: the Conservatives.

I note the recent announcement of the roll-out of the electronic prescription service. How will that benefit my constituents? When will it be rolled out, and how can my constituents use it to support their local community pharmacy?

Digitising the process by using electronic prescribing will save the national health service up to £300 million, freeing up vital time for GPs and pharmacists to spend with their patients. It will start on 19 November.

T5. The Government have finally completed their consultation on mandatory fortification of flour with folic acid. When can we finally expect to see that eminently sensible policy implemented? (900222)

That was part of the prevention Green Paper. We have the consultation responses, which we will assess and come forward with proposals.

There is still too much reliance on body mass index as an indicator of good health in sufferers of eating disorders. Will the Secretary of State get behind the “Dump the Scales” campaign and meet the indomitable campaigner Hope Virgo, to ensure that GPs realise there is more to eating disorders than just weight?

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines state clearly that GPs should not use BMI as the sole indicator for treatment. I have just met the eating disorder charity Beat to discuss how we approach eating disorders. With the £2.3 billion that we have invested in mental health services, we have made a commitment that any young person presenting with an acute eating disorder will be seen within one week, and others within four weeks.

T6. The right to challenge decisions about care and support is fundamental, and the system for doing that must be fair and consistent across all local authorities. Will the Secretary of State make it his policy to introduce a statutory social care appeals process for the decisions made about an individual’s care and support? (900223)

That is an incredibly important matter. It was addressed in the Care Act 2014, but I am happy to look at any proposals, because it is important that we get fair treatment right across the country.

Does the Health Secretary agree with the joint report produced by the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee that the best way to fund adult social care is through a social care premium?

T7. My constituent Karen Gray will begin a hunger strike on Friday because she still cannot get cannabis oil on an NHS prescription despite the fact that, since her son started using it, he has had no seizures. It is costing the family £1,300 a month. When will the Secretary of State commit to making this available to the people he promised it to? (900224)

As we discussed in the answer to an earlier question, I have both decriminalised the use of cannabis oil and introduced the National Institute for Health Research clinical trials. However, individual rules about prescriptions have to be for individual clinicians, and when it comes to funding it in Scotland, that has to be a matter for the Scottish NHS.

Will the Secretary of State look at making greater use of chiropractors and osteopaths in support of orthopaedic surgeons?

How could I say no as my wife was an osteopath? I understand very strongly the importance and value of those professions.

T10. The Royal College of Surgeons reports today that 61% of consultant surgeons have been told not to take up waiting list time reduction initiatives over the winter because of the NHS tax trap. Will the Secretary of State please engage with the Treasury and appeal to it to sort this out before waiting lists are exacerbated over the winter months? (900227)

I am of course engaged with the Treasury on this, but I would also say that these flexibilities are available right across the country and they must be used by trusts.

We are all grateful to the national health service, but I know that the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire) has spoken movingly of the particular debt of gratitude he owes to the institution.

I am delighted to echo that again in the context of the fact that next month, November, is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. I ask my right hon. Friend to commend the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation and all those who are highlighting the signs of this disease to save lives, quite literally, because of the need for early diagnosis. Equally, could he update the House on the lung health checks programme, which is targeted screening that could quite literally save lives from this terrible disease?

Along with my right hon. Friend, I pay tribute to the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, but also to all the charities that work in the cancer space and do the most tremendous work on awareness raising, because it is only by awareness raising that we can actually get earlier diagnoses and beat this disease. We are looking very seriously at what my right hon. Friend suggests.

May I thank you, Mr Speaker, for all the support you have given to Select Committees during your time in the Chair?

After a long period of engagement with patients, staff and partner organisations, the NHS has come up with a clear set of recommendations to the Government and Parliament for the legislative reforms it needs. I hope all political parties are listening to that. Will the Secretary of State confirm that he will accept all its recommendations, including the one that recommends scrapping section 75 of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 and other provisions, which would end wasteful contracting rounds in the NHS?

I want to pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work that she, her Health Committee and all its members have done on this legislation. I think that the legislation proposed by the NHS—with the support of the Select Committee, which will of course scrutinise it further—is an important step forward. I am delighted that Her Majesty committed in the Queen’s Speech to legislation on the NHS, of which these proposals will be the basis.

Haslemere in my constituency has a busy minor injuries unit, used by 8,000 people a year, which is currently threatened with closure. Given that that would be catastrophic for the town of Haslemere and for the Royal Surrey A&E in Guildford, will the Secretary of State listen to the residents of Haslemere and agree not to close this vital facility?

My predecessor, my right hon. Friend, is an assiduous campaigner for South West Surrey. There is no better spokesman for South West Surrey than my right hon. Friend. He has raised this issue with me in private over recent weeks since these concerns were raised. I have in turn raised it with the chief executive of the NHS, and I can confirm that the walk-in centre will stay open.

The primary care mental health service in York is not being cut; it is being scrapped. Will the Secretary of State urgently meet me to save this service?

I am happy to help and to meet the hon. Lady to talk about that. No primary care mental health services should be cutting given the amount of funding we are putting in, but I am happy to meet and discuss it with her.

I must say to the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess) that my kids think he is a great bloke because he made an effort to go and talk to them at my party last week. He will always be a hero in their eyes.

Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State share my concern that a highly paid health executive has been made redundant by Southend clinical commissioning group, given £200,000 and then employed somewhere else in the organisation? Disgraceful.

Today is the first time I have heard of this. National health service redundancy terms were capped at £160,000 in April 2015. We consulted on bringing that down to £95,000 and we have introduced powers in primary legislation to claw back contractual redundancy payments when someone returns to any public sector job within 12 months. I will raise the individual case with the NHS to ensure that taxpayers’ money is being used as well as possible.

Will the Secretary of State speak to his colleagues in the Home Office and get them to allow Glasgow City health and social care partnership to open a supervised drug consumption room in my constituency and get vulnerable people into a service that will keep them alive?

We currently have no plans to change the law on drug consumption rooms. We support a range of evidence-based approaches to reducing the health-related harms associated with drug misuse. I keenly await the summit in Glasgow, which will focus on tackling problem drug use and bring together the experts we need. Dame Carol Black’s report is out in the next few weeks, but putting better resources into treatment and recovery is vital and I urge the Scottish Government to invest.

Will the Secretary of State visit Wycombe Hospital to discuss the future of our increasingly tired 1960s tower block?

I am absolutely happy to look at that. We have put in place the health infrastructure plan to ensure that there is a long-term plan for replacing ailing hospitals. That includes the ability to make new proposals that were not announced in the first round. I am happy to visit Wycombe, which is a beautiful town.

The Government have repeatedly turned down plans for both a new health centre in Maghull and a new walk-in centre in Southport. Is not electing a Labour Government the only way my constituents and those of Members across the House will get the new facilities they so badly need?

On the contrary. I was in Southport last month and I saw the fantastic staff and what they do. I was able to talk to them about the improvements that we are planning in Southport. People in Southport and across the country know that unless we have a strong economy we cannot fund a strong NHS. The Labour party’s plans for the economy would sink it. Only with a strong Conservative Government can we have a properly funded NHS.

I say to the right hon. Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) that when we stood against each other in Conservative student politics in 1986, I was the candidate of the right and he was the candidate of the left. Some things change over the years.

Mr Speaker, you won. Although we have not agreed on everything in the 18 years I have been in the House, I say most earnestly, from one midget to another, that I wish you a long and happy retirement.

Following the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess), I point out that the individual he mentioned moved from being the accountable officer of the Southend CCG to the accountable officer of the Thurrock CCG. It was a sideways move for which he trousered a fifth of a million pounds of public money, which should have been spent on patients. Do not just cap the payment, sir, make him pay it back.

Again, we have the powers in primary legislation to claw back contractual redundancy payments. Nobody is keener to ensure the careful expenditure of taxpayers’ money than my right hon. Friend. The matter has been raised very powerfully by the voices of Essex in this question time.

I am sorry, but we have way overrun. Demand exceeds supply on these occasions—by the way, that is true in the health service under Governments of both colours—but we will take one more question.

I was very distressed to learn last week that a higher than average number of people in Hull are having foot amputations, partly because of diabetic foot ulcers and despite excellent work by the vascular department. The message from that department is that it is underfunded, under-resourced and in desperate need of an infrastructure upgrade to its theatre. Time is running out, so instead of asking the Secretary of State to meet me, will he just act very quickly to give it the funding it needs to stop unnecessary amputations happening in Hull?

We have the largest infrastructure investment programme in a generation and I am very happy to look at the specific request from Hull to ensure it gets the infrastructure it needs.