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Oral Answers to Questions

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 8 June 2021

Health and Social Care

The Secretary of State was asked—

Covid-19: Support for Scottish Government

What steps his Department is taking to support the Scottish Government in their response to the covid-19 outbreak. (900820)

The UK Government work closely with the Scottish Government to provide a co-ordinated approach to the response to covid-19 for the benefit of people across Scotland and across the United Kingdom. For instance, the UK Government have provided the Scottish Government with £1.2 billion in Barnett funding in the 2021 Budget, procured more than 500 million vaccines for the whole of the UK and made sure that our testing programme reaches all parts of the UK. This is a partnership in which the people of Scotland benefit hugely from the reach and strength of the UK Government.

It is becoming clear across the entire United Kingdom that our NHS is facing a huge challenge as we reopen society to deal with the thousands of procedures, treatments and operations that have been delayed due to lockdown. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that the national health service in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can work together as easily as possible, sharing resources and services to ensure that this truly national health service for our whole country will support delivery to support our constituents wherever in the United Kingdom they might live?

My hon. Friend is quite right. The NHS is one of Britain’s proudest achievements. It operates across the whole of Great Britain and co-operation is ingrained in the DNA of the NHS. I am absolutely determined, as the UK Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, to ensure that, wherever people live in this United Kingdom, they can access the very best of care. If a constituent of my hon. Friend’s in Aberdeenshire needs a treatment that is only available in England because it is so specialised, they should have absolutely every right to that treatment, in the same way that a constituent of mine in Suffolk or a constituent in north Wales should. We have one NHS across these islands, and it is one of the things of which this country is most proud.

I am sure the Secretary of State is well aware that the Scottish NHS has been separate since 1948 and has been under direct Scottish Government control for the last 20 years, so there are actually four NHSs. Perhaps I can ask him about some of his decisions that have made it harder for the Scottish and other devolved Governments to fight covid. Last September, he refused to follow Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies advice for an urgent lockdown, and the six-week delay allowed the more infectious B117 Kent variant to emerge and spread across the UK, driving a second wave more deadly than the first. He has repeatedly claimed to follow the science, so can he explain why he did not follow scientific advice last September?

Just on this point, this attempt at division within the NHS is deeply regrettable. It is not what people want. It is not what people want in Scotland. It is not what people want anywhere across the country. The NHS is an institution we should all be very proud of. Of course it is managed locally—it is managed locally across parts of England and it is managed under the devolution settlement in Wales and Scotland, as are health services in Northern Ireland, and rightly so—but it ill behoves politicians to try to divide the NHS. It is a wonderful institution that should make us all proud to be British.

On the specific question that the hon. Lady asked, of course we are guided by the science and take all factors into consideration. These are difficult judgments based on uncertain data, and we make the best judgments that we can. That is still the process we are going through, in the same way that the Scottish National party Government in Scotland have recently opened up parts of the rules in terms of social distancing, despite the rise in cases.

We face a challenging decision ahead of 21 June, but that decision is made easier by—indeed, the decision to open up is only possible because of it—the UK vaccination effort. Today marks six months to the day since Margaret Keenan in Coventry was the first person in the world to receive a clinically validated vaccine—the same day as Scotland, the same day as Wales. Since then we have delivered—

Order. It is not a statement, but an answer that we require. I call Dr Philippa Whitford to ask her second question.

I think the Secretary of State would find that most people in Scotland were rather glad that their NHS did not come under the Health and Social Care Act 2012 fragmentation. Having ignored the Scottish Government’s call in February for all arrivals to undergo hotel quarantine, he then delayed adding India to the red list. This allowed the more infectious Delta variant, which one dose of the vaccine is less effective against, to enter and become dominant in the UK. Is he not concerned that, if he removes all social distancing completely in the near future, the variant will cause a covid surge among those who are not fully vaccinated?

Touché, Sir. In response to the hon. Lady’s question, I will say this. The opening up and the return of our freedoms is only possible because of the UK vaccination effort. In the six months to the day since we first vaccinated across these islands—yes, in Coventry, but also in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—we have delivered 68 million vaccines across the whole UK and saved thousands of lives, and the whole United Kingdom has been set fair on the road to recovery thanks to the UK Government’s vaccination effort. I am very grateful to everybody in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England who has played their part in delivering it. That shows the benefit of the United Kingdom Union saving lives and working together for everybody on these islands.

Adult Social Care Reform

I am hugely ambitious about social care reform. I want a sustainable care system that meets people’s needs and aspirations and gives them the care and support they need to live life to the full. We are working on proposals for reform and will bring those forward later this year.

This Government are responsible for over 40,000 needless deaths from covid-19 in care homes. A plan to fix social care in this country is long overdue. This crisis is not new—people are routinely forced to sell the family home to pay for care. The workers are paid peanuts, while the 13 million unpaid carers are left to pick up the pieces. Does the Minister agree that we have had far too many vague promises and that unpaid carers cannot wait a minute longer?

I agree with the hon. Member that there are many challenges for social care, and that is one reason why many Governments have talked about social care reform. As he will understand, over the last year, we have rightly focused on supporting social care through the pandemic, but we are working on our proposals for reform and will bring them forward later this year.

Almost two years ago, the Government promised to fix social care once and for all, but we have seen in this pandemic that it is still seriously broken. Care does not stop at the hospital exit or the GP’s door. Carers have sacrificed physical and mental health caring for loved ones during the pandemic; 72% have had no break, and 44% say they are at breaking point. In national Carers Week, will the Minister commit to cross-party talks in the immediate term to fix the social care crisis throughout the UK?

As the hon. Member says, this week is Carers Week, which is a really good opportunity to raise awareness about the important role that carers play in supporting loved ones and to remember something that I personally am committed to: we must support carers not only in the care that they do but to live their own lives, for which respite care is really important. As part of our reforms to social care, we are listening to carers and want to ensure that their needs are met.

In July 2019, the Prime Minister stood on the steps of Downing Street and pledged to fix the broken social care system. Two years on, we are still waiting. There were only warm words in the Queen’s Speech a couple of weeks ago:

“Proposals on social care reform will be brought forward.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 11 May 2021; Vol. 812, c. 2.]

Can the Minister tell us when the Government will move from rhetoric and warm words and fix this broken system for the people she has just mentioned, who need it desperately?

I welcome the hon. Member’s support for and interest in social care reform, along with others across the House. We know that social care reform is needed. We have rightly over the last year focused on supporting social care through the pandemic, getting £1.8 billion of extra funding for social care to the frontline and providing billions of items of PPE, over 100 million tests to social care and the vaccination programme to care home residents, those who receive social care and the workforce. We are working on our social care reforms and will bring those forward later this year.

Many in this place and across England will be asking, “Where is England’s long-awaited social care Bill?” because they will have seen that the SNP Government are delivering a new deal for the social care sector in Scotland, building a new national care service that will improve workers’ conditions and standards of care, and increasing investment in care by 25%. Will the UK Government follow Scotland’s lead in transforming social care, and will the Minister contact Scottish Government Ministers to learn from our over a decade-long experience of integrating health and social care?

One of the great strengths of our United Kingdom is our ability to work together and learn from different parts of the UK. We also look at the best in England and, of course, in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The hon. Gentleman mentions the care workforce. We absolutely want to make sure that this important workforce are front and centre of our social care reform plans and that they receive the training, opportunities, recognition and reward that they deserve.

The Government have had 11 years to reform social care, but with cuts of £8 billion over that period, it is fragmented and costly and does not value workers and employees. Is it not time that the Minister and the Government grab the bull by the horns and introduce a national health and social care service? When are reforms going to come into play—what day, what month, what year?

It is not just over the period mentioned by the hon. Member that social care reforms have been talked about; this goes back at least 25 years, to when Tony Blair was the Labour leader and Prime Minister. He talked about reforms to social care, but he has also said that it is not simple; these are complex problems to address. When people talk about how social care needs fixing, different people mean different things. That is why, as part of our reforms, we are going to bring forward a long-term plan for reforming social care.

Can I just say to the Minister that I think most Members of the House of Commons will find her attitude incredibly complacent on one of the key issues that faces most families in this country? As my hon. Friend the Member for Weaver Vale (Mike Amesbury) has just said, there has been an £8 billion cut to social care since 2010. One of the steps she could take straight away is to reinstate that £8 billion to local authorities, so that they can at least provide services through the social care system that we have.

I have huge respect for the right hon. Lady and her work in many areas, but I am disappointed by her language. She will appreciate that, together, the Department, local authorities and the care sector are working hard on how to bring forward the right package of reforms for the system. We have already taken some of the first steps on that road. For instance, the health and social care Bill includes plans to strengthen oversight of the social care system. That is an important step, but it is the beginning, not the end, of the social care reform road.

Six hundred and eighty-five days ago, the Prime Minister promised to fix the crisis in social care to give every older person the dignity and security they deserve. Since then, more than 32,000 elderly people have died from covid-19 in care homes, millions of care workers and families have felt abandoned and pushed to breaking point, and 300 elderly people have been forced to sell their homes to pay for their care every single week. Does the Minister think that has given people security, let alone dignity, and will she tell the country, after more than a decade in power, specifically when her Government will deliver?

What I will say, after the enormously difficult year that social care has had through the pandemic, is that that has indeed strengthened the already strong case for reform of social care. I will say to the hon. Member that I want us to have a better social care system, whether it is for our grans and grandads, mums and dads, brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren, or, indeed, as and when we need it ourselves. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reform social care. Now is the time, now is the moment and we will seize this opportunity. We will be bringing forward proposals for reform of social care later this year.

Food Standards Agency

Next week the Food Standards Agency will produce its annual report and hold its annual general meeting. That report is likely to recommend significant changes regarding live bivalve molluscs, which have a huge impact on my constituency and on the health of the nation for those who eat seafood. Will the Minister commit that any changes recommended in the report next week will be brought forward in record time, so that they may be implemented quickly and we can secure the future of the seafood industry in the United Kingdom?

It is a change to be talking about a different sort of mussel in this place during Health questions. The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) and I are well aware of the challenges that currently face the shellfish industry, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) for his dogged determination, especially on behalf of those businesses that rely on exports. We will continue to work closely with the FSA, which I know has been working hard to resolve these issues and make progress. I have been advised that there is potential for change to ensure that classifications are awarded in a proportionate and pragmatic way, while continuing to ensure high levels of public health protection. I assure my hon. Friend that I will continue to work closely with the FSA and with my colleagues in DEFRA.

Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit: Dorset

What steps he is taking to support the construction of a new psychiatric intensive care unit in Dorset. (900823)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, not least for providing me with my only opportunity to answer a question on the Order Paper today. I am delighted to confirm that St Ann’s Hospital in Dorset is already part of our plan to build 48 hospitals by 2030—the biggest hospital building programme in a generation. The new build at St Ann’s will provide child and adult mental health services for the people of Dorset, resulting in outdated infrastructure being replaced by facilities for staff and patients that are at the cutting edge of modern technology, innovation and sustainability, driving excellence in this hugely important area of patient care.

I thank the Minister for his hard work in reopening the Yeatman Hospital in Sherborne, which will happen in a couple of weeks for A&E. On top of what he has already offered, which I very much appreciate, will he commit specifically to increase inpatient provision for children and young people in West Dorset with severe mental health difficulties, as we have a number of difficult cases?

My hon. Friend takes a great interest in these matters and, as he will know, the number of places commissioned is a matter for NHS commissioners locally. I reassure him that we can commit, and my hon. Friend the Minister for mental health services is committed, to expanding and transforming community mental health services across England, boosted by an additional £79 million this year, so that children and young people get timely access to the support and treatment they need, without having to be admitted to hospital. That is, of course, alongside the investment to which I have referred for inpatient mental health facilities at St Ann’s.

Mental Health Treatment Reform

We are transforming mental health services through the NHS long-term plan, investing an additional £2.3 billion a year by 2023-24. Where national waiting time targets exits, the majority are being met. Targets for eating disorder services are sadly not being met, but additional resources have been allocated to increase capacity and address waiting times. We are working on the consultation responses for the Mental Health Act White Paper, and we will bring legislation forward when parliamentary time allows.

After a career working in mental health for almost 30 years, prior to entering this House, I was delighted to be asked to become a board member for a local charity, Anxious Minds, which is based in Blyth town centre. Its aim is to improve mental health and wellbeing for local people. Will my hon. Friend assure me and those who worry about the toll that this pandemic has taken on the vulnerable that she will do everything she can to ensure that mental health is given the highest possible propriety as restrictions begin to ease?

I thank my hon. Friend for his years of service working in mental health. Mental health is one of this Government’s top priorities, and I assure him that we are doing our utmost to ensure that mental health services are there for everyone who needs them. Through the NHS long-term plan, we are expanding and transforming mental health services in England and investing an additional £2.3 billion a year in mental health services by 2023-24.

In addition, we have published our mental health recovery action plan, backed by a one-off targeted investment of £500 million in addition to the £2.3 billion, to ensure that we have the right support in place this year. The plan aims to respond to the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of the public, specifically targeting groups that have been most impacted. We have set up a cross-Government ministerial group to monitor progress against the actions listed in the plan, and the group will also identify areas for further action and collaboration.

I welcome the priority put on young people’s mental health, which is perhaps more important now than ever. Will the Minister give an update on progress on implementing the proposals in the children and young people’s mental health Green Paper, particularly on mental health support teams in Hampshire and nationwide?

We are making good progress on implementing the Green Paper proposals, and I am pleased to say that we have established 11 mental health support teams in Hampshire. Nationwide, there are currently 180 mental health support teams, covering around 15% of pupils in England. Over 200 more are in training or being commissioned, and we expect to have around 400 in place by 2023-24, covering 35% of pupils. We recently announced £9.5 million to train thousands of senior mental health leads among school and college staff.

Last year, in my NHS trust 37% of children referred to mental health services were turned away. That was up from 28% the year before. That is 2,649 children not getting treatment despite referrals from professionals. That will be exacerbated, of course, by the acute children’s mental health unit at Ticehurst being shut and no new hospital provision commissioned.

It is not just Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust that is failing; it is services across the country. In 2019, 140,000 children were turned away from child and adolescent mental health services, and some experience exceptionally long waits. Is the Minister comfortable with these huge numbers of children being turned away from treatment? Does she think that these waiting times are acceptable? What message does she have for those children and families who do not receive the treatment that they desperately need?

The short answer to that question is no, and that is why we have committed an additional £500 million to address some of the issues that the hon. Gentleman highlights. However, I must reiterate that the majority of our targets, where they have been set, are being met. Sadly, in eating disorders—I hold my hands up—we are not meeting the targets that we want to, but as he may be aware, we are trialling four-week waiting targets for children and young people. The results of that review and pilot will be available soon.

We continue to look at ways in which we can increase access to services for children and young people. Children and young people have told me themselves, via organisations such as Barnardo’s, that they want their mental health services delivered in a different way. They do not want to go and sit in a village hall or a hospital, or wherever they may receive their services from community practitioners; they want some of their services delivered via their phones, laptops or computers. Obviously, one-to-one services have to be available where they are needed, but children and young people are demanding a change, and we are going through that change now.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Lloyd Russell-Moyle) raises a very important point and, frankly, I am shocked that the Minister seems so relaxed about it. Across the country, there are numerous children who have waited more than 400 days for help with autism; 280 days for post-traumatic stress disorder; 217 days for suicidal ideation; 195 days for treatment after an overdose—I could go on and on. Children should not have to wait so long for treatment. That will have a scarring impact on their development. These waiting times simply are not acceptable, so will the Minister apologise to these children, and can she explain where it went so wrong?

I do not believe that meeting almost all our targets for NHS waiting times for mental health services, with £2.3 billion a year of investment into our NHS and no NHS mental health service closing during the entire pandemic, has been a failure. Of course I am sorry for those children and young people who cannot get access to services as quickly as they want; that is exactly why we committed an additional £500 million and established a mental health recovery plan: so that we can put community services in place to reach those who have been impacted most by the pandemic over the past 15 months. We have a long-term plan in place, with the investment that the NHS tells us that that long-term plan needs to provide the very services that we want to provide. The mental health of children and young people is this Government’s priority. We will continue to invest, and are proving to continue to invest, to make sure that those children and young people access the services they need.

Covid-19: Restoration of GP Services

What steps his Department is taking to support the full restoration of GP services as part of the covid-19 recovery. (900826)

What steps his Department is taking to support the full restoration of GP services as part of the covid-19 recovery. (900835)

What steps his Department is taking to support the full restoration of GP services as part of the covid-19 recovery. (900840)

General practice has remained open throughout the pandemic, offering face-to-face appointments as well as telephone and online consultations, while playing a leading role in our vaccination programme. We are enormously grateful to general practices, the GPs and their broader teams for everything that they have done, but to ensure that general practice can continue to provide all necessary and appropriate care during this very busy time, we have made an additional £270 million available until September.

If it is done right, we can use technology and data to improve healthcare services, improve patient outcomes and help to save lives, so I welcome the proposals for a new GP data system, but it is vital that we get this right with the appropriate protections in place. With that in mind, will the Minister update the House on these vital reforms?

I could not agree more. Data saves lives —it is as simple as that. We have seen that in the pandemic, and it is one of the lessons of the vaccine roll-out. The GP data programme will strengthen the system and save lives. Patient data is, of course, owned by the patient. We are absolutely determined to take people with us on this journey. We have therefore decided that we will proceed with the important programme, but we will take some extra time, as we have conversed with stakeholders over the past couple of days. The implementation date will now be 1 September. We will use this time to talk to patients, doctors, health charities and others to strengthen the plan, build a trusted research environment and ensure that data is accessed securely. This agenda is so important, because we all know that data saves lives.

I have been contacted in recent weeks by quite a number of constituents who are struggling to get a GP appointment, but we have a pre-covid problem as well, which is that thousands and thousands of new houses have gone into the constituency without an increase in GP services. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how to get my constituents the GP services that they need and deserve?

It is right that local health commissioners pay careful regard to the impact of new housing and growing areas, which is to be welcomed. I understand that both practices in my hon. Friend’s area are still accepting patients and that the Oxfordshire clinical commissioning group has been working closely with the practices in Wantage to make sure that the impact of housing growth is being accommodated, which I expect all CCGs and councils to be doing. I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the matter further.

I recently met two cancer groups in Sedgefield, the Solan Connor Fawcett Family Cancer Trust and the Great Aycliffe Cancer Support Group, and heard about the wonderful work that they have been doing over the past year. We also discussed how delayed GP appointments have affected early diagnosis of important medical issues such as cancer. Early diagnosis is necessary to provide patients with the best chance of stopping the cancer spreading and of recovering. Furthermore, the later cancer is caught, the more complicated cases become; they take more time and more resources and, of course, are horribly distressing. Will the Minister please tell me what is being done to ensure that backlogs in appointments are being addressed as urgently as possible?

I pay tribute to all the cancer charities out there who have done sterling work during the pandemic. As I have said, GP services are open, and they are offering different forms of communication with patients. We are running the Help Us, Help You campaign so that people can come forward when they have symptoms. As my hon. Friend says, identifying cancers early to save lives is part of the long-term plan, but I would like to assure him that my latest data showed that in March 2021 we had the highest ever recorded number of GP referrals for cancer. GPs are working really hard, and if patients are worried about any symptoms, they need to come forward.

For GPs and for the NHS more broadly, using data effectively is an important way to restore our health services. However, the current plans to take this data from GPs, assemble it in one place and sell it to unknown commercial interests for purposes unknown has no legitimacy whatsoever. There has been no public engagement and no explanation; this has simply been snuck out under the cover of darkness—[Interruption.] I will get there, Minister; do not worry. This is an NHS data grab. The news of the delay is welcome and I am glad that the hon. Lady has made that commitment, but within that, will she commit to ensuring that the 23 June opt-out date is also moved to 1 September and that there will be a full public consultation on whether people want their data used for these purposes?

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Robert Largan). We will be considering everything in the round. As I have said, I have spoken to many of the stakeholders involved and as we move forward we will be ensuring that we take all trusted individuals with us to build confidence in the system.

Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019

What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Act 2019 in increasing the number of organs available for donation. (900827)

The organ donation opt-out system has increased the number of organs available for transplant and is saving hundreds of lives. Since the law changed last year, 296 people in England have donated their organs under the opt-out system. These donations account for 29% of the 1,021 donations that took place last year.

I am grateful to the Minister for that response. She will know that 20 May marked one year since Max and Keira’s law came into effect—a change that will give hope and save lives—but despite the tireless efforts of NHS staff, covid has had a devastating impact on patients in need of life-saving operations. Can the Minister outline how she is going to get organ transplant services back to pre-pandemic levels and tell us what additional resources will be committed in order to support an increase in organ availability?

I would first like to thank the hon. Member for the part he played in campaigning for this life-saving change to organ donation and bringing about the increase that I mentioned earlier. The current services are now running at pre-covid levels and NHS Blood and Transplant is working with the wider healthcare system to enable as many transplants as possible. The new Organ Donation and Transplantation 2030: Meeting the Need strategy, which was launched last Tuesday, sets out the steps we are taking to increase organ availability further.

Medical Cannabis

What recent progress his Department has made on helping to ensure that medical cannabis is accessible to people who require it under prescription. (900830)

I have discussed these concerns with the hon. Member and with the co-chairs of the all-party parliamentary group on medical cannabis under prescription, and he knows that I sympathise deeply with the parents of these children and with the patients and their families, many of whom I have met. They are dealing courageously with conditions that are difficult to treat. My immediate priority was to resolve the supply of Bedrocan oil from the Netherlands. I have further meetings planned to make progress on other issues in this incredibly complex situation.

I welcome today’s letter from the Minister detailing the extension of the arrangements for the provision of Bedrocan, and I am pleased that we are working towards the manufacture of Bedrocan oils in the UK. I have two issues today. The first is that patients still need to pay for their medicines. If the numbers are so small and this is such a niche product, surely it could be provided free on the NHS. Secondly, I have been told that research is ongoing regarding the wider possibilities for medical cannabis, but despite being promised an update a month ago, I am still waiting for one from the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency on clinical trials and the licence application. Could that please be forthcoming?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I have met Dr June Raine from the MHRA and subsequently met further specialist clinicians in this area to discuss progress with the research and evidence on supporting prescribing on the NHS. Establishing clinical trials is vital, with the support of the National Institute for Health Research, to make sure that we are making the right decisions on routine funding. From 1 April, we have introduced a national patient registry to record data and monitor patient outcomes in England, with a view to it being rolled out across Scotland and the other devolved Administrations later this year; this covers both licensed and unlicensed cannabis-based medicines on the NHS, with a view to including private patients in due course. As he knows, I am very focused on making sure we get the right solutions for families, but at the heart of this matter always has to lie the safety of what we prescribe.

Question 24 about covid-19 variants has been withdrawn, but if the Minister can give a response, we can go to Justin Madders for his supplementary question.

The Government have produced a four-step road map to ease restrictions across England. Before each step, an assessment is made against the four tests, including assessing the current risk posed by variants of concern. The move to step 3 on 17 May was based on the assessment that the risks were not fundamentally changed by those variants of concern. Step 4 is due no earlier than 21 June and the variants of concern will again be considered in advance.

On Sky News, on Sunday, the Secretary of State was asked about figures that contradict his claim that India was not put on the red list at the same time as Bangladesh and Pakistan because positivity rates were three times higher in those countries. In response, he said that he did not recognise those figures, but he should have done, because they are his own figures from Test and Trace. Indeed, there are no published figures for the time the decision was made that support his claim. Given the allegation that the only reason there was a delay in putting India on the red list was to help secure a trade deal, and given that this delay is now having serious consequences, will the Minister agree to publish all the data and advice on which the decision was based, in the interests of transparency and accountability?

The positivity rates were three times higher from Pakistan than they were from India when we made that decision. As the hon. Gentleman knows, we keep these things under constant review and we would be equally lambasted if decisions were made before we had the correct information. Acting when we have the right information on variants of concern is an important thing; we will keep following the data.

New Hospital Construction

In October, the Prime Minister confirmed a £3.7 billion funding allocation over the next four years to support the delivery of 40 new hospitals by 2030, and I am delighted that that includes Kettering General Hospital. We have since confirmed that there will be 48 new hospitals built by 2030, and six of those projects are under way.

I am delighted that one of the new Boris hospitals will be built on the site of Kettering General, starting with an accident and emergency department and with the whole hospital being finished by 2027. Unfortunately, there may well be a substantial delay to that because of red tape and bureaucracy. Will the Secretary of State use his great skills, bang some heads together, and get the pen-pushers and accountants to sort out the delay so that we can get on with this? Will he be kind enough to meet the three hon. Members who represent north Northamptonshire to discuss the issue?

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than making stuff happen, so I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and the nearby colleagues who represent the people served by Kettering General Hospital to make sure we can get this project moving as soon as we can.

Office for Health Promotion: Mindfulness

Work on the scope and organisation design of the Office for Health Promotion is ongoing. We will present more detail on our plans for the OHP in due course. Public Health England’s “Better Health—Every Mind Matters” social marketing campaign aims to inform and equip the public to look after their mental health. Its NHS-endorsed website offers guidance on the actions that people can take to improve their mental wellbeing, including by practising mindfulness and reflection.

Research shows that mindfulness training can contribute to improvements in obesity, eating behaviours, addiction and mental health and wellbeing. Will the Minister ensure that the Office for Health Promotion looks at the evidence of how mindfulness can help with how we all manage our health?

There is emerging evidence on the mental health benefits of mindfulness, which can take the form of meditation or wider approaches that incorporate a mindful approach. As the hon. Lady may be aware, I have been particularly concerned that we separate out mental illness and wellbeing and mindfulness. We should focus on mental illness, which needs intense clinical intervention in NHS services, but also look at mindfulness and wellbeing. That is why I mentioned “Every Mind Matters”: the facilities are there.

Pharmacies: Range of Work

The pandemic has proven to the public how vital our highly skilled pharmacy teams are in supporting their communities. Pharmacies have massive potential to build on the new services they are already delivering, and we will continue to look at how we can use them further.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Can we also make sure that the public are aware of everything that pharmacies can do, so that they can use them to take pressure off GPs?

Indeed we can. I would be honoured to work with my hon. Friend to do that so that people think “pharmacy first”. Pharmacies are delivering lateral flow devices into our communities; 500 of them have stood up to be vaccination sites; and we can now refer from NHS 111 and GPs into community pharmacies for the supply of prescribed medicine and for minor illnesses. We need our pharmacies to show their skill base; they are a highly skilled group that we should all be asking to do more and celebrating.

Topical Questions

I can tell the House that today, working with local authorities, we are providing a strengthened package of support, based on what is working in Bolton, to help Greater Manchester and Lancashire to tackle the rise in the delta variant that we are seeing there. The support includes rapid response teams, putting in extra testing, military support and supervised in-school testing. I encourage everyone in Manchester and Lancashire to get the tests on offer. We know that this approach can work: we have seen it work in south London and in Bolton, stopping a rise in the number of cases. This is the next stage of tackling the pandemic in Manchester and Lancashire. It is of course vital that people in those areas, as everywhere else, come forward and get the jab as soon as they are eligible, because that is our way out of this pandemic together.

Currently, all primary care providers in Wales remain on amber alert, which means that many of my constituents in Bridgend are unable to access necessary services unless it is an emergency. Will my right hon. Friend explain how this situation compares to his Department’s strategy to provide catch-up services as we come out of lockdown?

It is very important that, across the country, the UK is open, the NHS is open and that people can come forward and get treatment if they need it. As my hon. Friend knows, I work closely with the delivery of the NHS in Wales. The NHS there is of course the responsibility of the devolved Administration, but I am happy to take up his concern with the new Welsh Minister for Health and Social Services to see what we can do.

We have seen reports today of how exhausted NHS staff are. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in the media this morning that he was not sure what more the Government could do to support NHS staff. Obviously, the Government could give them a pay rise, but will the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care also commit today to extending free hospital car parking for NHS staff beyond the pandemic?

Of course, we have made hospital car parking free for staff during the pandemic. That is one of the many, many things that we have put in place to support staff. Staff wellbeing support and mental health support have also been incredibly important, learning, as we have done, from the support that we give to others in public service who go through traumatic episodes. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right that there is a wide array of things that we need to do to support NHS staff on the frontline.

I wanted a commitment to extend the relief of hospital car parking charges beyond the pandemic.

The Secretary of State knows that waiting lists are at 5 million and that 432,000 people are waiting beyond 12 months. Once we are through this pandemic, the priority must be to bring those waiting lists down, but he is about to embark on a reorganisation of the NHS with his integrated care legislation. Local boards permit the private sector to have a seat on them. Virgin Care has just been given a seat on the integrated care system in Bath and North Somerset. He once promised that there would be no privatisation on his watch, so will he instruct that ICS to remove Virgin Care from its board?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that integrating the health service with services provided by local authorities, such as social care, is absolutely critical, and I know that he supports those proposals that have come from the NHS. When it comes to delivering services in the NHS, what matters to patients is that they get high-quality services, for instance, to deal with the backlog, and what matters is getting those services as fast as we possibly can. People care much less about who provides the service than they do about the service getting delivered, and that is the approach that I take, too.

Today, the Health and Social Care Committee published its report on NHS and social care staff burnout, which chronicles the emotional exhaustion and chronic fatigue felt by many frontline staff in the past year. Much support has been put in place; the 50,000 nurse target is welcome, the extra doctors and nurses hired during the pandemic extremely welcome, but still we have shortages in nearly every specialty, leading to a sense of despair. Will my right hon. Friend consider the recommendation that we make today that Health Education England should be given the statutory power to make independent workforce projections, rather as the Office for Budget Responsibility does for Budget forecasts, so that we can at least look doctors and nurses in the eye and say that we are training enough of them for the future?

I am very happy to work with the Select Committee on the forthcoming health and care Bill. The Committee has already had a huge amount of input into that Bill, and I am sure that, during its passage, we will be working together on making sure that this piece of legislation, which has cross-party support, can come through the House in the best possible state. I am very happy to look at the specific proposal, but what I would say is that we have been recruiting record numbers of doctors and nurses to try to make sure that the NHS is always there for all of our constituents and their families.

The British Medical Association has warned that the freezing of the lifetime and annual pensions tax allowance until April 2026 could significantly impact the retention and overtime of health and care staff, with 72% of doctors that it surveyed saying that it would make them more likely to retire early. What consideration has been given to the BMA’s proposal of offering a tax unregistered scheme, similar to that of the judiciary, for those in the NHS? (900881)

We made very significant progress on this in the Budget immediately following the general election, as the hon. Lady will know. That has removed this problem for the vast majority of doctors who serve in the NHS. I am very glad that we were able to make that progress. I am always happy to look at suggestions from the unions and others, but I am glad to say that we have made a good deal of progress on this one.

Despite the recent rise in infection rates, covid-related deaths and hospital admissions remain low across my constituency. Surge vaccinations and testing have been effectively rolled out in high-risk areas, and pop-up vaccination centres, such as the Darby and Joan Club in Clayton West, are doing a fantastic job. Given that, can my right hon. Friend assure the people of Dewsbury, Mirfield, Kirkburton and Denby Dale that there will be no need to introduce local restrictions in the future? (900883)

I join my hon. Friend in congratulating the whole team on the incredible work that they did in pretty difficult and urgent circumstances. I reassure him that, as the Prime Minister has said and as the Secretary of State has said from the Dispatch Box, we want the whole country to come out of this lockdown together.

My constituents continue to be concerned that covid-19 is being used as an excuse to remove services from Ealing Hospital permanently. Accepting temporary suspensions for covid-19 is fine, but will the Secretary of State confirm that this public health crisis will not be used as an excuse to scrap services without following proper consultations and undertaking rigorous impact assessments? (900882)

The Airedale General Hospital celebrates its 51st birthday this year, despite having a life expectancy of 30 years when it was originally built and 83% of it being built from aerated concrete, which is known for its structural deficiencies. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is well aware of my campaign to get a rebuild of the Airedale hospital, so that we can mitigate the risk of those structural deficiencies. Will he visit the hospital to meet me and Brendan Brown, the chief executive, so that we may discuss the plans in more detail? (900887)

Mr Speaker, not only has my hon. Friend made a compelling case for me to visit, but you have just told me to visit, so I have my marching orders. I look forward to my now forthcoming visit to Airedale hospital. I have not been yet, so I am very keen to come.

The Minister of State responsible for the hospital building programme has been heavily involved, and I have been looking at the paperwork. As my hon. Friend knows, on top of the 40 hospitals we announced—six of which are already being built—we have eight further slots to come, and Airedale hospital is very much on my radar for those slots. We will run an open competition and will make sure it is fair, but I will certainly visit.

This week, the Prime Minister praised the major benefits of the private finance initiative companies that are part of the LIFT—NHS Local Finance Investment Trust—initiative running GP services. That is why I am sure that the Secretary of State will be disappointed to learn that here in Walthamstow, Community Health Partnerships, a PFI LIFT company that we estimate has made several millions of pounds of profit from the deal on top of its service charges, and which the Secretary of State is ultimately in charge of, has just handed our local toy library a business rates bill of £30,000 for during the pandemic. I hate to add to the Secretary of State’s busy diary, but will he meet me to discuss what we can do to ensure that such companies stop making major profits from our NHS services and that benefits such as a toy library are not lost due to their antics? (900885)

I am sure that my right hon. Friend saw Fergus Walsh’s report on the BBC news last week on spinal muscular atrophy and the importance of the UK’s newborn screening programme. Surprisingly, the UK screens for only nine rare diseases in the heel-prick test, compared with other European countries such as Iceland and Italy, which test for 47 and 43 diseases, respectively. The sooner the diagnosis for a child with a rare disease the better, because it can change their life and their life chances. With that in mind, does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK should now consider expansion of the newborn screening programme? Will he meet, or ask a Minister of State to meet, me and campaigners on the issue? (900889)

Yes, absolutely, I 100% agree with my hon. Friend. We have the funding to expand that programme. She will have seen in our national genomics healthcare strategy that newborn screening is specifically highlighted. It is a personal mission of mine to make that happen. I am happy to meet her and Baroness Blackwood, the chair of Genomics England, who has been driving the project forward.

Early diagnosis gives the best chance of survival, but a GP in my constituency has expressed serious concerns about delays in accessing urgent blood tests, which are critical to diagnose cancer. Will the Secretary of State ensure that local issues such as this do not worsen the already significant cancer backlog and put more people’s lives at risk? (900888)

Yes. The hon. Lady raises a very important issue, and if she writes to me with the full details, we will get right on it.

I am delighted to report back to my right hon. Friend that the University of Brighton, which has a campus in Eastbourne, has experienced a significant rise in the number of applications to study for careers in health professions. A shortage of training placements is the only real brake on the numbers of would-be students. I understand from having talked to the university that in the UK students must complete over 2,000 hours in placement. That is in contrast to Australia’s and New Zealand’s 1,000 hours. Is that seemingly high requirement under review with Health Education England so that we do not miss an opportunity to capture this new interest, build the NHS workforce of the future, open opportunities to all those who have the talent to succeed, and further secure my home town as a destination for studying? (900890)

My hon. Friend makes a really important point. Nurse education standards are set by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Its current standards are based on EU law, but that no longer applies to the UK, and it has launched a survey on whether those standards should change. Acceptances for pre-registration nursing programmes at English universities for 2020-21 increased by over 5,000 since the previous year.

Many constituents have con, deeply concerned by Government proposals to grab, store and share GP health data. Can the Secretary of State tell me this: if I opt out of this data grab, will my health data be available to a hospital outside my home area should I have an accident, for example? If I do not opt out of it, how can I control how my data is shared, whether individually or in aggregate? I do not want to have to choose between privacy and my health. (900892)

The hon. Lady is quite right, and if she was in the Chamber earlier, she would have heard the Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), say that we are going to delay the deadline for this programme, including the opt-out, which is currently scheduled to end on 23 June. That has already been welcomed, while we have been in here, by the Royal College of General Practitioners and the British Medical Association, and then we will work through these issues. Everybody agrees that data saves lives. We have to make progress in this area, and it is very important that we do it in a way that brings people with us and resolves exactly the sorts of issues that she raises.

Although covid cases remain above the national average across Kirklees, thankfully hospitalisations and deaths remain low. Locally, my constituents are getting vaccinated and tested. Can the Health Secretary please confirm that he will not reintroduce local restrictions? (900891)

I am really glad to say that in Bolton and other parts of the country where we have sent in a big package of support, including surge testing—as we have done in Kirklees—we have seen a capping-out of the increase in rates without a local lockdown thanks to the enthusiasm of people locally and, of course, the vaccination programme. That is our goal. Our goal is that England moves together. That is what we are putting these programmes in place to do, and we are seeing them work.

Northwick Park Hospital, which serves my constituents, was the first to be hard hit by covid last year. At the height of the second wave in January, its remarkable staff were looking after some 600 patients. It needs investment in intensive care and recovery services. When Ministers receive the business case, can I ask them to look particularly sympathetically at it? (900893)

Macmillan estimates that the current backlog of people awaiting a first cancer treatment across England stands at 39,000 people. What plans can my right hon. Friend outline to bolster cancer services so that those people get the treatment they need? (900894)

Recovering the backlog that has been caused by the pandemic is a huge task for the NHS, and was raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester South (Jonathan Ashworth) from the Opposition Front Bench, quite rightly. The backlog has unfortunately been increased as a consequence of the pandemic. We have put in extra money—an extra £1 billion this year—and we are seeing cancer services running at 100% of their pre-pandemic levels, and in some cases above 100%, in order to get through the backlog. The most important thing for the public watching this and for my hon. Friend’s constituents is to make sure the message gets out loud and clear that the NHS is open, and that if they have a problem, they should please come forward.

Diolch, Mr Speaker. What recent discussions has the Secretary of State had with the Home Office regarding the successful clinical trials in the use of psilocybin in helping to deal with depression? It is a natural chemical found in fungi. (900907)

That is not something that has yet come across my desk, but I will make sure that the relevant Minister writes to the hon. Gentleman with as much detail as we know.

Community defibrillators are vital potential life savers, and many community groups fund investment in them. However, it is concerning to hear that members of the public are denied access to defibrillators when they are on private land. What can Ministers do to ensure that access is presumed rather than subject to permission? (900895)

What my hon. Friend says is absolutely right. Of course if someone puts a defibrillator on private land, access to it should naturally be open to anybody who needs it. I will look into the exact legal status, but let us set aside the legal status for a minute. If there is a defibrillator on private land that could save somebody’s life, the landowner should of course allow access to it for anybody who needs it.

As current Government investment in motor neurone research is not the targeted funding that is needed, will the Minister meet charities, researchers and patients to examine this discrepancy and commit to additional funding of £10 million a year for five years for a virtual motor neurone disease research institute, with a specific focus on helping us to get a world free of MND?

I will look into the hon. Lady’s specific request, but I can tell her that the Government are actively supporting research into motor neurone disease. For instance, in April I jointly hosted a roundtable event on boosting MND research with the National Institute for Health Research/Sheffield Biomedical Research Centre, which brought together researchers and others. We are absolutely committed to this area of work.

Mr Speaker, I am very grateful that you could fit me in at the end.

Yesterday during the statement the Secretary of State did not have the information to hand on the efficacy of the covid vaccines in reducing serious disease and hospitalisation. He made a commitment, rightly, to set them out today at Health questions at the Dispatch Box; and I am delighted, with this question, to give him the opportunity to do so.

First, I can say that a single dose of the Pfizer or AstraZeneca jab offers protection of 75% to 85% against hospitalisation, while data on two doses, which is currently available only for Pfizer, indicates 90% to 95% effectiveness against hospitalisation and 95% to 99% effectiveness at preventing death. However, my right hon. Friend also asked specifically about the delta variant, and I said that I did not have the figure in my head for the reduction in hospitalisations. I do not know whether I should be glad, but I can report to him that the reason is that there is not yet a conclusive figure. This morning I spoke to Dr Mary Ramsay, who runs this research at Public Health England, and she told me that the figure is currently being worked on. The analysis is being done scientifically and should be available in the coming couple of weeks. This is obviously an absolutely critical figure and I will report it to the House as soon as we have it.

I will now suspend the House for a few minutes to enable the necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.

Sitting suspended.