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Topical Questions

Volume 618: debated on Tuesday 20 December 2016

As we enter the challenging winter period, I want, on behalf of the whole country, to thank the 2.7 million people working in the health and care system—particularly those giving up all or part of their own Christmas day to look after patients. We are in their debt, and we wish them a merry Christmas, whenever they get the chance to celebrate it with their families.

Bolton A&E is employing new measures to cope with the staggering demand on its service. What are the Government doing to educate people that A&E is for serious and life-threatening conditions only, so that staff and resources can go where they are needed most?

That is an excellent question. We are doing a number of things. First, we have the Stay Well this Winter campaign, which has a lot of advice to go out to his constituents and all our constituents about how to avoid things that can lead to their having to go to A&E. However, we also urge the public to remember that accident and emergency departments are for precisely that.

There was no new money from the Government for social care in the local government settlement—just a recycling of money from the new homes bonus to social care, and that is for 2017-18 only. Fifty-seven councils will actually lose funding owing to this recycling. Salford, which was recently praised by the Prime Minister for its integration of social care, will lose £2.3 million due to this inept settlement. Is it not time for the Secretary of State to accept that social care is in crisis and that his Government cannot just dump the issue of funding it on councils and council tax payers?

I do listen carefully to what the hon. Lady says, because she has campaigned long and hard for social care. However, with respect, I would say to her that she is ignoring one simple fact: there is more money going into social care now than would have been the case if we had followed her advice at the last election. What the Communities Secretary announced was £900 million of additional help over the next two years.

The Government’s plans for funding social care look inept because they have tied care funding, which is related to need, to council tax and to deductions from the new homes bonus. Last week’s settlement was a pathetic attempt to deal with a funding gap of £2 billion for social care by recycling £240 million within budgets. The chief executive of the British Red Cross has described the social care crisis as

“a humanitarian crisis that needs urgent action.”

When is the Secretary of State going to take that crisis seriously?

The hon. Lady talks about council tax, but she does not call out Labour councils like Hillingdon, Hounslow, Merton and Stoke which complain about pressures in the social care system and then refuse to introduce the social care precept that could make a difference to their residents. We are taking the situation seriously. More was done this week and more will be done in future.

T7. As my hon. Friend is aware, last week the Murray report was published. When is he likely to consider it, and when will he make a statement? (907969)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question and commend him for his work as a pharmacy champion. The Murray review was indeed published last week, and NHS England will respond to it in detail early in the new year. It is a very important document because it sets out in some detail how we intend to transform the community pharmacy network into a service-based profession along the lines that my hon. Friend likes.

T3. Last week, a 76-year-old man with diabetes in my constituency took a fall and had to wait almost two hours for an ambulance. I then wrote to the Health Secretary after it emerged that not a single ambulance trust in England met its response time targets in October, including for the most critical of cases. Will he explain the reasons for these unacceptable ambulance delays and what he intends to do as we approach Christmas? (907964)

I am aware of the case that the hon. Lady refers to. In the week of the incident, the London ambulance service received 40,433 emergency calls—an 8% increase on the previous week. We are trying to do something about this. We have recruited 2,200 more paramedics since 2010 and increased the number of paramedic training places by 60% in this year alone. The London ambulance service has recruited 107 more paramedics since September 2015 to help with this increased demand.

T8. Has the public health Minister had an opportunity to consider the recent report sent to her by the all-party parliamentary group on alcohol harm on the shocking impact of excessive drinking by members of the public on the dedicated people who work in our emergency services? Will she meet the APPG to discuss this? (907970)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her dogged campaigning on this issue, on which she is a true champion. I have not had a chance to read the report in detail, but I have seen a number of its recommendations and we are taking action on some of them, including the publication of the chief medical officer’s low risk guidelines and Public Health England’s One You campaign, which runs over Christmas and the new year. We are embedding alcohol measures into the NHS health check and we have introduced a national CQUIN—Commissioning for Quality and Innovation—because evidence shows that intervention by a health professional is the most effective way of disrupting problem drinking.

T4. Zac from Worksop is three years old, wheelchair-bound, unable to speak and blind, and is regularly admitted on an unplanned basis to Bassetlaw Hospital’s children’s ward. As the people of Bassetlaw are standing with Zac in opposing the proposed overnight closure of the children’s ward, which will create chaos for his small life and that of a number of other very poorly children like him, will democracy prevail, or are the Government going to pick a fight with Zac, me, and the people of Bassetlaw? (907965)

First, I absolutely commend the hon. Gentleman for standing with his constituents and championing individual cases. I will happily look into the proposed changes and how they will affect people like Zac. I assure the hon. Gentleman that when we make these changes it is to improve the services of people and his constituents; that is why we are making them.

Despite some of the obvious challenges in the healthcare service, this is a wonderful time of year when hundreds of thousands of people choose to quit smoking by putting down their cancer stick and picking up an electronic vaping device. Does the Minister share my concern, however, that we must be very cautious in any implementation of the EU tobacco products directive so that it does not act as a barrier to people quitting smoking and taking up vaping?

The Government are very clear that vaping is significantly less harmful than continuing to smoke. Under the current regulatory regime, huge numbers of smokers are successfully using these innovative products as an effective quitting tool. We have already committed to reviewing the TPD and we will fully explore the opportunities that Brexit may provide, but until exit negotiations are concluded we remain a full member of the EU.

T5. On contaminated blood, will the Government confirm that they still plan to use a private profit-making company such as Atos to administer the scheme, and if so, why? (907966)

I absolutely cannot confirm that. The tendering process has not even begun. Therefore, we are not considering any form of company, private or otherwise.

The Health Committee has just published its interim report on preventing suicide. I thank all those who gave evidence to our inquiry and all members of the Department of Health advisory group. We support the strategy, but the clear message that we heard was that implementation needs to be strengthened. Will the Secretary of State meet me to discuss our report’s recommendations, and will he join me in thanking members of the Samaritans and other voluntary groups around the country who will be working tirelessly over Christmas, as they do every day, to support those in crisis?

My hon. Friend speaks wisely. Christmas can be a very lonely time for a number of people, so we all commend the work of voluntary organisations that do so well. I would be delighted to meet her.

More than a third of my male constituents live until they are over 80, and yet next door in Windsor and Maidenhead the same is true of well over half of the residents. In the 10 years before 2010, that gap narrowed. What is the Secretary of State doing to narrow the gap in future?

The best thing we can do to narrow the gap is make sure that we continue to invest properly in the NHS and social care system, and make good progress on public health, which often has the biggest effect on health inequalities. That is why it is good news that we have record low smoking rates.

With acute hospital bed blocking at a record high, do Ministers agree that it is a great pity that so very few of the 40 sustainability and transformation plans now in the public domain deal directly with step-down care and, in particular, with community hospitals?

As my hon. Friend has confirmed, 44 areas are working on their STPs, all of which are charged with looking at improving integration between hospitals and social care in order to improve discharge. In order for STPs to be taken forward, they have to address that issue.

Recent figures from the Royal College of Psychiatrists show that children and adolescent mental health services are still underfunded in many parts of the country—particularly worrying for me is the fact that Bristol seems to be the 13th lowest in the country. What are Ministers doing to ensure that children across England and the rest of the UK get the health services that they need?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight this issue and I agree with her. I am not happy with the service that we provide through CAMHS at the moment. It is a big area of focus for the Government. We are putting a lot of investment in, but there is lots more to be done.

My constituency has been waiting some time for the go-ahead for a new critical treatment hospital providing 24/7 care for the sickest patients, which is very much in line with Government policy. The hospital’s chief executive, Mary Edwards, retires this month after 21 years of exceptional service. Will the Secretary of State give her a retirement present and help me to secure a decision from NHS England?

I join my right hon. Friend in congratulating her chief executive on her commitment to the NHS. As I said in answer to a previous question about the STP for my right hon. Friend’s area, the issue is being reviewed at the moment by NHS England, and I am afraid that I am not in a position to give her any advance notice of the outcome.

The Secretary of State will be aware of the horrifying case of Fiona Hollings, a 19-year-old with anorexia who for the past four months has been nearly 400 miles away from home, in a bed in Glasgow. Her family have travelled 8,000 miles in that time to see her. The Government commit to ending this horrific practice by 2020, but do families really have to put up with it until then? How would he feel if it was his child?

We are taking action and I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that what has happened in that case is completely unacceptable. We are currently commissioning a record number of in-patient mental health beds, and it is a very big priority for us to eliminate the problem entirely by the end of the Parliament.

My constituent Marie Bingham administers a drug at home using pre-filled syringes, but she is unable to dispose of the used needles, partly because they are in 2.5 litre sharps tubs rather than 1 litre sharps tubs. It is a ludicrous situation. Is the Minister aware of the problem, and are there any steps he can take to deal with it?

As my hon. Friend says, pharmacies are commissioned, on such occasions, to dispose of these needles. I was not aware of the particular issue about the 2.5 litre tubs that seems to exist in Rugby. I will investigate that and revert to him.

TB rates are currently higher in bits of Ealing than in Rwanda. Could the Government better the bilateral innovation fund to which they have committed with China and go for the O’Neill report recommendation to work towards a truly global fund, in conjunction with other nations, to fight antimicrobial resistance?

As I have already answered, we are a world leader on AMR. We have not only the bilateral fund with China but the £265 million Fleming fund, through which we will deliver bilateral national action plans with a number of developing nations. We are committed to going further than that through the global action plan with the UN.

A fortnight ago, I visited the pharmacy at the Corby urgent care centre to thank the dedicated staff for all that they do all year round, and to have a flu jab as part of the ongoing campaign. Does the Minister agree that exactly that sort of proactive working is crucial in trying to tackle winter pressures?

I do agree with my hon. Friend. I am particularly pleased that this year, the pharmacy network has done more flu jabs so far than in the entire period last year. I had my flu jab, and it is holding up well.

It is always useful to have a bit of additional information. We are greatly indebted to the Minister.

In the east midlands, the average ambulance arrival time for life-threatening cases has almost doubled in the last three years, and Nottingham’s A&E waiting times are the worst in a decade. Will Ministers apologise to my constituents, including hard-working NHS staff, for their failure to fund health and social care adequately?

I would like to add my tribute to the work of ambulance staff up and down the country, particularly over the busy Christmas period ahead. As I have already said today, we have increased funding for ambulance services. We have increased the number of paramedics, both in training and employed. Earlier this month we announced that we had increased the payments to paramedics to move them from band 5 to band 6, to help to retain and recruit more staff.

Order. We are short of time, but I am in a generous mood. We can manage only one more, so 46 years, six months and two days after his first election to the House, I call Mr Dennis Skinner.

He is a mine of information, isn’t he? He would like to contribute, really.

Does the Secretary of State not think that it is a scandal to be shutting Bolsover hospital, with 16 valuable beds that will go for ever, at a time when people are lined up on trolleys in nearly every hospital in Britain? Why does the Secretary of State not give Bolsover a Christmas present and announce that Bolsover hospital will be saved? Come on!

I add my congratulations to those of the Speaker on the hon. Gentleman’s long service, which has included campaigning for Bolsover hospital. I simply say to him that we will look very carefully at all proposals to change the services offered. I think community hospitals have an important role in the future of the NHS, but the services they provide will change as more people want to be treated at home.