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House of Commons Hansard
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Oral Answers to Questions
27 November 2018
Volume 650

Health and Social Care

The Secretary of State was asked—

Local Pharmacies

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1. What steps he is taking to support local pharmacies. [907848]

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Community pharmacies play a vital role in our health service, but we know they can do more, and we are determined to see them do more, to keep people healthy.

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I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, because he is absolutely right in what he says. The Dorset Local Pharmaceutical Committee is very active and is promoting the policy of Pharmacy First, which should help to relieve pressure on our general practitioners, and even on our accident and emergency facilities. What is he doing to support that policy?

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I agree very much with my hon. Friend that pharmacies can play an increasing role in helping to make sure that people get their healthcare where they need it, and in keeping the pressure off GPs and off secondary care by making sure that people can help themselves to stay healthy. We are piloting 111 directing people to pharmacies as well as to GPs and, where appropriate, to secondary care, and encouraging people to use pharmacies for minor ailments, but there is much more we can do together on this.

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The NHS Confederation has warned that, following Brexit, the supply of some medicines and medical technologies may be delayed in reaching patients, and some may not be available at all. The chief executive officer of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry has been clear that we cannot stockpile the amounts we are going to need, because we do not have sufficient cold warehouse storage. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency is worried therefore that diabetics will not be able to access insulin. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that community pharmacies are able to supply vital medical supplies post Brexit, particularly in the event of no deal?

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Community pharmacies, like everybody else, should support the Prime Minister’s deal, which will make sure that that eventuality does not occur.

NICE Guidance: Head Lice

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2. What assessment he has made of the potential merits of reversing NICE guidance prohibiting the prescription of head lice treatment by GPs. [907849]

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In the year to June 2017, the NHS spent approximately £569 million on prescriptions for medicines that could be bought over the counter from a pharmacy or supermarket. That is why, following public consultation earlier this year, NHS England issued guidance to reduce the routine prescribing of some medicines for minor, short-term ailments, including head lice treatment.

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Yesterday, I met people from the charity Community Hygiene Concern, which provides cheap, reusable and effective bug-busting kits for less than £5. However, because of these NHS prescription guidance changes, these kits are no longer available, which threatens an epidemic of head lice in our schools. Surely head lice should not be considered a minor ailment. Will the Minister please write to Simon Stevens to encourage him to meet me and Community Hygiene Concern to look at this issue again?

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I have been itching all morning while thinking about this answer. I do not believe there is an epidemic because of NHS England’s actions. Clinical experts in the NHS advise that head lice can be safely and effectively treated by wet combing; I have very recent personal experience of doing this, as I am sure do many parents in this House. Chemical treatment is recommended only in exceptional circumstances. I had not heard of the charity the hon. Lady mentions, but as we discussed before questions, I am happy to facilitate that interaction.

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In France, where head lice are more common per capita than in the UK, people make good use of pharmacies, because it costs money to visit a general practitioner and because the state promotes the role of pharmacies. May I therefore ask the Minister why do we not advertise that we should be using pharmacies more often than not, instead of going to a GP?

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Unfortunately, that has nothing to do with the matter of head lice. [Interruption.] It seemed to be slightly tangential, but never mind. The hon. Gentleman was at least attempting to shoehorn his preoccupation into the question, but I will err on the side of generosity. I know that he knows all about heads and all about hair—

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But not lice!

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Indeed.

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I do not know whether my hon. Friend is familiar with wet combing his hair.

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Only with my gel.

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Only with his gel. He is absolutely right that, as the Secretary of State just said, community pharmacies are experts in so many minor health matters, and Pharmacy First can absolutely be used when it comes to head lice as well.

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rose—

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Is the hon. Gentleman feeling jumpy or does he wish to contribute?

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I was just nit-picking.

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Ah, the House is in a very jocular mood. Long may it last.

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It will soon be Christmas.

Public Health Funding (Local Authorities)

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3. What recent representations he has received on the potential merits of increasing public health funding to local authorities. [907850]

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We have had lots; it is just that none come with any idea of how that might be paid for. The Government have a strong track record on public health. Local authorities in England have received more than £16 billion in ring-fenced public health grants over the current spending period. Decisions on future funding for that area of spending are of course for the next spending review.

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On current projections, over £800 million will have been cut from public health budgets by 2021, £2 million of which has been cut from vital services in my constituency relating to sexual health, and to tackle obesity and smoking. Will the Minister guarantee that the new NHS long-term plan will reverse the cuts to public health budgets?

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I know that Opposition Members like to pretend that the past eight and a half years did not have to happen, but there is a reason why they had to happen—the economy was crashed—and eight and a half years is not a long time to clear up the mess of the last Government. But we are very clear, as the hon. Gentleman should know, that a focus on prevention will be central to the long-term plan. He mentions child obesity—[Interruption.] Opposition Members may wish to listen. The public health grant remains ring-fenced and protected for use exclusively on improving health, but local government spending on health is not just about the public health grant. The Government spend money on many other things, including around the child obesity plan and vaccinations, and that is all around prevention and public health.

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Far too long.

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As local government is reorganised in Northamptonshire ahead of May 2020, will the Minister consider whether it may not be appropriate in all cases for local councils to manage public health budgets, and whether in some cases it might make sense for the NHS to regain control?

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There are active discussions going on between my right hon. Friends the Health Secretary and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government about this, but the bottom line is that Parliament legislated through the Health and Social Care Act 2012 for local authorities up and down the country in England to be public health authorities. We believe that they are well placed to make these spending decisions with the ring-fenced grant—£16 billion —that we have given them.

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The underfunding of public health in Cumbria means that the NHS spends only 75p per child per year on preventive mental health care. Added to that, over three quarters of young people with eating disorders are not seen within the target time of a month, and in the event that they are seen, there is no specialist one-to-one eating disorder service to see them, despite the Government promising three years ago that there would be. Will the Minister meet me and our local NHS so that we can get a better deal for our young people on all three of these points?

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The hon. Gentleman will remember, of course, that £1 billion extra was put into mental health in the Budget last month, but I would absolutely be interested to hear from him. There are very good things going on up and down the country in local authorities with the ring-fenced £16 billion that we have given them. We are very interested to hear about where there are good examples of things going on, and the long-term future discussions around them will take in the spending review, as I have said.

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The Secretary of State claims that prevention is one of his top three priorities, yet this year alone the Government have slashed public health budgets by £96 million. That includes cuts to smoking cessation services, sexual health services, obesity and addiction services and many more. This affects the most vulnerable in our society, so will the Minister do the right thing today and cut the rhetoric, commit to reversing these damaging cuts to public health, and put funding in the long-term plan?

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The hon. Lady—my shadow Minister—knows that I have a great deal of respect for her. She mentioned smoking; smoking rates in England are at their lowest ever levels. We hear spending commitment after spending commitment from the Labour Government; it is like the arsonist turning up at the scene of a fire. I will take very seriously, as I am sure will the Treasury, her bid towards the spending review discussions, but yes, prevention is better than cure and it will be at the heart of the long-term plan.

Healthier Lives

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4. What steps he is taking to support people to lead healthier lives. [907851]

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17. What steps he is taking to ensure that people take greater personal responsibility for leading healthier lives. [907867]

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Prevention is indeed better than cure. As well as having a right to expect NHS services to be free at the point of use, we all have responsibility for our own health, and to use the NHS responsibly.

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I recently met Breast Cancer Now—the Secretary of State will be aware of it. It has 10 priorities for the NHS long-term plan. Has he made an assessment of the impact of the real-terms 5% cut in public health budgets on reducing the incidence of cancer?

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There are many things we need to do to diagnose cancer early, and of course public health is part of that, but there is a much bigger agenda, and that includes more screening. We have seen an increase in the number of people invited to screening, but we need to get the screening right, so I have instituted a review of all our screening processes for cancer and other diseases.

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Will my right hon. Friend look at the work done by Connect Well Bromley, a partnership funded by the local clinical commissioning group but delivered by Bromley Third Sector Enterprise and Community Links Bromley? That partnership sets out what is in effect a social prescribing programme of activities and services to deal with wellbeing issues at an early stage. Is that a model for elsewhere in the country?

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Yes, it is. I have been briefed on the example that Bromley is setting, which has been brought to my attention by its brilliant local representative, my hon. Friend. Social prescribing systems such as this one are on the rise, because the evidence shows that social prescribing helps to keep people healthy and out of hospital.

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A fortnight ago, during his statement to the House on prevention and how the Government intend to keep our nation well, the Secretary of State told me that he would look at my Health Impacts (Public Sector Duty) Bill, which had its Second Reading on Friday. Unfortunately, on Friday, the Government objected to my Bill. Which elements of the Bill did the Secretary of State object to?

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I know the hon. Lady has done an awful lot of work on this, and I respect that work. We did look at the Bill, but we thought it was, unfortunately, technically deficient. I know she cares a lot about this, however, as do I, and I want to work with her to see what we can do.

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According to Office for National Statistics figures, over the past five years, there have been 150,000 excess winter deaths—a mortality rate twice that in Germany and Norway. What specific work is the Secretary of State doing to reduce the number of deaths this coming winter?

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This year, since I became Secretary of State, we have put an extra £420 million in to make sure we are as well prepared as possible. The NHS is of course under pressure, although it is performing exceptionally well, in terms of how much it does for the money going in, and from next year, we will put in the extra £20 billion. I want part of the long-term plan to be about how we can plan for the long term, instead of having this annual cycle of winter pressures.

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Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of joining volunteer leader John Goodwin and others on a health walk around Capstone park in my constituency—one of a number of health walks supported by Medway Council. Will the Secretary of State join me in encouraging more GPs to prescribe walking as a gentle, low-impact form of exercise that is suitable for all ages and abilities?

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With enthusiasm, I endorse the call from my hon. Friend, who did so much work on this at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, both before I was in that Department and when I was Secretary of State there. She made the case brilliantly, and she continues to do so. She is absolutely right.

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18. Everyone in the House is indebted to public health workers, who help us to lead healthier lives, be they in local authorities or the NHS. Many of them are EU nationals. Does the Secretary of State share my concerns about the term “queue jumpers”? Will he apologise for it, and will he go further and make sure that no public health worker faces additional costs to remain in their home in the UK? [907868]

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Every EU worker across our health and social care system—whether in the NHS, or working in public health, in local authorities or in social care—is welcome here, and is supported to be welcome here, and we look forward to the settled status scheme rolling out. We are grateful for their service.

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GP appointments are vital for many to lead healthy lives, so will the Secretary of State give his strong personal support to the work of our fantastic GPs, and encourage the NHS to put general practice at the heart of the £20 billion future plan?

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Yes. General practice will be at the heart of the long-term plan. GPs are the bedrock of the NHS. We will put an extra £3.5 billion, at least, into primary and community services to help keep people healthy and prevent them from going to hospital.

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The Secretary of State got into a muddle last week with his GP figures, so may I suggest that he download an exciting new app to his phone? It is called a calculator. He has said that there will be more for community and primary care by 2024. Can he guarantee that there will be the extra GPs and district nurses to provide the services that he is promising?

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Yes, I can; given that we have the money coming into the NHS, we are doing everything possible to ensure that we have the people to do the work. I am delighted to say that we have a record number of GPs in training right now.

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But GP numbers have gone down by 700 in the last year, have they not? There are 107,000 vacancies across the NHS, acute trusts are closing accident and emergency departments overnight, the closure of chemotherapy departments is being considered, and Health Education England’s training budget is the lowest that it has been for five years, with more cuts to come next year. Does the Secretary of State agree that if the long-term plan that he will publish next week is to be credible, he must reverse those training cuts and deliver the staff that our NHS needs?

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That was a bit of a surprise, because the hon. Gentleman is normally such a reasonable fellow. I thought that he would welcome the record number of GPs in training, and the record number of nurses in the NHS. Because we love the NHS, of course we want to do more, and we will.

GP Access: Learning Disabilities

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5. What assessment he has made of the ability of people with learning disabilities to access GPs. [907852]

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People with learning disabilities still face significant health inequalities. Data from 2017 shows that about half of patients with a learning disability received an annual GP health check, and our target is 75% by 2020. We will shortly consult on plans to introduce mandatory learning disability and autism training for all health and care staff.

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There are shocking health inequalities between people with learning disabilities and the general population, and that is recognised by GPs: 60% say that they have received less than a day’s training in how to meet the needs of patients with learning disabilities and autism, while 98% say that they would appreciate more training. The Government are clearly failing people with learning disabilities. Will they commit themselves to ensuring that every new GP who is trained in England is also given training in how to meet the needs of people with learning disabilities and autism?

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Yes. That is already part of the training framework. As I have said, however, we are consulting from early next year on plans to make training on learning disabilities and autism mandatory for all health and care staff, not just medical professionals.

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Let me start by thanking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his support last Thursday on 22q Awareness Day; 22q11 deletion syndrome is second only to Down’s syndrome in its prevalence as a genetic condition, but perhaps surprisingly, there is a remarkably low level of awareness among GPs of this condition, which can lead to avoidable mental health issues in children. Will the Minister meet me to discuss options to increase awareness in the first instance, but also to improve early diagnosis and treatment?

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I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the excellent work that he is doing to draw attention to this condition, and I should be happy to meet him.

Health Inequalities (England)

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6. What assessment he has made of recent trends in the level of health inequalities across England. [907853]

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We know from recent trends reported to the public health outcomes framework that health inequalities persist in this country. We already have world-leading programmes to address the root causes of poor health, including programmes to deal with childhood obesity, control tobacco and prevent diabetes and heart disease. The Prime Minister has set an ambition to ensure that people can enjoy at least five extra healthy independent years of life by 2035, while narrowing the gap between the experiences of the richest and the poorest, and next year the Secretary of State will set out further plans to achieve that in his prevention Green Paper.

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We have known for decades that poverty and economic inequality drive health inequalities. The richer people are, the longer they live, and the longer they live in good health. In addition to the economic analyses of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, what assessment has the Minister made of the deal’s impacts on health inequalities, and on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy, which we know are already falling in some parts of the country, and among some groups of people?

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The reasons for health inequalities are complex, but obviously we encourage people to make the lifestyle changes that enable everyone to live longer. I simply do not accept that the direct causality that the hon. Lady has outlined is as clear as that. We will focus on programmes that help people to lead healthier lives with better diets; that tackle tobacco control; and that prevent diabetes.

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As it is the most deprived children who are most overweight, will the Minister call on Kellogg’s to follow the example of Nestlé and put traffic light colours on all its products so that people can make healthier choices?

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My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Clearly the more we can do to educate people to make informed choices to improve their diet, the better. He is absolutely right: poor health among children used to be indicated by being underweight, but now being overweight is very much an indicator. I congratulate any food manufacturer that is taking action to address the problem.

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The Minister and the ministerial team know that many working-class people do not have good access to GPs, and that GPs treat them differently from more middle-class people, as demonstrated by the number of people from poorer backgrounds with atrial fibrillation who are wrongly diagnosed. If they are diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat or pulse, they are given the wrong drugs. That happens to many ordinary people in this country: there are still all these wonderful GPs prescribing aspirin that will do no good at all. What is going on with GPs and poorer people?

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Our NHS is full of people who are doing their best to deliver the best possible care for all their patients. It is important that GPs and any health practitioners consider the holistic needs of all their patients—

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They’re killing people.

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The hon. Gentleman says they are killing people; that is not the debate I want on the NHS.

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Scotland has the lowest life expectancies of all parts of the United Kingdom, with the figures falling for the first time in 35 years. The average life expectancy in 2017 was 77 years for men and 81.1 for women, compared with 79.2 for men and 82.9 for women in the rest of the UK. What can my hon. Friend do to support the devolved Administration to ensure that Scotland is not left behind the rest of the United Kingdom?

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My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that. I am always very keen to work with the devolved nations to both learn from what they do well and to share our expertise and experience where we are doing better, and I hope we will all co-operate to do exactly that.

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Initiating breastfeeding at birth can help reduce to health inequalities. Due to the actions of the Scottish Government, breastfeeding rates in Scotland are at a record high, whereas in England they are falling back dramatically because of local cuts. What will the Minister do to increase breastfeeding rates in England?

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I commend the hon. Lady for her leadership on the issue, and she is right that this is one of the most significant public health interventions we can make at the earliest point in life. I will happily line up with her to do more to champion breastfeeding, and there is certainly a lot further to go, not least in ensuring that society is more tolerant of the practice and that women really do enjoy their right to breastfeed.

Childhood Obesity

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7. What steps he is taking to tackle childhood obesity. [907855]

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In June we published chapter 2 of our child obesity plan, which built on the world-leading measures we introduced in 2016, including bold new measures to halve child obesity by 2030.

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Will the Minister join me in welcoming the launch this week of South Gloucestershire Council’s Reach programme? It is an evidence-based service for obese and overweight children aged between four and 16 in South Gloucestershire and their families, aimed at improving the wellbeing of young people and building their esteem, and raising issues of weight gain between and among families.

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I certainly will; we need a collective effort to achieve the national ambition of halving child obesity by 2030, and that means we need local initiatives such as the Reach programme to support families and help them make positive lifestyle choices. I pass on my congratulations to South Gloucestershire Council on its programme.

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22. Many children who are referred for treatment with problems related to being overweight might be suffering from eating disorders. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, from anorexia right through to body dysmorphia. However, a recent ombudsman report says many people are facing longer waiting times and not receiving the help they need. Will the Government now prioritise ensuring people with eating disorders get the treatment they need? [907872]

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Through our work on parity of esteem for physical and mental health, we take eating disorders very seriously. That is not directly related to the child obesity plan, but we are absolutely determined to tackle weight challenges at either end of the scale, because I know that they affect a lot of people.

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Obesity is now one of the biggest risks to health and a significant cause of cancer and other conditions. Is it not time to look at restricting the advertising of junk food up to 9 o’clock?

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I have a lot of time for the hon. Gentleman and do a lot of work with him. He knows that we published proposals in the child obesity plan to launch a consultation on a pre-9 pm watershed ban, and we will be bringing that forward before the end of the year as promised.

Young Cancer Sufferers: Costs of Travel

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8. What estimate his Department has made of the number of children and young people with cancer who are unable to access treatment due to the cost of travel. [907856]

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No child or young person with cancer should be unable to access the treatment they need because of the cost of travelling to hospital. Through the healthcare travel costs scheme, which is part of the NHS low income scheme, parents in receipt of a qualifying benefit or on a low income can claim for the reimbursement of travel costs for their children’s treatment. To date, the scheme has helped some 337,000 people.

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CLIC Sargent, the charity for children with cancer, has shown that families in my constituency with children with cancer can face a 54-mile round trip to get to their nearest treatment location, which can cost them up to £161.58 a month. Families are incurring thousands of pounds of debt paying for parking and driving their children to their cancer treatment. Does my hon. Friend acknowledge that only 6% of parents of children with cancer are reported as having received financial help from the NHS healthcare travel costs assistance scheme? Does he recognise that the scheme is not designed to meet the needs of children and young people who need highly specialised treatment—

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Order. Far too long.

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Yes, we do recognise that there is a challenge there. I gave evidence to the all-party parliamentary group on children, teenagers and young adults with cancer, and I have a copy of the “Listen Up” report here. CLIC Sargent is part of the secretariat for that group. We are looking at this issue through the long-term plan, and I look forward to meeting my right hon. Friend along with CLIC Sargent in the next few weeks as planned.

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An exemplar of eloquent brevity: Helen Jones.

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Access to services is very important for those in the poorest areas of my constituency. Warrington Hospital has been losing services over time, but it has now sought to become a cancer hub for north Cheshire. Will the Minister ensure that, in the case of such applications, access to services for the poorest people is considered along with other factors?

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Yes, we are interested in access to services for all people, wherever they are on the income scheme. The hon. Lady is right to raise that issue. We need to do better on cancer diagnosis, so I would be interested to hear more about the cancer hub that she mentions.

Sexual Health Services

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9. What recent assessment he has made of trends in the level of demand for sexual health services. [907858]

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Since 2013, when local authorities took on responsibility for these services, attendance has increased from 2.9 million to 3.3 million. Tests for sexually transmitted infections and access to long-acting contraception have also increased, which shows that people are taking their sexual health seriously and that services are responding.

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Unfortunately, syphilis and gonorrhoea diagnoses are up 20% since 2016. What are the Government going to do to address this growing trend, given that sexual health services are at their limit?

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The evidence I have is that sexually transmitted infection rates are stable, that rates of teen pregnancy are falling, that rates of abortion are stable and that rates of HIV testing are increasing. However, the hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and I will look into it. The most important thing is not necessarily where or how people access their services, because we want to make tests and long-term contraception available online too. We will keep the issue under review.

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Does the Minister agree with the chief medical officer, who said in her evidence to the Health and Social Care Committee that she thought the cuts to sexual health services had gone too far?

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As I said in my previous answer, the important thing is to look at outcomes. We can see that levels of teen pregnancy and sexual infection are stable and that more people are accessing contraception. We need to ensure that people can access contraception in the most convenient way for them, and we can see that rates of access are on the increase.

Community Hospitals

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10. What his policy is on the future of community hospitals. [907859]

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Community healthcare plays a vital role in helping people stay independent and healthy. Last week, the Prime Minister set out a major new investment in primary and community healthcare worth £3.5 billion a year by 2023-24.

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I am extremely grateful that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State came down to East Devon on his first visit outside London. He was able to visit the health and wellbeing hub that we have created in Budleigh Salterton, learn about the beds that we have kept in Sidmouth and Exmouth, and see Ottery St Mary Hospital. Will the Minister instruct all her officials to work collectively with us and the local community in Ottery St Mary to ensure that the hospital has a great future and fits in with the rest of local healthcare provision?

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First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his elegant Movember facial decoration. I very much recommend that he keeps it.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was delighted to visit the East Devon constituency recently, where he was impressed by the work at some of the existing community hospitals and care hubs and discussed with Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust how it will work on a sustainable future for the constituency’s community hospital in Ottery St Mary.

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Since the Department says that it likes community hospitals, why are services and wards closing at the Richardson in Barnard Castle?

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We know that patients prefer to be treated in their local area, which is much better for preventing hospital admission and getting people out of hospital for longer. However, such clinical decisions must be taken at a local level in consultation with local people.

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Dartmouth has lost its much-loved community hospital. Unfortunately, that loss has been compounded by the closure of River View nursing home, which had been due to house some replacement facilities. The total loss of community beds in isolated coastal communities such as Dartmouth is causing a collapse of trust in such programmes. Will the Minister meet me to discuss the situation in Dartmouth and the loss of nursing home and community beds?

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I will of course meet my hon. Friend. She is right that we need to keep such valuable local resources right in the community, where they are most needed and where they keep people out of acute hospital services and surrounded by their friends and family.

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The usage of Caithness General Hospital in Wick in my constituency is way below what it was originally designed for, causing my constituents great anxiety if they have to travel over 200 miles to Inverness and back. Mr Speaker, you will tell me that such matters are devolved, so will the Government share best practice on community hospitals with the Scottish Government and NHS Highland?

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What a wily fellow to get the question in order. Well done, man.

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I am happy to work with our colleagues in Scotland to push forward best practice in helping to support community facilities and to ensure that they are investing in facilities at the heart of people’s local areas, which is where they are needed.

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Wantage Community Hospital was built and opened by the local community in 1927, but it has been closed for two years. Moves are afoot to improve both our local health centre and health facilities in Didcot, but all that must be joined up and the community needs an answer. Will the Minister use her power to convene a meeting of local stakeholders and her officials to find a way through the maze and a future for our hospital?

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I am always happy to speak to my right hon. Friend about such things. I understand that the intention is now to move to a more place-based approach to health and care planning in his local area, but all such changes are subject to consultation.

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I will be honest, I am confused. We have heard the Minister say several times that community approaches are important, but our walk-in centre in Eastham is yet again being threatened with closure. Which is it—do this Tory Government want crowded A&Es or proper walk-in centres that will prevent people from unnecessarily ending up at A&E?

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I do not think I can make it any clearer: this Government are committed to providing community services right where people need them, and we are putting our money where our mouth is. Last week, the Prime Minister announced a major new investment in primary and community healthcare of £3.5 billion.

A&E Targets

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11. What the timetable is for the NHS to meet its target of seeing 95 per cent. of A&E patients within four hours. [907860]

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rose—

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Hear, hear.

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Thank you very much.

The Government’s mandate to NHS England for 2018-19 clearly sets out A&E performance, and it will see performance improve. So far this year 18 million more attendances have been seen within the standard, and the NHS is introducing more options for urgent patient care. Of course, as the hon. Lady will know, the extra £20 billion a year that is going into the health service will ensure that more patients are seen in A&E.

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According to a recent poll of doctors by the Royal College of Physicians, almost six in 10 doctors report feeling very worried or worried about the ability of their hospital to deliver safe patient care over the winter period. What is the Secretary of State or the Minister doing to help our hard-working NHS staff provide the best possible care for patients?

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The NHS faces a challenging winter, but it has been planning throughout the year for this winter. It has been supported by an extra £420 million to redevelop A&Es, improve emergency care and help patients get home quicker. Those plans, more directly, include reducing the extended hospital stays we saw last year, increasing access to GP appointments and increasing the volume of cases that can be treated by emergency dentists.

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Last week I visited the A&E at County Hospital, Stafford, which achieved 95.8% on the four-hour target in the week beginning 22 October and has consistently achieved over 95% for the past few months. Will the Minister come to Stafford to see what a great job it is doing, and to see how we can use County Hospital more and bring more services into it?

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My hon. Friend has always been an assiduous advocate for his constituents and their concerns. He is right to make that case today. He is also right that, thanks to the hard-working staff in his hospital and across the country, the four-hour target continues to be met for nearly nine out of 10 patients. I will be delighted to come to Stafford.

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Does the Minister agree that what considerably exacerbates A&E waiting times at the weekend is when, on occasion, our highly valued NHS staff come under attack? We should have a zero-tolerance approach to any attacks on those highly valued members of staff.

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The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. There can be no statement other than complete condemnation of attacks. We have changed the law, and it came into force earlier this month.

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I welcome the Minister to his place. Although he is new, he will know that the A&E waiting target is not a recent initiative. It is a key part of the NHS constitution, but it has not been met for over three years. If he cannot make a commitment today on when the target will be met, will he accept that, at least for this winter under this Government, the NHS will once again be underfunded?

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As I said in my earlier answer, we recognise that this winter will be challenging. We recognise that the A&E performance standard is not currently being met, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we are investing an extra £20 billion in the NHS to ensure that the standards are met. The NHS will use that investment to treat 250,000 more patients and to improve A&E performance across the country.

Nursing Higher Education

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12. What recent estimate he has made of the number of people entering nursing higher education; and if he will make a statement. [907861]

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The latest UCAS data from October 2018 show that demand for nursing courses remains strong, with applications exceeding the number of places available this year. The number of acceptances to nursing and midwifery courses in 2018 is consistent with earlier years at approximately 22,000. The final data will be published in December 2018.

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Does the Minister accept that student nurses face pressures from the long hours they have to study and the long hours they spend on placements, which makes it very difficult for them also to carry out paid work? Is there any more the Government can do to support student nurses financially as they go through college?

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As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said earlier, we recognise the vital role that nurses play, and we are determined to support them. We are determined to have more nurses in training and more nurses treating patients. At the moment, a student on the loan system typically achieves 25% more in their pocket than they would have had on the bursary, but the Government recognise that there are still pressures, which is why we have the learning support fund, the exceptional hardship fund and support for mature students.

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I talk to local employers who desperately want to support nursing apprenticeships as an alternative to the higher education route, but the uptake of apprenticeships is very disappointing. The levy can be used only for training costs, and trusts have been asked to plug the shortfall in funding for wider capacity building and to cover the 20% of time for which apprentices have to go to off-the-job training. Does the Department recognise this problem? What is being done to address it?

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The hon. Lady is right that the number of trusts that currently use the levy is not as high as it should be. We hope that all will do so. It continues to be a priority for us to broaden the routes into nursing. We will address in the long-term plan the specific matter about which the hon. Lady talks.

NHS: Workforce Vacancies

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13. What estimate he has made of the level of workforce vacancies in the NHS. [907862]

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The NHS employs more staff now than at any other time in its 70-year history. It has recruited 18,200 more doctors and 11,000 more nurses are in our wards since 2010. NHS Improvement publishes vacancy rates using provider information. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the record investment that the Government are providing will ensure that the number of vacancies reduces.

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With Suffolk’s only psychiatric intensive care unit having been closed down from April to October this year because of lack of staff, and with a two-to-three-month waiting list for counselling, does the Minister not understand that his reassurances do not bear much relationship to people’s lived experience?

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I am aware that the local trust has had a number of problems and that there were a number of bed closures—both temporary and permanent —earlier this year. The trust is closely monitoring how those closures are affecting services and patients. The hon. Gentleman will know that beds are being reopened—five beds have been reopened recently—and that there is a plan to put in place the staffing so that the whole ward can reopen in the near future.

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19. The Department’s own statistics show that more than 23,000 mental health staff left the workforce last year. That is an eighth of the total mental health workforce. How can we possibly get parity for mental health when more than one in 10 posts are vacant and staff are leaving? [907869]

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The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are committed to having more nurses and more staff in training, that we are putting in place extra measures to ensure that specialities are supported through that training process and that the extra £20 billion in the long-term plan will ensure that there are the staff and nurses needed to fill those vacancies.

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We are running over time, so very briefly, please, Dr Philippa Whitford.

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Last week, the Secretary of State claimed that the number of GPs in England had increased by more than 1,000 from June to September, when the data actually showed a drop of 10 full-time equivalent doctors. In 2015, his predecessor promised an extra 5,000 GPs by 2020, but so far there are 1,000 fewer, so how does the Secretary of State plan to meet that target in just the next year?

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As the hon. Lady knows from a previous answer, we are committed to making sure that 5,000 extra GP places are available. There are more GPs in training than before, and 52,000 nurses are now in training. We will ensure that the number of GPs in training meets the target.

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I find that hard to believe when there is only a year left of the five-year promise.

Scotland has 30% more GPs per head of population, but last year we lost 14% of our EU doctors, and England lost 19%. Does the Secretary of State recognise that the hostile language of the Brexit debate is making the UK seem unwelcoming and making it harder for all four UK health services to recruit?

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There are currently more doctors from the EU treating patients in the national health service than on referendum day. We are committed to the 5,000 target.

NHS: Long-term Funding

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14. What steps he is taking to ensure that the NHS has sufficient long-term funding. [907863]

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We are increasing the NHS budget by £20.5 billion in real terms over the next five years. It is a major investment to make sure that the NHS is there for us all.

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Royal Stoke University Hospital continues to be in financial special measures, and local clinical commissioning groups are now projecting significant overspends in their budgets. How will the Secretary of State ensure that stressed health economies such as those in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire get a significant share of the additional £20.5 billion?

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Clearly, part of the £20.5 billion of extra funding that taxpayers are putting into the NHS over the next five years is for ensuring that services can be put on a sustainable footing, and that includes some of the highly stressed services such as those in Stoke.

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How do the Government plan to use funds to better identify perinatal mental health problems? Half of all women with perinatal mental health problems say that the current system does not identify their need.

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I very much agree with the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. We need to do much more on this subject. It is incredibly important, and there will be more to hear in the long-term plan.

Leaving the EU: Medicines and Medical Equipment

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15. What assessment he has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the ability of the NHS to access medicines and medical equipment. [907864]

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20. What assessment he has made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU on the ability of the NHS to access medicines and medical equipment. [907870]

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The deal that the Prime Minister struck to leave the EU will ensure access to medicines and medical equipment, so it is another good reason to vote for the deal.

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In the event of no deal, what steps would be taken to secure the supply of medicines beyond the six-week stockpile that has been recommended by the Government to the drug companies?

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Well, of course, while voting for the deal is the best way to ensure the unhindered supply of medicines and medical devices, as a responsible Government we are also planning for the unlikely event of no deal, and that planning includes ensuring that we can continue to get unhindered access after the six weeks for which we are making sure that supplies are available.

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We are currently an influential member of the European Medicines Agency, which gives patients access to new medicines six months sooner than non-members. Given that the political declaration reduces us to exploring the possibility of co-operation with the EMA, will the Secretary of State admit that there are no guarantees for patients and that it is very likely that they will have to wait longer?

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No, because in the event, under any circumstances, we will make sure that there are no further burdens on ensuring that medicines can get licensed here so that patients can use them, but it is another reason why the hon. Lady should vote for the deal.

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rose—

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I will call the right hon. Lady on the condition that she can ask her question in one relatively brief sentence. [Interruption.] No? Go on, you can do it.

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Many people say that the much-heralded £20 billion extra for the NHS is some sort of Brexit dividend. In the event that our country remains in the European Union, will the Secretary of State confirm that that extra 3.4% a year will continue and that £20 billion will be made available to our NHS?

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I am afraid that I will have to let my right hon. Friend know that we are leaving the European Union on 29 March.

Traditional and Western Healthcare

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16. Whether he has made an assessment of the effectiveness of integrated traditional and western medicinal healthcare services in (a) the People’s Republic of China, (b) France and (c) India for the forthcoming NHS 10-year plan. [907865]

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The NHS long-term plan, backed by the extra investment by 2023 and confirmed by the Chancellor in the Budget, will set out a sustainable vision for the NHS to make strides towards it being the safest, highest-quality healthcare system anywhere in the world, learning from everywhere and anywhere in the world over the next 10 years.

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According to the flyer for the post-launch party, the integrated care systems will be considered. Will the Minister make sure that he looks at the use of homeopathy by French pharmacists, the three quarters of a million doctors using traditional healthcare in the Ayush Ministry in India and the 55,000 state hospitals using acupuncture in the People’s Republic of China?

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The NHS should always look to learn from the best healthcare systems and practices anywhere in the world provided they are backed by evidence.

Topical Questions

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T1. If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities. [907873]

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This month, we launched our vision for the prevention of ill health that sets out measures to help increase life expectancy by at least five years because prevention is better than cure. We need to give people responsibility for their own health, while empowering them to make the right decisions in the right way. We are also saving more than £1 billion on the NHS drugs budget and committing more than £3.5 billion to primary and community care. Next month, we will publish the long-term plan for how we spend the extra £20 billion committed to the future of the NHS.

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19 November marked the three-year licence of the cystic fibrosis drug, Orkambi, in the UK, which is still not available on the NHS. Will the Secretary of State confirm whether there has been any further consideration to provide interim access to this treatment for patients, such as my constituents Annabelle Brennan and Cameron Jameson, while these negotiations continue?

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The NHS and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence have written to Vertex, the company involved. I am determined to see progress. We have made the largest ever proposal to Vertex, at half a billion pounds. It needs to engage with this very generous offer, which will mean that everyone wins, most of all those suffering from this awful condition. The ball is in Vertex’s court.

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The learning disabilities mortality review—the LeDeR—investigated 1,000 early deaths of people with learning disabilities in hospital settings, but today major concerns have been raised by the parents of Oliver McGowan about the way in which some deaths have been investigated. The Secretary of State knows that 40 autistic people and people with learning disabilities died in assessment and treatment units, and he has called for a year-long review of the use of seclusion in ATUs. But that is not urgent action. Will he commit to stopping the use of ATUs immediately and to looking urgently at how early deaths are being investigated, particularly that of Oliver McGowan?

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I have met Oliver McGowan’s mum, Paula, on a number of occasions, so I am more than aware of this case. I have spoken to her about the deeply distressing report she has had on Oliver’s death. The NHS is looking into this case and will continue to work with Bristol University to further develop and improve guidance and local review teams.

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T4. The Secretary of State and I spent the night together at Derriford Hospital down in Plymouth, so he will be aware of the unique challenges facing that hospital, which has not had an infrastructure expansion since the 1970s. We have a bid in at the moment. Can we hear whether we have done well before Christmas? [907876]

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I can recommend to anybody spending the night with my hon. Friend in Derriford Hospital, where we learnt a huge amount. The team there were absolutely amazing and it was a brilliant experience. I also learnt a lot about the capital bid, which I have been keeping my eye on very closely. My hon. Friend should hear shortly.

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T2. My niece Maisie turned 14 last week, and she has cystic fibrosis. It is not enough for the Secretary of State to say that letters are being sent back and forth between the drugs company and NICE. Will he get the relevant parties in a room, with him chairing the meeting, so that teenagers such as Maisie can have the drugs that will certainly change their lives, if not save them? [907874]

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I have a huge amount of sympathy for the hon. Lady’s point. We did act to ensure that the parties came together. The offer has been made and the response from the company has frankly not been good enough. It needs to come to the table; the ball is in its court.

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T5. Does the Minister agree that last week’s success by Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust management in securing sufficient qualified clinicians to keep the A&E and Telford’s Princess Royal Hospital open 24/7, rather than closing it overnight, is a positive first step on the journey out of special measures? [907877]

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My hon. Friend is right. I welcome the trust’s recent announcement that it now has enough middle-grade doctors and nurses to keep the Prince Royal Hospital’s A&E open 24/7. It has been receiving some excellent support from NHS Improvement, and I hope that it will achieve similar success in improving the quality of care as that support continues.

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T3. It has been eight months since the child abuse inquiry that the Prime Minister set up recommended urgently that compensation be paid to the survivors of the child migration programmes. The Prime Minister said that she would act; she did not. The Minister said that she would respond; she has not. Twenty-two people have died since that report was published. How can we believe a single word said by the Government today, when so many promises to people who deserve better have been broken? Where is the response to this report? [907875]

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The hon. Lady makes a very good point. When we last discussed this matter over the Dispatch Box, I said that it was my ambition to come back to her as soon as possible, but we have to agree a cross-Government response, which is imminent. However, she is quite right; we really need to respond as soon as possible.

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T6. Last week, I had the pleasure of visiting Oakthorpe Primary School in my constituency to celebrate its gold award for mental health and wellbeing from Leeds Beckett University. Will the Minister outline to the House what further support the Government are offering schools to help them deal with children’s mental health issues? [907879]

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My hon. Friend will be aware that we have brought forward proposals to have a mental health lead in all schools. We are also introducing a brand new workforce to support schools and improve mental health provision. The first wave of staff are being recruited for training now, and we have 210 applicants for the first wave of places.

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T8. To mark the 30th World AIDS Day on Saturday, will the Government commit to a more ambitious, but completely achievable, target of ending all new HIV infections by 2030? [907882]

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I join the right hon. Gentleman in celebrating World Aids Day and ensuring that we redouble our commitment to making sure that we do everything we can. I will certainly look into the precise commitment that he asks for to make sure not only that it is deliverable but that we work not just here but around the world to end this scourge.

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Everyone in this place has lost someone close to them to the terrible and terrifying disease that is cancer. How will the NHS 10-year plan help to improve detection rates?

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The Prime Minister will set out our ambition that three quarters of all cancers will be diagnosed early, up from just half today. Our cancer survival figures are our best ever, but we do not have world-class outcomes yet, as we must and want to. That is why early diagnosis will be absolutely at the heart of the NHS long-term plan—for instance, in radically overhauling the screening programmes that the Secretary of State mentioned earlier.

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I do slightly worry about the staying power of some colleagues. I will not say who, because it would be unkind, but there was a Member I was about to call who has beetled out of the Chamber. People have got to be a bit patient.

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South Tyneside District Hospital recently surpassed targets for waiting times, yet this Government’s forced cuts under the guise of sustainability and transformation plans have left my constituents fundraising to fight the downgrading of key services in court next month. Why is the Secretary of State presiding over this destruction by stealth of our high-performing hospital and the NHS?

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Of course, the STP proposals have to be clinically led and consulted on and discussed with local people. It is right that the allocation of services and exactly how they are configured locally is led locally, so that we can get the best services to people in Tyneside and across the country.

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In England, over 80,000 people have a stroke each year and about 20% of them die within a year. Can my right hon. Friend reassure me, the House and my constituents in Corby and East Northamptonshire that he not only wants to drive down that figure but has a plan to do so?

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Yes, I can. I feel very passionately about stroke and the impact that it has on people’s lives and the health service. We are working very closely with the Stroke Association to develop the new national plan for stroke in England as part of the long-term plan. That plan will build on the success of the Department’s stroke strategy, which ended last month, and look at how we can improve stroke care across the pathway. It will also, critically, include prevention so that we can protect more people from stroke in the first place.

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Despite the Government’s reassurances on the new NHS pay deal, it has left one of my constituents actually taking less money home at the end of the month and being required to pay money back. When I wrote to the Department, the Minister had the audacity to simply respond with a generic factsheet. Does he think this acceptable, and if not, will he give a meaningful reply to my constituent, who has done 30 years in the NHS?

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Yes, of course. We value everybody who works in the NHS. I would love the hon. Lady to take up this individual case with me directly, and I am very happy to look into it.

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I have recently been contacted by a constituent who works as a paediatrician in a nearby hospital. Last Friday, tragically, a baby died in their ward. The cause of death is unknown. Owing to the lack of a coroner service at the weekend, the baby had to stay for three nights with breathing tubes fixed in. For the parents, these are the last memories of their child. What steps will the Minister be taking to guarantee that the seven days NHS requirement also applies to coroners and histopathologists?

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My heart goes out to the parents of this child, my hon. Friend’s constituents, as I am sure it does from everybody in this House. Of course I will happily take up this individual case. But she raises the broader point, too. I am meeting the Justice Secretary on this topic to discuss what further we can do. It is technically a matter for the Ministry of Justice, but I understand entirely why we need to work together to make progress.

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Is not the Secretary of State alarmed that fake psychiatrist Zholia Alemi was revalidated in 2013 under the supposedly strengthened revalidation process? Why did the Government not act on the findings of the Sir Keith Pearson report in January last year, which pointed out this exact weakness in the system?

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The hon. Gentleman raised that matter with me last week. He knows that the Government take it very seriously and that we are asking the General Medical Council for an immediate review of that case, but I am happy to meet him to discuss it further.

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I welcome the new early diagnosis ambition for cancer, but does the Minister agree that for the people of West Oxfordshire, this is about delivery and having the people available to implement the strategy that he has worked so hard to produce?

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My hon. Friend is spot on, as always. Just last week, I spent time with the heads of all 19 cancer alliances in England, which are doing so much to deliver the strategy on the ground, including his Thames Valley cancer alliance, led by Bruno Holthof of Churchill Hospital in Oxford. The alliance was clear that we need more people across the board in “team cancer”, as I call it, and that is right. We especially need more radiographers, and we are working through that with Health Education England in the beyond 2021 plan.

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Today’s report on the amount of police time spent dealing with emergency mental health cases without support from mental health professionals is echoed by police in my constituency, who say that it takes up almost 40% of their time. Will the Government recognise that this crisis should not be dealt with police officers, far less in cells, and sort it out?

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First, I pay tribute to the work that the police do in dealing with people who are in mental health crisis. They view it as part of their core work, but clearly they should not be picking up the slack where services do not exist. I am working closely with the police service and other interested parties to ensure that we have sufficient crisis care, to enable the police to discharge their responsibilities adequately and in a safe way. We will continue to do that.

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My constituent Alice Sloman died during what should have been a routine MRI scan, following complications with the general anaesthetic that had been administered to her. Will the Minister agree to meet me and Alice’s parents to discuss the possibility of people, particularly those with existing conditions, having routine heart checks before such procedures?

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The Government express sincere condolences to my hon. Friend’s constituents. I would of course be happy to meet him and his constituents.

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Will the Minister support Plymouth’s Peninsula Dental School in training more dentists and encourage use of the underspend in the south-west dental spending pool?

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Yes. I would be interested to hear more about anything that can increase access to dentistry in the hon. Gentleman’s part of the world.

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Next year marks 10 years since the passing of the Autism Act. What more can the Government do to support people who suffer from autism?

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To mark the fact that it will be 10 years since the Autism Act was passed, we will start a formal review of that piece of legislation and the autism strategy, to ensure that they remain fit for purpose and heading in the right direction.[Official Report, 29 November 2018, Vol. 650, c. 4MC.]

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My constituents Kirsteen and Wilma Ord have had their lives blighted by the Primodos hormone pregnancy drug. The review that the Government undertook was a whitewash, and now the further review, led by Baroness Cumberlege, will focus only on people in England. She has said that she will consult groups in Scotland, but drug regulation is reserved. What will the Minister do to promise that my constituents will not be let down again?

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I met Baroness Cumberlege just last week, and I know she would be open to hearing representations from constituents in Scotland, to add to her understanding of this issue. We are determined to make full use of that review, so that we can learn lessons from this tragedy.

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Order. I am sorry, but we must now move on.