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Health and Social Care

Volume 716: debated on Tuesday 14 June 2022

The Secretary of State was asked—

NHS Backlogs

1. What progress he has made on tackling the NHS backlogs in elective care caused by the covid-19 outbreak. (900461)

First, may I associate myself with your remarks, Mr Speaker, about the Falklands war as we remember those who lost their lives and their loved ones?

We are making good progress on tackling the covid-19 backlog, having already halved the number of patients with the longest waits and delivered more than a million tests and checks at our new community diagnostic centres. Our elective recovery plan commits an additional £8 billion to deliver approximately 30% more elective activity than before the pandemic, and we have ambitions to go further to transform services, improve patient care and ensure value for money.

The cost of living is foremost on everybody’s minds now, so what assurances can my right hon. Friend give me that my constituents in Heywood and Middleton—a part of the world he knows very well—will get bang for their buck from the extra money they are paying into the NHS and that the money will go on testing and treatment, not management and miscellany?

I am pleased to give that assurance to my hon. Friend. We are ensuring that every penny is spent on the elective recovery and makes the greatest possible contribution to tackling those covid-19 backlogs. We are investing £8 billion more over the next three years, and that will increase elective activity. I am also pleased to say that in his region, we have already opened some four new community diagnostic centres; just those four have done 60,000 more checks and tests for his constituents.

Following the covid-19 outbreak and the roll-out of vaccines, thousands of immunocompromised people are still shielding, so can the Secretary of State update the House on where we are on delivering Evusheld, which would allow them to have the freedom that we all enjoy?

It is an important question, and the hon. Lady will know that specific guidance is already set out for those who are immunocompromised. As she will also know, Evusheld has conditional marketing authorisation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. With the MHRA and others, further tests are going on via the UK Health Sciences Authority, because it is essential to ensure that Evusheld works well and satisfies clinicians when it comes to omicron.

To tackle the covid backlog, it is essential that we expand the capacity of the NHS, and that means more people, so what is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that we recruit the skilled professionals we need for the NHS?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct, and that is why that is one of our biggest priorities. As well as asking the NHS to come up for the first time with a 15-year, long-term workforce strategy, we are also recruiting at a record rate, with more doctors and nurses working for the NHS than ever before.

Demand for eye care services is at an all-time high, with more than 632,000 people waiting on the NHS waiting lists for ophthalmology treatments. Delays to diagnosis and treatment could lead to a loss of sight, as well as stress and anxiety for patients. Given the stark figures, it is vital that we invest in eye health, such as through the national eye care recovery and transformation programme, which, worryingly, is due to end this year. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is essential that funding for this programme is retained so that he can bring down waiting lists and ensure good-quality eye care?

The hon. Lady is right to talk about the importance of eye care services. That is why we are putting record investment into dealing with those covid backlogs. As she rightly points out, many of those are in eye care and ophthalmic facilities and surgeries. That record investment is going in, and we will keep it under review to make sure it is leading to the outcome that we all want to see.

More than 2 million people are affected by the backlog in cancer care. Smoking is the leading cause of cancer, and we know that a key component of tackling the backlog is prevention. Given that, can the Secretary of State assure the House that no current or former tobacco lobbyist working in or with No. 10 will have any influence on the Government’s tobacco control plan, prevention strategy or planned response to the Khan review?

As the hon. Gentleman will know, all decisions are rightly made by Ministers. I agree about the importance of tackling smoking. The Government are committed to a smoke-free 2030, which is exactly why I commissioned the independent Khan review. I welcome its findings and we are carefully considering them.

NHS Dental Care Services

2. What steps he is taking to improve the availability of and access to routine NHS dental care services in (a) Weston-super-Mare constituency and (b) England. (900463)

The best way to improve access to NHS dental services nationally is through our reforms of the NHS dental contract, which will aim to pay dentists more fairly for their work. Specifically on Weston-super-Mare, a number of measures are taking place in Somerset to open up dental access there, including a nurse-led dental helpline to open up the available appointments.

I thank the Minister for her answer. Even before the pandemic, the NHS commissioned enough dentistry to cover only about half the population of England. Covid has massively increased backlogs and inequalities in Weston-super-Mare and many other parts of the country. Dentistry is now the No. 1 problem raised with Healthwatch, and four in five people say that they cannot find timely care. I agree with her that reforming the NHS dental contract is absolutely essential and urge her to redouble her efforts to fix it as fast as possible.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that the nub of the problem is the dental contract. Negotiations have started and the details are with the British Dental Association as we speak. We expect to make an announcement before the summer recess.

Like the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose), I have a number of constituents who have had real problems reaching dentists before and since covid, but there have been some particularly distressing cases since covid. There has never been the right package to pay dentists to do the work, which is driving them out of the business, but the inefficiencies of having to go through the central NHS systems for an emergency appointment are costing the taxpayer dear. When will we see proper certainty around the measures that the Minister just described, so that dentists know that it is worth their while sticking with NHS patients?

As I said, the contract is the nub of the problem; it is currently a perverse disincentive for dentists to take on NHS work. We are serious about reforming it, we are in discussions with the BDA, and we will make the announcements before the summer recess.

I thank my hon. Friend for her work on pushing that contract reform through, because it is key to shifting the dial. In areas such as mine, where people are waiting to get on to waiting lists for dentists, there is a huge dearth of dentists to provide treatment. Can she speak about the recruitment challenge that we will have to meet when the reform comes through?

My hon. Friend is right that the issue is not just about the contract, although that is a key aspect of trying to get more dentists to take on NHS work. We are working on a number of incentives to increase recruitment, including working with Health Education England on centres for dental development to train more dentists in those hard-to-reach areas, which tend to be coastal and rural areas.

We are also looking at how we can reform the overseas dentist policy. We are working with the General Dental Council on that and may be bringing legislation forward towards the end of the year to improve that, too.

Kathryn Townsend got in touch with me about her son Max, who has severe complex sensory issues and learning difficulties. He waited up to two years for an appointment. In that time, several rotten teeth have had to be removed. Conservative Governments have had 12 years now to get things right. When will the Minister get an urgent grip of the situation?

The hon. Gentleman says that we have had 12 years, but he may recognise that, during the pandemic—two of the years that he talks about—routine dental appointments were not available because of the type of aspiration procedures that they involve. Only urgent appointments were available. We are now enabling 95% of the usual activity to take place, and that will soon be 100%. That means that there is still quite a backlog to get through, but we are in a better place than we were this time last year.

Like colleagues, I have many constituents struggling to access an NHS dentist. I recently met with Uttoxeter Dental Practice, which has significant concerns about the UDA—units of dental activity—system, as it is not working for dentists or patients. I understand that a review has been promised for many years. Can my hon. Friend update me on when it might take place?

My hon. Friend is right: there is a perverse disincentive in the current contract in that under the UDA dentists are not paid in relation to the level of activity or work they have to do for an appointment. That is the nub of the problem and we are in discussions with the British Dental Association right now; it is reviewing our proposals and we hope to have news very soon.

People with dementia deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. There are ways to enable those living with dementia to lead the lives they want. This is what the all-party group on dementia inquiry is currently investigating. Will the Secretary of State commit to attending the all-party group’s inquiry—

I cannot jump questions; this question is about dentistry so I now call the shadow Minister, Feryal Clark.

Members across the House have been calling on the Minister to fix the crisis in NHS dentistry, but she seems intent on burying her head in the sand. The Government have no plan, with the Minister running scared from even talking to dentists at a conference last week. Patients are suffering as a result, with a third of adults and half of all children not having access to an NHS dentist. In Wakefield alone, a child under 11 is admitted to hospital every day for tooth decay. Does the Minister agree that the people of Wakefield should bear this in mind next Thursday?

I am sure the people of Wakefield are as frustrated as I am that the Labour dental contract, put in place in 2006, is the nub of the problem. If the hon. Lady were to meet with dentists, she would hear loud and clear that the dental contract is causing the problem. [Interruption.] She might not have listened to my previous answers because she is not listening now, but we will be announcing changes before the summer recess.

At the start of this year the Government announced £50 million to create some new dentistry appointments, but that money resulted in exactly zero new appointments in my constituency. I wrote to every single dental practice in my constituency and they said that was because the funding offer was too limited in scope and time and they were given only a week to reply.

On 25 April, I wrote to the Minister asking how many appointments had been created from this money across England and where that money had gone. I have not received an answer. Will we get one today?

I am very disappointed: that £50 million of funding was for dentistry to access and be able to afford more appointments, and if local commissioners in an area did not bid for that money or ask dentists to take that money on, that is extremely disappointing—those in other parts of the country certainly did. We are putting £3 billion a year into dentistry. Local MPs have a role to play in this: if there was a problem, I would have expected the hon. Lady to have come and seen me before now to lobby for more funding for her local area.

Nurse Recruitment

This Government committed to growing the NHS workforce, including our pledge of 50,000 more nurses by 2024, and we are delivering on that, as we are delivering across Government, with almost 31,000 more nurses so far as of March 2022—the latest data point we have.

I commend the Government on their target to train 50,000 new nurses. I know first-hand how hard the nursing staff work in the NHS as I worked as a mental health support worker for almost 30 years. With that in mind, I welcome the new school of nursing to be built at the Cramlington A&E Hospital. Will my hon. Friend do me the honour of visiting Cramlington to see for himself the construction of this amazing new facility?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his work supporting the NHS and healthcare in this country both prior to and subsequent to his election to this House. I would be delighted to visit Cramlington with him—indeed, on the same visit perhaps I could visit his local health facilities to see modular construction in action. I should also say that his ever-efficient office has already invited me.

More nurses across the country, and particularly in Harrow, would make a real difference in helping those who suffer from diabetes. Given that this is Diabetes Week and that diabetes has a disproportionate impact on those from a south Asian background—particularly, for example, among my Gujarati constituents—when will the Minister put extra resources into tackling this terrible health condition?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his important question. As he highlights, we are investing more in more nurses, but there is also a large piece of work to do on health education and improving access to those services for people with diabetes. I urge him to look forward with eager anticipation to the health disparities White Paper.

Mr Speaker, you will be aware that I am proud to support the “no time to wait” cross-party campaign to ensure that we have a mental health nurse in every GP surgery across the country. I am delighted to see the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell), who supports the campaign, in her place.

I was delighted to read that the Secretary of State has said that we will recruit 2,000 mental health nurses into GP practices. Can I have more detail on how that will work? Can we look at Norfolk, which is using primary care networks, and third sector organisations such as Mind to help with that recruitment?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to this important issue as well as for highlighting what is going on in Norfolk and the opportunities to learn from that. The Government have put record funding into mental health, and I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is due to meet him and supporters of the campaign soon.

Working a shift in A&E just two days ago, I could not have felt prouder of the teams of nurses who form the foundation of our NHS. As the Minister is so gushing about the Government’s track record, will he explain why specialist food banks are being opened up in hospitals? Will he explain why, in a report by the Royal College of Nursing, 83% said that staffing levels on their last shift were not sufficient to meet patients’ needs safely and effectively? These lifesavers need a Government who are on their side. Only Labour will deliver for the NHS workforce and ensure that nurses and patients get what they rightly deserve.

I think that I detected the hint of a question in there. On a serious point, I pay tribute to the hon. Lady, as I often do on such occasions, notwithstanding the challenges that she throws at us, for the work that she does in the NHS and the work that she did before she was elected to the House. Through her, I also pay tribute to NHS workers up and down the country for their work.

The Government have put in place record support for our NHS, including nurses, which is about supporting those already on the frontline in the profession—that is absolutely right—and about growing that workforce to ensure that the work that needs to be done is spread among more people. That is exactly what we have done. We have record numbers in our NHS workforce, and we are well on target to meet our manifesto commitment on more nurses.

Primary Care Staff Recruitment

The Government’s commitment to deliver 50 million more general practice appointments is critical for improving access to primary care across the country. Our workforce are crucial for that, and we are well on track to deliver 26,000 more full-time primary care staff by March 2024, with more than 18,000 primary care staff already recruited since 2019.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that when it comes to accessing primary care services, the Government have given GPs the support and guidance that they need and that GPs must now make every effort to see our constituents face to face, which is what they expect? What more can be done to support GP practices to make their processes more efficient for patient access to test results and blood tests and for booking appointments?

I agree with my hon. Friend and am incredibly grateful, as she is, for the huge contribution of GPs during the pandemic in helping to deliver the largest vaccination programme that the NHS has ever seen. Because of the pandemic, we also provided record support to GPs that helped to cut bureaucracy, helped them to share their workload and helped clinicians to give even more support to patients.

We are starting to see the results of that, with face-to-face appointments going up—we would like to see them go up much further. We would also like to see increases in appointments, including for access to blood tests. My hon. Friend might know that yesterday we published our new data strategy, which sets out how, using the NHS app, we will give more people access to their health results.

The United States company Operose Health runs 70 GP surgeries across the country, including the Randolph Surgery in my constituency. Yesterday’s “Panorama” broadcast indicated serious concerns about its quality of service, staffing levels and patient safety. Since then, constituents of mine have approached me to reflect their concerns about the service. What steps is the Secretary of State taking now, urgently, to establish what has gone wrong? Will he meet MPs with those surgeries to discuss our concerns?

First, I will ensure the hon. Lady gets the meeting she requests. She will know that NHS GP services all have to meet the same requirements, the same regulations and the same standards across the country. Where patients are not getting that care and those standards are not being met, we expect local commissioners to take action.

Dementia Care: Social Care Workforce

5. What steps he is taking to help ensure that training for the social care workforce meets the needs of people living with dementia. (900466)

It is crucial that the health and social care workforce have the necessary skills to provide high- quality care for those living with dementia. As announced in the White Paper, we will invest £500 million in training, and we will work with social care staff to co-produce a knowledge and skills framework to include the dementia training standards framework. Later this year, we will set out our plans on dementia for England for the next 10 years, which will include plans for dementia training.

People with dementia deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. There are ways to enable people living with dementia to live the lives they want to lead and that is what the inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group on dementia is investigating right now. Will the Secretary of State commit to attending the APPG’s inquiry report launch in September to hear how that can be achieved? Most importantly, will he commit to taking on board its recommendations? Families of people with dementia feel they are neglected and not getting the attention they need. I urge him to attend the launch of the report.

I completely agree with the hon. Lady that we, of course, must treat all those living with dementia—and all those caring for people with dementia, which is a lot of people in the country—with respect and do everything we can to support them. That is why we will, as I say, be setting out our plans for dementia in England for the next 10 years and why the Secretary of State mentioned dementia in a speech very recently. I will personally commit to attending the APPG. I am very happy to work with her on this issue to understand what more we could be doing and what more we can do to inform the 10-year plan for dementia in England.

I am really grateful to my hon. Friend for her commitment to train social care staff in dementia. Timely and accurate diagnosis is really important to ensuring that people living with dementia get on the right care and support pathway. A lot of my constituents are still struggling to get the face-to-face appointments that are so crucial in that. What is she doing to ensure that GPs in my local area are equipped to recruit, train and be resourced to get early diagnosis in place for people?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We had been meeting our dementia diagnosis target consistently at the national level from July 2016 until the end of March 2020, when, obviously, we all know what happened. The diagnosis rate dropped below our target for the first time in almost four years, and reflects the impact the pandemic had on memory assessment services and GP referrals into those services. In the last financial year, we allocated £17 million to specifically address dementia waiting lists and increase the number of diagnoses. That was spent in a range of ways, including on investing in workforce to increase capacity in memory assessment services and on improving access to pre and post-diagnostic support and carer support.

Quality care for our loved ones depends on a well-trained and motivated care force. I think we can all agree on that, and I commend the work of the all-party group. I hear the words of the Minister, but we have had a lot of warm words about a dementia strategy and the promise of a clear date. Can she be more specific about a date for publication, and can she be clearer about the workforce plan, including training for staff, given the Government’s rejection of all workforce amendments to the Health and Social Care Levy Act 2021? We cannot give confidence to people suffering with dementia and their carers without a much clearer plan that is in place very quickly.

I assure the hon. Lady that there is a lot of work happening on workforce across the whole of our health and social care services, whether in mental or physical health. Health Education England is working on the matter now and will publish a framework shortly. The workforce strategy set out in our White Paper is just the beginning. We will work closely with adult social care leaders and staff, and the people who draw on that care and support, to implement it now, and to take forward and build on those policies now and in the future. There is a lot of work, and we are serious about it; the hon. Lady can look forward to seeing a lot of documents before the end of the year.

NHS Integrated Care Systems

6. What assessment he has made of the effect of integrated care systems on cross-boundary NHS trusts. (900469)

NHS trusts have an integral role in the local health and care system. We expect appropriate engagement between integrated care boards, integrated care providers and the respective NHS providers in an area. An NHS trust is a formal partner of an ICB if it provides any services in the ICB area and has the function of participating in the nomination of members to the board. Regulations give details as to how to determine which trusts that provide services in an ICB area should participate in the nomination process.

Notwithstanding the Minister’s comments, Cheshire and Merseyside integrated care system has recently made the decision to stop my West Lancashire constituents accessing routine dermatology at St Helens Hospital, which is the only nearby provider. Due to geography, my constituents are in the Lancashire ICS, and are therefore not represented in Cheshire-Mersey—in place or local authorities.

My question, which I have asked several times, is: what is the Department doing to ensure that there is a mechanism for my constituents in Lancashire ICS to be represented in Cheshire-Merseyside’s decision-making process, which directly affects the care they are given? I have raised this point about cross-border difficulties so many times that I must question whether we any longer have a national health service, or whether we have a series of protected ICS kingdoms.

The hon. Lady and I speak regularly about different aspects of her local health system, and I am happy to do so again on this matter. I do not know the exact details behind the specific example, but I do not think it relates directly to how ICSs are configured in statute and guidance. I would be happy to meet her to understand the local factors that may have contributed to the situation.

Nursing in Care Homes

Nurses play a pivotal role in social care and work hard to deliver high-quality care. Increased funding announced on 11 May for nursing in care homes will support tens of thousands of care home residents with nursing needs, including those with learning and physical disabilities, with a 11% increase in 2022-2023 and an estimated £87 million backdated for 2021-22. Our £500 million workforce reforms will provide a new fund to help nurses to meet their continued professional development objectives.

We have just had Carers Week, in which we recognised the significant contribution of care home staff, domiciliary care workers and unpaid carers. However, I have spoken to care providers in Redcar and Cleveland, so I know that we need to do more to support them, particularly with the recruitment and retention of skilled care workers. Will the Minister come to Teesside to meet me and care providers, and discuss what can be done to support them in their efforts?

My hon. Friend rightly says that our health and social care workforce are our greatest asset; we cannot thank them enough for their extraordinary commitment, working day and night to put people’s care and safety at the centre of everything they do. We accept that there is more to be done to support our adult social care workforce and encourage more people into the sector. Our “People at the Heart of Care” White Paper, backed by our £500 million investment, will develop and support the workforce over the next three years, and help to address long-term structural barriers to recruitment and retention. I would be happy to visit care providers in Teesside with my hon. Friend.

I beg the departmental team to look carefully at something that is close to my heart: AF or atrial fibrillation. In care homes and every nursing setting, we need people to detect the early signs of atrial fibrillation. If it is not detected, it often leads to strokes, which are one of the most expensive things for the NHS to cope with. We do not have enough AF awareness or testing. Can we get a campaign going on the issue?

I am certainly happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to understand more about the issue. At the heart of it, I think, is prevention; we are trying to understand how we can prevent some of what causes greater illnesses later on for those who are in a care home or are receiving social care in their own home. That is certainly a big part of the strategy for our social care reforms.

Health and Social Care: Leadership and Management

8. What steps he is taking to raise the quality of leadership and management across the health and social care sectors. (900471)

16. What steps he is taking to raise the quality of leadership and management across the health and social care sectors. (900480)

In health and care, strong leadership can make the difference between life and death. I have been clear that we can accept only the highest possible standards and that in some cases poor leadership has been tolerated for too long. That is why I have accepted in full the recommendations of General Sir Gordon Messenger’s independent review and will set out a delivery plan to begin what I think will be the biggest shake-up in health and social care leadership in a generation.

Bearing in mind that the NHS will receive approximately £180 billion of taxpayers’ money this year, improving leadership and management in the NHS is extremely important, and nowhere more so than in the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust. Despite the trust obtaining £312 million from the Treasury to improve accident and emergency services, a lack of coherent leadership has resulted in no decision being taken as to how the money will be spent. With rising costs in the construction industry, that is of great concern to us. Will the Secretary of State intervene with our local hospital trust to make sure that the money is spent as expeditiously and quickly as possible?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of leadership. I am pleased to tell him that my Department has just received the strategic outline case for his local A&E’s Future Fit programme, which is currently being reviewed. As he undoubtedly knows, the business case process is led by the trust and is already supported by some early funding; I understand that the trust aims to present the full business case by 2023, with construction starting in the same year and to be completed by 2028. The Minister for Health will shortly visit Shropshire and will meet my hon. Friend and other colleagues.

Orthopaedic surgery at the Princess Royal Hospital has still not restarted since the pandemic. That is causing huge suffering for those who have been waiting for surgery, in some cases for several years. A hip replacement is transformative to quality of life and reduces other care needs, but orthopaedic surgeons continue to be paid despite not operating, and no alternative is being offered to patients—they are not even being given an expected operation date. Will implementing the Messenger review require NHS leadership to be more accountable to the public so that decisions such as refusing to restart much-needed surgery can be challenged?

I thank my hon. Friend for her tireless campaigning on the issue, which she brought up recently in the Health and Social Care Committee. I am pleased to tell her that elective orthopaedic surgery at the Princess Royal Hospital will resume from 20 June.

My hon. Friend is right about the importance of the Messenger review. There were many examples of excellent leadership in it, but sadly there were also examples of poor leadership, including bullying and blame cultures. That is why it is essential that we have this huge reform.

As hard as all hospital leaders and managers work, sometimes something goes wrong on their watch. What follows is one such example.

On Friday, I met Joanna, a lovely mum of two young children, who was diagnosed with secondary cancer three months ago. Since then, she has been passed from pillar to post and has received no treatment at all. Unfortunately, she is now receiving palliative care. What Joanna wants more than anything is to stop what happened to her happening to anyone else. Will the Secretary of State personally look into Joanna’s case to make sure that she finally gets the treatment she urgently needs, and that no one else is failed by the system as Joanna has been?

Yes, of course I can give the hon. Lady that commitment. I am very sorry to hear about Joanna; I think of her, her loved ones and her two children. I will absolutely look personally into the case. I hope that the hon. Lady agrees that where we see poor outcomes, it is important to make sure that we have the best possible leadership in place.

I have already raised the issue of the governance at Walsall Manor Hospital. I welcome the Messenger-Pollard review—the Secretary of State will know that there is also a report called “The snowy white peaks of the NHS”, which says roughly the same thing—but I have been fobbed off because the leadership at Walsall and Wolverhampton remains the same. Could he look into why Walsall Manor should not have its own chief executive?

These are important issues, and I have discussed this with the right hon. Lady. I will take another look at the management of Walsall Manor.

Last week, a BBC Wales documentary reported on the shocking state of Wrexham Maelor Hospital and the NHS in north Wales, which is led by the Welsh Labour Government and was in special measures before covid. The average wait for referred treatment in England is 13 weeks, but in Wales it is 24 weeks. In the words of Nuffield Trust, the

“treatment…may as well not be there”.

Wrexham deserves better, so does the Minister agree that the Welsh Labour Government need to vastly improve the NHS in north Wales before more lives are lost?

I do of course agree with my hon. Friend. There are huge challenges for the NHS here in England, but as she has highlighted, the challenges are much greater in Wales because of how the Labour Government there neglected the NHS, way before the pandemic as well as during it. When it comes to leadership, although the Messenger review was commissioned for England, I think they would do well to learn some lessons from it.

Operose Health is one of the biggest employers in the primary care sector. When it bought up 70 surgeries across England, including in Hammersmith and Fulham, the Government were warned that this would put patient care at risk in pursuit of profit. That is what Operose’s US parent company, Centene, is notorious for. Now that the Secretary of State has evidence of Operose employing half the average number of GPs per patient, and of not reading clinical correspondence for six months, what is he going to do about it?

The hon. Gentleman might know that in 2007 the then Labour Government changed the law to allow takeovers such as that to happen. He might want to reflect on that. In terms of local management, there are consistent high standards that need to be met locally, and local commissioners should be made aware of what he has just said.

Medicinal Cannabis

On 1 November 2018 this Government changed the law to allow the prescription of cannabis-based products for medicinal use by a specialist when clinically appropriate. Licensed cannabis-based medicines such as Sativex and Epidiolex are routinely available on the NHS.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer, particularly as she mentioned 2018, because it was of course her boss, the Secretary of State for Health, who was the pioneer in all this when he was Home Secretary. But there is a “but” coming, and it is that young children are not getting this vital medicine on the NHS. Some are having to pay £2,000 a month, and in the last three years only three prescriptions have been issued on the NHS. How can we improve the situation?

My hon. Friend has been campaigning on this issue for a long time, particularly on the tragic case of his constituent, Vicky Clarke. I have met the all-party parliamentary group on medical cannabis under prescription and we have had debates on the issue in this place and in Westminster Hall. The key is to get those products licensed, and we have been in discussion with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency on how to do this. It is about gathering the evidence base. I am pleased to say that NHS England and the National Institute for Health and Care Research have recently announced two clinical randomised controlled trials to try to build that evidence base to get more of these products licensed.

The lack of evidence on the quality, safety and efficiency of cannabis-based products for medical use is the main barrier to their being prescribed by NHS clinicians, which is why the SNP continues to support the development of clinical trials. Without proper funding, the UK Government are holding back potential successful health outcomes, so what steps are they taking to increase the priority of medicinal cannabis in research funding?

I met the responsible Scottish Minister in April to discuss this issue. There is not a lack of funding. The National Institute for Health and Care Research has funding available but we are not seeing bids, so this is a plea to the clinicians, researchers and groups for those to come forward. The NHRA is also happy to meet any groups considering undertaking clinical research to ensure that it is the type of research that will provide the evidence they need to licence these products.

Maternity Services

NHS England is making £127 million of investment in maternity systems in the next year to go specifically towards the workforce. This is on top of the £95 million already promised for the recruitment of 1,200 midwives and 100 more consultant obstetricians.

South Tyneside District Hospital’s maternity unit was award winning. In 2019, despite widespread opposition, it changed to a midwife-led birthing centre. It has since been closed, since January. Recently, a whistleblower explained that midwives and expectant mums are being kept in the dark about the future of the unit, staffing levels and bed capacity across the trust. These changes are a direct result of this Government’s forced cuts, so what is the Minister going to do to make sure that babies can be born in south Tyneside?

I have just been very clear that we are investing about £200 million in that workforce. In the hon. Lady’s area, there were staffing pressures during the omicron variant, with high levels of staff sickness, which meant that South Tyneside District Hospital had to make that difficult decision. My understanding is that those staffing numbers are much better, particularly for sickness absence. If she is struggling to find out from the trust when it hopes to reopen the unit, I am very happy to meet her and members of the trust.

Topical Questions

Today, we remember the 72 people who lost their lives and their loved ones affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy five years ago.

In the Department of Health and Social Care, we are getting on with the job. We are focused on tackling the covid backlogs. Our new community diagnostic centres are springing up in towns and cities across the country, with 90 of the 160 planned already open and 1 million more tests, checks and scans already delivered. Last week, I set out our plans to modernise health and social care leadership, accepting all the recommendations of the leadership review by General Sir Gordon Messenger and Dame Linda Pollard. Just yesterday, I launched our new data strategy, called “Data saves lives”, to close the digital divide between health and care.

Last month, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation published an interim statement on the autumn booster programme, in which—once again—unpaid carers have not been included. It is vital that they have equal access to vaccines to paid carers to keep their loved ones safe, as they continue to do right now. Will the Secretary of State advise me when we might receive a final statement from the JCVI on the autumn booster programme?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising the importance of getting vaccinations right. She will know that we rely on the independent advice of our clinicians—the committee known as the JCVI—and I think it is right that it is independent. Ultimately, it decides on its advice, and it is for Ministers whether to accept it. However, she has made an important point about unpaid carers, and I will ask the JCVI to see if that can be properly considered in the autumn booster review.

T6. 2002 I heard what the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), had to say about dentistry earlier, and I recognise the work she is doing to improve the situation. However, in northern Lincolnshire, like many other areas, we have very severe gaps in provision. Could the Minister outline what is being done to ensure that newly qualified dentists actually work in the NHS for a considerable time and that new practices are established in the areas where the need is greatest? (900458)

I am happy to respond to my hon. Friend. He is right that we of course want to ensure that everyone has timely access to NHS dentistry and that the profession is an appealing career choice. Health Education England has a dental education and reform programme, which will help retain new dentists in the NHS by placing training in areas of greatest need, and offer more flexibility and more career pathways. I can also tell him that, in Lincolnshire, commissioners are already looking at ways to support NHS dentistry through support such as the golden hello incentives.

I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s remarks as we remember the anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and support the families in their ongoing quest for justice. I also associate Opposition Members with your remarks, Mr Speaker, on the 40th anniversary of the end of the Falklands war.

Last night’s shocking BBC “Panorama” investigation into Operose Health revealed the extent of the crisis in GP surgeries, with patient referrals and test results left unread for up to six months, and with patients being seen by less qualified staff standing in for GPs without supervision. This is exactly what happens when private profit is placed above patient health and safety. Why is the Secretary of State asleep at the wheel instead of launching an investigation into this scandal?

As I said earlier, the hon. Gentleman should reflect on the rule changes made by a previous Labour Government that allowed the management of many GP practices to change hands. When such serious allegations are made, it is right that local commissioners investigate them properly and independently. When it comes to GP access and capacity, I hope he will welcome that we are making a record investment, with over £0.5 billion of support during the pandemic, and recruiting GPs at a record rate.

The British people are sick and tired of hearing Conservative Ministers, after 12 years in government, passing the buck to everyone else and failing to take responsibility.

Let us look at another scandal that has happened on the Secretary of State’s watch. It has now been weeks since he was warned about the negligence, the cover-up and the bribing of whistleblowers to stay silent about the scandals at the North East Ambulance Service. Since then, he has done precisely nothing to investigate the scandal. When will he address patient safety, get a grip and stop passing the buck? Or is this another case of the Government being, in the words of the Culture Secretary, found “wanting and inadequate”?

I told Members last week that I will review whether we can have an independent review of the North East Ambulance Service, and the NHS has agreed to an independent review. The hon. Gentleman stands up week after week and tries to claim he is on the side of patients and NHS workers, but we know he is actually on the side of those who are on strike—that is where his loyalties lie. Will he reflect on how many nurses will not be able to get to work and how many appointments will be unattended because of the transport strike? I know he wants to be the second coming of Tony Blair, but he is no more than a pound shop Ed Miliband.

T8. Many in the Scunthorpe area will remember David Hopkins, whom we sadly lost to glioblastoma. Alongside earlier diagnosis, we need improved access to the £40 million the Government have committed to brain tumour research. Will my right hon. Friend look carefully at the findings of the ongoing investigation by the all-party parliamentary group on brain tumours and do all he can to speed up access to this research funding? (900460)

My sincere condolences to the family of David Hopkins. Cancer diagnosis and treatment is an absolute priority, which is why we are putting £2.3 billion into campaigns and new initiatives to encourage people with suspected cancer to come forward. I am pleased that the referral rate is currently 120% of the pre-pandemic level. I will, of course, read the APPG’s report. I visited the largest neurology hospital in the UK last month with my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), and I am determined to ensure that our investment in this vital area of research goes straight to the frontline.

The Government have noted that Sir Robert Francis will give evidence on his work on the infected blood inquiry on 11 and 12 July, and said that they will act after hearing his evidence. What discussions has the Secretary of State had with Cabinet colleagues on the potential impact on victims’ mental health of the lengthy waiting times for compensation in relation to contaminated blood?

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue. The House is well aware of the Government’s work to bring justice to those who have been affected by contaminated blood, and we will continue to take that seriously.

A new hospital at Thornbury would provide greater primary care and outpatient services, more GP appointments and a proactive frailty hub to support the elderly to stay in their own home longer. Our bid was submitted against the sustainability and transformation plan wave 4 capital pot, and I thank the Minister for all his work and effort in speaking to me, South Gloucestershire Council and our clinical commissioning group about this bid. Will he update the House on the timescales for its outcome?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend; he rightly alludes to the fact that he is a strong champion of his constituents and has met me on a number of occasions to argue the merits of the Thornbury health centre. As he will be aware, we now have a multi-year capital settlement for our NHS, which will allow us the opportunity, through local systems, to consider the most appropriate projects for investment.

T2. Planned to process 300,000 tests a day, the Rosalind Franklin laboratory is handling just 30,000 a day. I understand that some scientists working there are being paid for five days but working just one day a week. Given that the lab cost £1.1 billion, almost twice the original budget, what does this say about the Minister’s oversight of the programme? (900453)

I am afraid that it was not clear to me which tests the hon. Gentleman was talking about; all I heard was “300,000 tests”. So if he cares to write to me, I will respond properly to his question.

Has the Secretary of State read the study in the British Journal of General Practice that says that people who see the same GP over many years are 30% less likely to go to hospital, 30% less likely to need out-of-hours care and 25% less likely to die? If he has, will he consider changing the GP contract to restore individual patient lists and reverse the change of two decades ago so that everyone has their own family doctor?

I have not read that review, but now that my right hon. Friend has mentioned it I will certainly take a look at it. He raises an important point about access to GPs. He is right to say that many people would want to see the same GP again and again—that would be their preference. One can see how that may lead to better clinical outcomes, but I hope he will respect the fact that others do not mind if they do not see the same GP and just want rapid access. It is important that we get the right balance.

T3.   Despite the Secretary of State’s assertion that we have had record investment in our GP practices, the reality remains that many of my constituents cannot get an appointment to see their GPs for days, if not weeks. That is putting their health at serious risk and forcing them to go to accident and emergency because there is nowhere else to go. In Bradford, we need a new hospital, and I will continue to campaign for that, but our imminent need is for an urgent treatment centre. Will he meet me to discuss that option seriously and provide the funding to our local NHS trust? (900454)

The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about the importance of timely access to GPs, whether in Bradford or across the country. There are, of course, challenges across the country, which is one reason why we put in place an action plan, including some £500 million of extra funding, during the pandemic. On his plea for an urgent treatment centre, I will make sure that the Health Minister will meet him.

Before the jubilee weekend, I was pleased to welcome the Minister to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital to see the cracking RAAC—reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete—which the Department understands needs to be replaced. So will he take the opportunity to build a new QEH, fit for the future? When will the patients and staff at QEH know that they are on the list? They are impatient for a decision.

It was a great pleasure to visit my hon. Friend before the jubilee weekend and to meet the staff who do such an amazing job at his local hospital. As ever, his puts his case clearly and firmly for a new hospital to replace the QE in King’s Lynn, and we hope to be able to announce the longlist of those expressions of interest in due course.

T4. In response to yesterday’s urgent question on GDP, the Minister cited a drop in covid test uptake to explain the drop in GDP. Coronavirus test device approvals have been moving at glacial speed, with UK companies having to spend significant money preparing to mitigate this. Monkeypox also indicates unexplained changes in viral behaviours, and we know that covid is once again on the rise, so domestic diagnostics should be a vital component of effective prevention and strategic planning. Will the Secretary of State or a Minister meet me to discuss how best we harness these resources? (900455)

As I have said before, no country got every decision right during the pandemic, but one thing we did get right was our response in terms of diagnostics, vaccinations and antivirals. That combination allowed us to become the first country in Europe to open up and therefore also to boost our economy. I will make sure that the hon. Gentleman gets the meeting he has asked for.

As the Secretary of State knows from our previous discussions, we have serious concerns about West Midlands ambulance service and the significant delays we have experienced in north Staffordshire. The way to address the problems is by NHS partners working together, and Staffordshire fire service has said that it wants to do more to help the ambulance service. Will my right hon. Friend agree to do as much as he can to improve ambulance services in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point and some good suggestions. West Midlands ambulance service is my local ambulance service too, and I recently met its chief executive officer and chairwoman. As he knows, the NHS has published and is executing a 10-point plan for emergency service recovery, but I shall certainly take what he says into account.

T5.   Increasingly, hospitals have food banks to help NHS staff to cope with the cost of living crisis. Is it any wonder that the number of nurses leaving the NHS is at its highest for years? After a decade of pay cuts, will not yet another below-inflation pay award mean that even more nurses leave, which will have a hugely detrimental impact on patient care? (900456)

I am pleased to say that we have more nurses working for the NHS than at any point in its history, and last year we recruited an additional 10,900.

Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State accept that some people have died as a direct result of having had covid-19 vaccines?

I accept that the vaccine has not worked in the intended way for every single person. I am afraid that this is a risk with any vaccine that has ever been approved in any major country. It is right, however, that when something goes wrong with a vaccination, it is looked at appropriately, and I am happy to discuss this further with my hon. Friend.

T7. On Friday, the cross-party Public Accounts Committee described the UK Government’s procurement of £4 billion of unusable PPE during the pandemic, which is now to be burned, as the result of a “haphazard purchasing strategy”. Who does the Secretary of State believe should be held responsible for this unacceptable squandering of taxpayers’ money through awarding multiple deals to friends and associates of Ministers or senior Tories, and the deadly mismanagement of the supply of PPE? (900459)

I thank the Secretary of State for his recent visit to Doncaster Royal Infirmary. I apologise for the fact that the lights went out while he was there—it was not planned, but it did bolster my campaign for a new hospital. Will he meet me again during Men’s Health Week, to discuss a men’s health strategy, which many Members across the House believe would help an awful lot of men?

When I wrote to the Minister recently about my concerns about NHS dentistry waiting times, I was advised that my constituent was not restricted by geography, which implied that he should travel for an appointment, but the whole of the east of England has been identified by the Association of Dental Groups as a dental desert. The Minister is well aware of this problem, the severe workforce shortages and the broken dentistry contracts. When will the Government stop blaming the dental practices, get on with the job and get the workforce this country needs?

This Government are not blaming dentists for the pressures they are facing. If anyone is to blame, it is the Labour Government for their 2006 contract. We are amending that contract, and will make an announcement before the summer recess.

Suicide prevention organisations such as the Campaign Against Living Miserably and Papyrus are, sadly, needed more than ever, yet in the current economic climate, because they tend to rely on charitable donations, they are struggling to provide the services to meet demand. What will the Government do to make sure they survive and provide the life-saving services that are so badly needed?

Of course every suicide is a tragedy. We must do all we can to help to prevent suicide. In the last financial year, we provided £5.4 million to 113 voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations; we also provided £510,000 for the Samaritans helpline for people experiencing distress. That is in addition to more than £10 million we provided to voluntary and charitable mental health organisations in 2020-21.

As IVF treatment is incredibly time sensitive, will the Secretary of State consider increasing the funding available to allow couples to make use of private facilities on the NHS, to help families have the children that they so much want?

I cannot comment on health in Northern Ireland specifically as it is a devolved matter. IVF will be a significant factor in the women’s health strategy, because we recognise the disparities that exist across the country in how couples currently access IVF.

The site for the new Leeds children’s hospital and the adult hospital building, the Leeds General Infirmary, will be cleared by the end of this month. The trust is raring to go to build these wonderful new facilities. Can the Secretary of State tell me when the final go-ahead for the construction will be given?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that I have visited the site and spoken to local members of the trust. It is a project that we support, and we are in the final stages of the final approvals.

As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), this Government promised medical cannabis on the NHS 1,183 days ago. Since then, a child with epilepsy will have experienced, at a modest estimate, 35,490 seizures. We have free NHS prescriptions, which proves that the medicine exists and is approved for use in the United Kingdom. How much longer must those children suffer?

As I have said, I met the Scottish Minister on this. Scotland is facing exactly the same problem. Where medicinal cannabis is licensed, 9,631 prescriptions have been issued in primary care and 58,000 in secondary care, thanks to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State who changed the law at the time.