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Topical Questions

Volume 744: debated on Tuesday 23 January 2024

Women’s health needs are often overlooked and under-researched. Through our women’s health strategy, the Government are changing that. Last year, we made menopause a priority, helping almost half a million women get hormone replacement therapy for less than £20 a year. This year, we are building on that work and will have a women’s health hub in every integrated care board area in England. We will promote research into conditions that only affect women, such as endometriosis and lobular breast cancer, and those that affect women differently from men, such as heart attack symptoms.

We have also launched the first research challenge—worth £50 million—to tackle maternity disparities that have no place in modern Britain. Following the brave campaigns of my hon. Friends the Members for Hyndburn (Sara Britcliffe) and for Stafford (Theo Clarke), by March we will make dedicated maternal mental and physical healthcare available to every woman in England.

I recently met two constituents with experience of invasive lobular breast cancer. Invasive lobular carcinoma is the second most common form of breast cancer, but it is not generally picked up by mammograms, and it behaves differently from other breast cancers. However, lobular breast cancer has been understudied and underfunded, and it urgently needs research funding. Will the Secretary of State tell the House what specific actions her Government are taking to address those gaps? Will she also reply to the Lobular Moon Shot Project, to which she—

I gently remind the hon. Lady about the statement that I just gave. Last week we held the women’s health summit, at which I announced that we are encouraging research into conditions such as lobular breast cancer. I made that announcement because of two amazing women I met recently who were living with the condition. They were introduced to me by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Sir Jeremy Quin) and my right hon. Friend—

Order. Please can I just say that these are topicals? I have got to get through a big list, and lots of Members are standing. We need short, punchy questions, and the same with answers.

T6. I have been carrying out a health survey of thousands of residents in Harrogate and Knaresborough, to ask them for their experiences and views of the NHS. I will share the results with local healthcare professionals, to support them and their work. When the results are in, will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how they will help inform and shape our local healthcare planning ? (901128)

I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend to discuss that. As always, he is an excellent advocate for his constituency, and I will enjoy listening to the results of his survey.

Mike Reader, Labour’s candidate for Northampton South, shared with me the horrific experience of Stanley, who had severe abdominal pain and called an ambulance, only to be told it would take hours and to go to A&E. There, he was told to wait for assessment on a patio chair outside. It was 3°. Who is to blame?

I am very sorry to hear of the experience of that specific constituent. Because of challenges that the NHS faces, particularly our urgent and emergency care services, almost a year ago we set out our urgent and emergency care recovery plan, to speed up care for people in A&E and reduce waits. That plan is working. We are seeing ambulances get to people quicker, and people treated quicker in A&E.

That is not a one-off. Why will the Minister not take a shred of responsivity for the chaos that her party has caused our NHS? The last Labour Government achieved the shortest waits and the highest patient satisfaction in NHS history. The Conservatives have delivered the longest waits and the lowest patient satisfaction in history. Let us have that general election, so that she can defend her abysmal record to the public.

The hon. Gentleman obviously was not listening to my answer; in fact, he was reading aloud. Our urgent and emergency care plan is working. It is reducing rates in A&E, and ambulances are getting to people faster. Meanwhile, I am sorry to say that in the Labour-run NHS in Wales, more than half of patients are waiting more than four hours in A&E.

T7. What steps is the Minister taking to ascertain the cause of ongoing problems affecting access to riluzole, the only licensed drug for the treatment of motor neurone disease in the UK, to provide clarity to the MND community and ensure that normal supply is restored as soon as possible? (901129)

We understand how worrying the possibility of medication shortages can be. There is a supply issue with riluzole 50 mg tablets, caused by a supplier experiencing manufacturing issues. We have a well-established procedure in place to deal with such issues, and are working with the industry, the NHS and others to resolve it as quickly as possible. We have contacted alternative suppliers and have secured sufficient volumes of stock.

Cancer Research UK has found that too much UV radiation is the third biggest cause of cancer across these isles. Does the Secretary of State recognise that cost is a barrier for people wishing to protect their skin from the sun, and will she commit to having conversations with Cabinet colleagues to remove VAT on sun protection products, which will help protect NHS budgets and ultimately save lives?

We see that as part of a much wider campaign to ensure that we treat the sun safely, by reducing the amount of time we spend in the sun, particularly during peak hours of the day in summertime. I keep all these discussions in play with my Treasury colleagues.

T10. Rural constituencies such as mine are seeing a growing number of dentists withdraw from NHS provision. What steps is the Department taking to ensure that vital dental care is provided for everyone, particularly in rural communities? (901132)

My hon. Friend is a great advocate for her community, and I pay tribute to her for working with determination to see more access to dentistry in Cornwall. She is right to do so. We have a plan, which is almost ready. I urge her to wait just a little longer. She, like all colleagues across the House, will see significant and real measures to improve access to dentistry.

T2. NHS staff have expressed concerns about the Anaesthesia Associates and Physician Associates Order 2024. Can the Minister tell me if resource will be needed for AAs and PAs to be properly supervised by doctors on a one to one ratio? Will he meet trade unions and professional bodies as a matter of urgency to clarify the Government’s position on this hugely important public health issue? (901124)

PAs and AAs are an essential part of the reform piece to the long-term workforce plan. I note that the order was passed by the House last night without a Division, so I am grateful for that cross-party support. We are working with the General Medical Council, the British Medical Association and others to ensure that the regulations are fit for the purpose. We look forward to the GMC launching its consultation on the fine print of the regulations very soon.

As my constituents have to travel to Tamworth, Burton or Derby for diagnostic tests, can I encourage the Secretary of State to look favourably on a bid for a new much-needed community diagnostic centre in South Derbyshire?

I thank my hon. Friend sincerely for her question. The good news is that community diagnostic centres have now delivered over 6 million additional tests and scans since July 2021 thanks to the hard work of NHS staff, but I will of course be delighted to meet her to discuss her plans for her local constituency.

T3. New British Heart Foundation analysis shows that the number of people dying before the age of 75 in England from heart and circulatory diseases has risen to its highest level in over a decade. The rate of premature deaths from cardiovascular disease has now increased in England for three years back to back. Why are the Government taking such a long time to get to grips with this crisis? (901125)

The NHS long-term plan commits to a number of key ambitions to improve care and outcomes for individuals suffering from cardiovascular disease, including enhanced diagnostic support in the community, better personalised planning, and increasing access to cardiac rehabilitation. Those ambitions will support the delivery of the aim to prevent 150,000 heart attacks, strokes and dementia cases by 2029.

The single biggest concern my constituents raise about healthcare is access to GPs, especially in Blackrod and Westhoughton. What more can my right hon. Friend do to ensure we have better GP access?

I am pleased to tell my hon. Friend that our NHS long-term plan sets out a real-terms increase of at least £4.5 billion a year for primary and community care by 2023-24. We now have over 2,000 more full-time equivalent GPs working in our NHS, and we have had the amazing achievement of more than 50 million more appointments per year, beating our target several months early. Things are improving significantly, and there are many more measures I would be delighted to talk to him privately about.

T4. In the NHS in Cheshire and Merseyside between April and June last year, the 62-day cancer waiting time target was not met. If the target had been achieved, around 150 extra patients would have been treated on time. What would the Secretary of State like to say to those 150 patients? (901126)

The 62-day backlog has fallen by 27% since its peak in May 2020. We know there is more to be done, and that is why we are bringing forward more measures as early as possible. In April 2023, more than nine in 10 patients—90%—started their first cancer treatment within one month of a decision to treat.

Many of my constituents who use Regis Medical Centre have been left angry and frustrated by the botched implementation of an Anima booking system, leading to them being unable to get an appointment or the treatment they need. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss how we can learn the lessons from that botched implementation and make sure trust in that GP surgery is restored?

T5. I recently met the staff of a pharmacy in Bruton in my constituency to hear about some of the challenges it is facing. Community pharmacists are dispensing some of the country’s most widely prescribed drugs at a loss, therefore subsidising the NHS. What steps is the Secretary of State’s Department taking to prevent the closure of community pharmacists? (901127)

We are ensuring that community pharmacists have an even greater role in primary care than they have already. For example, we saw the first stage of the roll-out of Pharmacy First in December, with blood pressure checks and contraceptive care being rolled out. I am very pleased that we are on track to deliver the full roll-out of Pharmacy First by the end of the month.

The colour of someone’s skin should not have an impact on the reliability of medical devices, but we know that that is what happened during the pandemic for many black and Asian patients. When I was the Health Secretary, I commissioned an independent review of the equity of medical devices from Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead. Her report was handed to the Department in June last year, but the Department has not yet published it or responded to it. I know that my right hon. Friend cares about health inequalities as much as I do, so may I ask her to publish the report, along with a full Government response, as a matter of urgency?

I thank my right hon. Friend for commissioning that vital piece of work. I am giving the matter my closest attention, and I hope very much to be in a position to respond to his points in due course.

T8. This week the Riverside unit in my constituency, which treats young people with severe eating disorders, had to close temporarily because of concerns about its ability to provide safe care. What are the Government doing to ensure that young people who, in many cases, go through mental health crises as a result of their eating disorders receive the care that they need as close to home as possible? (901130)

As the hon. Lady will know, we are investing more in mental health services for young people in particular and, indeed, for those with eating disorders. We are seeing more young people more quickly than ever before, but if the hon. Lady wishes to raise a local issue with me, I shall be happy to meet her and discuss it.

The opening of a new block of operating theatres next month marks the latest investment in Torbay Hospital, but it is, of course, a prelude to the major rebuilding work. When does the Secretary of State plan to deliver the next update on the progress of that project?

I am delighted that the House is as happy about that expansion as the hon. Gentleman and I are. I will meet him to go through his plans, because I know how carefully he has campaigned for this important asset in his constituency.

T9. In the early hours of Friday morning, I arrived at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary with my sick son in an ambulance. As we walked past trolleys in the corridor, the nurse who was treating him said, “Our A&E unit is too small. We were promised a new hospital four years ago, but I think they have forgotten about us.” Can the Secretary of State tell that nurse, my constituent, whether we have indeed forgotten about that new hospital? (901131)

The hon. Lady is aware of my knowledge not only of that hospital, but of her local area. I will look into this matter for her, because I want to ensure that the good people of Lancashire, Mr Speaker, are looked after as we would all hope and expect.

I warmly welcome what my right hon. Friend said last week about encouraging research on lobular breast cancer, and I look forward to meeting the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), shortly to work out how we can operationalise what is her clear ambition.

I thank my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison) for bringing two amazing women to talk to me about the impact of lobular cancer. For the benefit of Members on both sides of the House, last week we sent out a “Dear colleague” letter and graphics about the women’s health strategy so that we can all help our constituents to understand what this Conservative Government are doing to ensure that the healthcare of women is faster, simpler and fairer.