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NHS Backlogs

Volume 716: debated on Tuesday 14 June 2022

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.