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Topical Questions

Volume 670: debated on Tuesday 28 January 2020

As well as working to protect the public from infectious disease outbreaks, we are working to improve technology and recruit the workforce that the NHS needs. Figures just out show that we have record numbers of nurses working in our NHS—up by over 7,800 on the same time last year.

May I acknowledge the good work done by the Minister for Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Caroline Dinenage), resulting in a regional breakdown of the transforming care programme? It shows where progress is not being made, and that the target of 35% of in-patient beds being closed down will not be met by this March. How will the Secretary of State shut down these hell-holes, and will he hold to account commissioners who are still sending people with learning disabilities to them?

I am really pleased that my right hon. Friend has driven forward, and is holding us—and, in turn, the NHS—to account for delivery of this vital agenda; it is incredibly important to get this right. The number of people with learning disabilities and/or autism who are in in-patient settings is falling, but not as fast as I would like. We have a clear commitment in the long-term plan to bring it down by half. As she says, there is a target to bring it down by the end of March. The Minister for Care has done a huge amount of work to drive this forward, and we will do everything we can to ensure that all these people, who are some of the most vulnerable in the country, get the best support they can in the right setting. I welcome my right hon. Friend’s scrutiny.

T3. The West Suffolk Hospital has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. I guess all Members try to keep their fingers on the pulse of their local hospitals, but does not the fact that West Suffolk constituents are represented by both the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), show that something has gone fundamentally wrong in the scrutiny and oversight of our NHS? What has gone wrong, and what is the Minister going to do about it? (900454)

I would not draw that conclusion about my right hon. and hon. Friends. What I would say, though, is that I want all staff to feel that they can speak up and have the confidence that anything they raise will be taken seriously. That is why I requested on 17 January that NHS England and NHS Improvement commission a rapid and independent review into how the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust has handled this issue. I will be happy to update Members, including the hon. Gentleman, when that review reports.

T2. Last week, due to ongoing workforce challenges, Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust temporarily transferred all oncology services to Grimsby’s hospital. This is not acceptable to local patients. Will the Secretary of State join me on a visit to Scunthorpe General Hospital so that we can discuss this and other issues with local NHS staff? (900453)

I appreciate the concerns raised by my hon. Friend about that matter. I understand that the changes, which have been made for patient safety reasons, are temporary, with a review to follow led by the Humber, Coast and Vale cancer alliance. As we monitor the results of the review closely—I will continue to take a close interest in this matter—either I or my right hon. Friend will be happy to take up her invitation for a visit.

T8. In my constituency, year-on-year reductions in funding of both adult and young people’s mental healthcare mean that some of our most vulnerable citizens are falling through the net. Can the Government guarantee that adequate funding will be made available to tackle the mental health crisis now? (900459)

There have been year-on-year increases in funding for mental health services, but there is also an increase in demand. The long-term plan has the largest increase reserved for mental health services, because we want to see mental health and physical health treated on a par.

T4. Labour’s private finance initiative contract means that Royal Stoke University Hospital is paying double the interest on its debt than if it had been funded directly from the Treasury—money that should be going to improve patient care. Will my hon. Friend agree to look at how these costs can be mitigated? (900455)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who, along with my other hon. Friends who represent Stoke, has raised this issue in the past; they are right to highlight it. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that Labour’s PFI deal has left the trust burdened with debt. My Department’s PFI centre of best practice supports trusts in ensuring best value, and I will happily ask it to work with him. Yesterday I also committed to meet him and my other hon. Friends to discuss this matter.

Throughout the election there were empty promises from the Conservatives, and one of those promises was to tackle the social care system—but there is still no Green Paper. There are dementia patients who are trapped in hospital due to an inadequate social care system, and yet this Government still do nothing. How many more families have to suffer before this Government act?

In Maghull, Formby and Crosby in my constituency, the health facilities are simply not fit for purpose. Significant house building will only make matters worse and make it that much harder for the Secretary of State to deliver on the promises he set out earlier in today’s Question Time. Will he meet me to discuss how to get the funding so that we have the state-of-the-art, high-quality facilities that my constituents and medical staff need?

I spent much of the latter part of last year travelling around the hon. Gentleman’s part of the world and meeting then candidates. I am very happy to meet him to see how we can use the record levels of capital investment in our NHS—the record levels of funding that he should support—to support his constituents as well as everybody else’s.

T5. Tameside Hospital A&E has seen a huge increase in patient numbers, often leading to overcrowding, with patients being assessed and treated in unsuitable areas. The Government have rightly responded by committing to building a new urgent care centre for Tameside. Will the Secretary of State update the House on when construction is due to begin? (900456)

We want to begin construction urgently. My hon. Friend has been assiduous in promoting and supporting this project, which he has raised with me a number of times. I look forward to meeting him in the next week or so to go through the details of when we can see it open.

T6. My right hon. Friend will know that the A&E services at Burnley General Hospital were closed in 2007 by the then Labour Administration. Given our record investment in the NHS, and the pressures on the A&E, will he agree to meet me to talk through the future of the hospital and the services we can provide locally? (900457)

My hon. Friend, like his colleagues, has already proved himself to be a doughty champion for his constituency. The urgent care centre at Burnley General Hospital will continue to play an important role in meeting urgent care needs locally, but he is right to highlight the broader importance of Burnley as part of the health ecosystem in his area. I would be delighted to meet him.

There are real concerns in east London about the big delays in the breast cancer screening programme, meaning that many women are not getting their first screening until close to their 53rd birthday. Will the Minister meet me and other concerned east London MPs to ensure that we tackle that, to the benefit of our constituents?

I would be delighted to meet the hon. Lady and other east London MPs. Mike Richards has done a review of screening, and we need to level up and ensure that everybody can access screening.

T7. In December, more than 2,200 patients waited in excess of 12 hours in A&E departments in north Wales. What is the Secretary of State’s response to the Welsh Government, who have managed the health board in special measures for nearly five years? [R] (900458)

I worry about the delivery of health services to people in Wales. Although this issue is devolved, I am the UK Health Minister, and my hon. Friend is right to raise that issue for his constituents. The number of people waiting more than one year in Wales is over 4,000. In England, despite the much larger population, it is only just over 1,000. The Welsh NHS, frankly, is an advert for why people should not want the Labour party running the NHS.

A number of women in my constituency have recently been in touch who are going through the menopause and struggling to access hormone replacement therapy, which they really need. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of current supplies of HRT, and what is he doing to address the shortages?

That is obviously an incredibly important issue. The shortages come from problems with factories outside the UK. We have been working hard on it through the autumn. I am advised that the shortages are starting to be mitigated and that production is back up and running, but we keep a close eye on it, because I understand how important it is.

T9. Will my hon. Friend commit to working with me to secure the long-term future of hospice services in any reorganisation of the Mount Vernon Hospital site in my constituency? (900460)

We are very committed to hospice services, which is why an additional £25 million went into hospices last year. I am certainly happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the hospices in his area.

Cuts to local government budgets have led to cuts to public health budgets, which have led to cuts to preventive services, which have led to greater demand in A&E and social care. It is bad for individuals, and it is terrible for the health and social care system, yet this weekend, we saw media reports that there are more cuts coming to local government, especially in the poorest communities. Can the Secretary of State assure us that he will tell colleagues in the Treasury and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government that those cuts cannot take place?

I do not need to, because we are clear that there is an increase in the spending power of local authorities and in the public health grant.

T10. Last week was Cervical Cancer Prevention Week. Will my hon. Friend join me in commending the work of my constituent Maria Dullaghan and the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, which campaigns to raise awareness? Will she underline the Government’s support for Sir Mike Richards’s review of the adult screening programme? (900461)

I am delighted to join my right hon. Friend in congratulating Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust on the work it does. I had the pleasure of meeting its team only last week, who do fantastic work to raise awareness of vital cervical screening. He is right about Mike Richards’s review. We must ensure that we screen all the available population in order to see cervical cancer eliminated for good, which would be brilliant. I am delighted to support this year’s “Smear for smear” campaign. There is nothing shameful about human papillomavirus, and we must bust the myths, because being tested can save someone’s life.

Following the desperately upsetting news headlines last week about preventable baby deaths at East Kent, including that of Harry Richford, aged just seven days old, whose death was described by the coroner as “wholly avoidable”, will the Secretary of State join me and Harry’s family in calling for a full, transparent public inquiry?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this issue, and also my hon. Friend the Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke), who made an excellent speech last night about this very issue at East Kent. I would like to reassure the hon. Lady that the Care Quality Commission conducted a further investigation of the whole trust last week and will take enforcement action if necessary. On Monday, I asked it to provide a summary report within 14 days. The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch has examined 26 individual maternity cases at the trust, and it has already reported on 15. It was also asked on Monday to complete its work within 14 days and to send in a summary report to give us further information.

The Secretary of State will know that my local Labour party has been running an outrageous campaign saying that the Parsons Green walk-in centre is set to close. The clinical commissioning group has confirmed that that is not the case, and the facility is both busy and popular. Will he join me in condemning this latest scare tactic from my local Labour party about local NHS facilities that are both popular and well used?

That is absolutely right. Last year, my right hon. Friend campaigned for and secured the long-term future of the Parsons Green walk-in centre. That announcement was made, and then the scaremongering carried on, supported by the local Labour party and the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), who is a disgrace in the way he campaigns because it worries vulnerable people who think that things are going to close. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend and send a message to people far and wide in Parsons Green that their walk-in centre is staying open.

Order. I am sure the Secretary of State would acknowledge that I am trying to get the last few questions in, and I think we can speed up rather than trying to make any last final points.

May I ask the Secretary of State what screening plans are in place for those arriving in the UK from China, and has a contingency fund been established to tackle the potential effects of the coronavirus?

Of course, it is incredibly important that we have appropriate measures in place for those who return from China—not only those returning from outside Wuhan, but those returning from Wuhan should they do so. Those are being put in place, and of course we are making budgets available to ensure that all necessary support is given.

Order. Unfortunately, that is the end of questions. I hope that we will get in a few more next time.

The House will wish to be aware that there will be a statement today after the conclusion of proceedings on the Direct Payments to Farmers (Legislative Continuity) Bill. I cannot confirm a time exactly, but it should be before 3.30 pm, and the start of proceedings on the Third Reading of the Bill will serve to give some notice of the likely start time. I hope that is helpful to Members.