Topical Questions

Health and Social Care – in the House of Commons am ar 5 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Ceidwadwyr, Weston-Super-Mare

If she will make a statement on her departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am committed to making our NHS faster, simpler and fairer for all, including families, which is why the Government have recently introduced baby loss certificates. Nothing can diminish the pain of losing a baby, but we hope that this formal recognition of a life lost can help families to live alongside their grief. Indeed, since we announced the launch some two weeks ago, more than 37,000 certificates have been requested by parents.

That same commitment to families is why we are rolling out Martha’s rule across England, giving patients and their families the automatic right to a rapid review of their case—24 hours a day, seven days a week. Families and carers know when something is not right or their loved one’s condition is deteriorating. Martha’s rule not only recognises this powerful instinct, but allows anyone concerned to act on it and to make sure that the NHS listens.

With your permission, Mr Speaker, for which I am very grateful, I would like to alert the House to a written ministerial statement and a detailed letter from NHS England that has been laid this morning. It addresses a historical issue whereby women who received radiotherapy above the waist to treat Hodgkin lymphoma, and who were therefore at a higher risk of breast cancer, were not given annual checks. Yesterday, the NHS wrote to the 1,487 women affected in order to inform them. We expect all women to be offered a scan within the next three months, and NHS England has established a helpline and briefed GPs and relevant charities. The vast majority of this group of women will already have been receiving screening on a three-yearly basis, but NHS England wants to ensure that they receive annual tests, in line with the clinical guidance.

I wanted to alert hon. Members to that because, with the letters having been sent out yesterday, it is perfectly possible—indeed, probable—that they will start to receive queries from their constituents. I will of course keep the House updated. I emphasise, however, that what I have given is a summary, and I would encourage hon. Members to look at the very detailed letter from NHS England in order to reassure their constituents that we are scooping up everybody we can to look after them at this very troubling time.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Ceidwadwyr, Weston-Super-Mare

Like many people here, I was delighted by last month’s NHS dentistry recovery plan. How many new NHS dental appointments does the Secretary of State expect to be available in my constituency of Weston-super-Mare, and by when?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank my hon. Friend for supporting our dental recovery plan. Indeed, he is one of many colleagues who campaigned hard for it. I am pleased to inform him that dental activity, as measured by courses of treatment, has increased by 15% on the previous year in his local integrated care board area, and our plan will support further increases to dental access through some 2.5 million additional appointments across the country, including in his constituency. The first measure, namely new patient premiums, went live on Friday, and we hope to have the results very soon.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

With a general election in the air, I welcome what the Secretary of State has said about baby loss certificates and Martha’s rule—there is genuine cross-party agreement on this. I also thank her for advance notice of today’s important written ministerial statement.

However, with a general election in the air and given the Secretary of State’s principled, vocal and consistent opposition to funding the NHS by abolishing the non-dom tax status, on a scale of one to 10—one being utterly shameless and 10 being highly embarrassed—how red-faced will she be when the Chancellor adopts Labour’s policy tomorrow?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

One of the joys of being at the Government Dispatch Box is that not only do we have to deal with very serious matters, such as I have just set out, but we get to have a knockabout on the Labour party’s electioneering. The hon. Gentleman will know the Conservatives’ proud record on funding our NHS since 2010. I invite him to wait for tomorrow’s Budget to see what more this Conservative Government are doing to support our constituents, and to help our economy grow for a bright future.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Maria Caulfield, has said that the policy will be

“as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike.”—[Official Report, 28 February 2023;
Vol. 728, c. 710.]

As she speeds down the A23 back to Lewes, to defend her constituency against the Liberal Democrats, how on earth will she feel with all those embers of the Conservatives’ 14-year record blowing in her face?

Is it not now clear that, with the Government having adopted Labour’s workforce plan, Labour’s dentistry recruitment plan and now Labour’s NHS funding plan, when it comes to a record to be proud of, and when it comes to finding the answers, only Labour can deliver an NHS that is fit for the future?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The Leader of the Opposition is a former barrister, and barristers like to rely on evidence, so let me give some evidence on what the Labour-run NHS in Wales looks like. People are almost twice as likely to be waiting for treatment under the Labour-run Welsh NHS—21.3% of people in Wales are waiting for hospital treatment after a consultant referral, compared with 12.8% in England. Patients in Labour-run Wales are, on average, waiting five weeks longer for NHS treatment than patients in England, and the number of patients in Wales who are escaping to seek treatment in England has increased by 40% in two years. But don’t worry, folks, according to the Leader of the Opposition this is the blueprint—

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

I am talking to my local integrated care board about establishing the first centre of dental excellence in North Yorkshire, to be located in Harrogate, to build on the dental recovery plan. Does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that boosting capacity is critical to catching up from the pandemic, and that centres of dental excellence are a very good way to achieve it?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that we need more capacity in our dental workforce, and I know he will be a big advocate for his constituency. We set out in the first ever NHS long-term workforce plan that we will increase dentistry training places by 40% by 2031-32. Our dental recovery plan sets out many different measures to improve capacity.

Photo of Amy Callaghan Amy Callaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Health and Social Care)

Later this month I will be 10 years cancer free, having survived melanoma first as a teenager and again in my early 20s. Can the Secretary of State look me in the eye and guarantee that she is doing all she can to prevent others from getting the same diagnosis ?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Again, I thank the hon. Lady for sharing her experience, and of course we are doing all we can. I know that the SNP Scottish Government share our determination to ensure that cancer treatment continues to improve. England is diagnosing earlier and treating more. We have seen cancer survival rates improve by almost 10 percentage points since 2005, but we also know that four in 10 cancers could be prevented, which is exactly why we are bringing forward the smoke-free generation work. Of course, if the Scottish Government would like us to help with some of their waiting lists, we genuinely stand ready to do so.

Photo of Andrew Selous Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner, The Second Church Estates Commissioner

The general practice estates and technology transformation fund supported projects in my constituency and was appreciated by my local integrated care board. What evaluation has been made of it, and will it be continued?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I have had a number of meetings with my hon. Friend and know that he is determined to resolve some of these long-standing issues in his constituency. I have assured him that ICBs have the freedom to increase capital for primary care in their region, so long as their plans remain within their overall capital allocation. I will certainly be happy to meet him again to talk about what more measures we can take to support his constituents.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Labour/Co-operative, York Central

I held my first dental summit since the publication of the Government’s dental recovery plan, which I have to say was met with disappointment and frustration. The reason for that is that is not enough funding or flexibility, or the resolution to the contract. Will the Minister set out the timetable for when the dental contract will be resolved?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I am very surprised and disappointed to hear the hon. Lady say that. We are delivering 2.5 million more appointments through the new patient premium, which started last Friday. We will have information within a month to see which dentists have taken up this generous new patient premium to ensure that many more people get access to dentistry. Not only that, but we have golden hellos to attract dentists to areas that are underserved, mobile dental vans and, importantly, a new focus on Smile4life. That is going to ensure that all babies and young children have that fabulous smile for life.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Ceidwadwyr, Amber Valley

The Pharmacy First service has proved popular in Amber Valley, but some pharmacists report confusion because the ear infection service applies only to under 18s and patients are being referred to pharmacies when they should not be. Will the Minister either extend the service to over-18s or ensure that NHS communications are clear that this service is only for children?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

My hon. Friend raises an important point. He will be aware that a decision was taken that ear wax removal services are better done in the community and that ear syringing can cause problems. That area is under review and I am happy to write to him to address the specific point he makes about over-18s and children.

Photo of Nia Griffith Nia Griffith Shadow Minister (International Trade), Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I absolutely agree that we should redouble our efforts to recruit and retain more home-grown carers, as the Welsh Government are doing by paying them all at least the real living wage, but in the short term we have to rely on foreign workers. From her earlier answers, it appears that the Social Care Minister is happy to deprive them of the enjoyment of their own family life, while we expect them to give our relatives loving care. Will she think again and speak to Home Office colleagues about dropping this totally inhumane ban?

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

As the hon. Lady will have heard me say earlier, we are grateful to international care workers who come to care for our loved ones in this country. We need to get the balance right between international recruitment and our home-grown care workforce. On the question specifically on dependants, I say to her that every care worker who comes here to do work in the UK has a choice as to whether to come here or not.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Ceidwadwyr, Chelmsford

I thank the Health and Secondary Care Minister for visiting the new medical school in Chelmsford yesterday. This is the first time that students have ever been able to train as doctors in Essex in its history, and the results are phenomenal. This is living proof of the Government’s commitment to train the NHS staff of the future. What progress is he making to increase work placements for students so that we can train even more doctors, nurses and people for important roles such as physician associates?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I thank my right hon. Friend for her question and her kind invite to visit her constituency. I pay tribute to all the work she has done to secure investment in Anglia Ruskin University. She is right to highlight the importance of delivering clinical placements as part of the long-term workforce plan. I assure her that we are working closely with NHS England and partners in health and education to ensure that happens.

Photo of Alan Brown Alan Brown Scottish National Party, Kilmarnock and Loudoun

Medicine shortages have doubled in the UK in the last two years. There might be some global pressures, but two issues have particularly affected the UK: first, the post-Brexit regulatory framework; and secondly, the fact that the pound has tanked, making it more expensive to buy medicines. What are the Government doing to undo that Brexit dividend?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

The hon. Gentleman sounds like a broken record, as usual. The Department has no evidence to suggest that EU exit is leading to sustained medicine shortages. Shortages occur for a wide range of reasons and are affecting countries all over the world.

Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Ceidwadwyr, Mid Norfolk

Rural Norfolk is experiencing a dental crisis and a generation of children are in danger of going without dental care. I welcome the dental recovery plan, but I notice that it will be four or five years before we get more dentists. Last week, NHS Norfolk and Waveney integrated care board announced a £17 million underspend on dentistry. Will the Minister agree to meet with me and the ICB to work out how we get more money out now to help dentistry in Norfolk today?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

One of the many ways we have tackled access to dental care is to ensure that those dentists who have a contract to conduct NHS work are using them to the top of their licence. We are encouraging dentists to do that through the new patient premium and a higher rate paid for units of dental activity. There is so much more to the plan. Labour keeps trying to claim credit for our plan, but the truth is that our plan promises 2.5 million appointments while its plan promises a miserly 700,000.

Photo of Rachel Hopkins Rachel Hopkins Llafur, Luton South

It is imperative that we tackle the scourge of mental ill health in children and young people. Labour will ensure access to mental health support in every school and establish an open-access mental health hub in every community, paid for by charging VAT on private school fees. Why will the Government not adopt that plan?

Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Women)

I have a news flash for the hon. Lady: we are already doing all that work. Mental health support teams are being rolled out in schools—44% of pupils now have access to a mental health support team, rising to 50% shortly. Over 13,800 schools and colleges now have a trained senior mental health lead. Only last week we announced 24 early support hubs for 11 to 25-year-olds—they will not need a referral; they can drop in. There are 24/7 helplines available that can be accessed through 111. That is what we are doing.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Ceidwadwyr, Witham

Mid and South Essex integrated care board is seeking to remove vital community health services from St Peter’s Hospital in Maldon. Will the Minister meet me and our right hon. Friend Sir John Whittingdale to discuss the proposals? They will affect both our constituencies and are causing a great deal of concern.

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I would be very happy to meet my right hon. Friends to discuss those concerns.

Photo of Christine Jardine Christine Jardine Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Scotland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

I thank the Secretary of State for her offer to help cut waiting lists in Scotland. I listened to the frankly delusional statements from the SNP Benches about the state of the NHS in Scotland. We are in dire straits and suffer the same problems, particularly about GPs and appointments disappearing. When are we going to see an improvement in appointment availability?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

The hon. Lady will no doubt be extremely envious of the fact that in England there are 50 million more GP appointments now every year, which is a fantastic achievement by this Government. She will want to look at what is happening in Scotland, which has some of the worst health outcomes in western Europe, and challenge SNP Ministers over drug and alcohol death rates and falls in life expectancy.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Ceidwadwyr, North East Somerset

Will my right hon. Friend explain an anomaly in the “Agenda for Change” pay deal as it affects non-NHS providers? People working in the NHS for non-NHS providers may be eligible for extra money if the organisation they work for is in financial difficulties, but not if it is not. So badly run organisations are being rewarded and well-run organisations are being penalised, which seems to me to be perverse.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I am happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss the matter. We have reached pay settlements with the “Agenda for Change” unions, and we continue to reach pay deals with other unions. We are also supporting non-NHS providers whose contracts are dynamically aligned. It is a complex area, so I am more than happy to meet my right hon. Friend to discuss his concerns.

Photo of Florence Eshalomi Florence Eshalomi Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

The Secretary of State will know that NHS England is expected to announce the decision about the primary children’s centre for cancer treatment in south London and south-east London. Evelina London Children’s Hospital in my constituency is one of the only specialist centres in south London. Does she agree that the final decision should be made as soon as possible in order to benefit staff, patients and families? Will she join me in visiting Evelina London?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. In fairness, colleagues from across the House have been raising this issue with me because it affects a large population of London and the surrounding areas. I must leave it to NHS England to finish its consultation process, but I would be very happy to visit not just the Evelina but our other wonderful hospitals that look after children.

Photo of Maggie Throup Maggie Throup Ceidwadwyr, Erewash

Given the expansion of health services through Pharmacy First, what action is my right hon. Friend the Minister taking to ensure that communities such as Sandiacre in my constituency, whose branch of Boots is due to close at the end of the month, are not left without access to such vital services?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I am very happy to discuss that matter with my hon. Friend, who is a huge advocate for her constituency. It is always disappointing when a community pharmacy closes, but she will know that the launch of Pharmacy First on 31 January expanded the value and contribution of all our community pharmacies. It has been met with a £645 million investment over this year and next.

Photo of Gregory Campbell Gregory Campbell Shadow DUP Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office)

On access to primary care provision, will the Secretary of State assure the House that she will liaise with Health Ministers in the devolved Departments to ensure that rural communities do not lose out because of their isolated locations?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am very happy to give that assurance. I was delighted to meet Minister Swann yesterday to discuss his plans for Northern Ireland healthcare, including access to primary care.

Photo of Paul Bristow Paul Bristow Ceidwadwyr, Peterborough

I remind Members of my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency’s international recognition procedure will ensure faster access to innovative treatments, but it will realise its full potential only if it is matched by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s evaluation process. What is my right hon. Friend the Minister doing to ensure that the two processes are aligned?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

My hon. Friend will be aware that there have been delays with approvals by the MHRA and NICE. We are keen to ensure that those delays are reduced, and I am delighted to tell the House that significant progress has been made in both organisations. I am happy to work with my hon. Friend and both organisations to ensure that progress continues to be made.

Photo of Sarah Dyke Sarah Dyke Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Somerton and Frome

Figures obtained by the British Dental Association project that £8 million of the NHS budget in Somerset is going unspent. Will the Minister explain to my constituent, who is suffering in dental agony, why that is happening?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I encourage the hon. Lady to hold her integrated care board to account. We invest more than £3 billion a year in dentistry, and our dental recovery plan means that significant money is available for NHS dentistry. It is for the integrated care board to commission those units of dental activity, which now offer more money—a minimum of £28 per UDA. I am happy to meet the hon. Lady if she finds she is not getting anywhere with her ICB.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

I am currently working with a brilliant local pharmacist, Fizz, to open a new NHS dental practice in Belfairs in my constituency. Premises and dentists have been lined up, but we need the ICB to commission the service. Will the Minister meet me, my local ICB and Fizz to unlock that vital service as soon as possible?

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I am delighted to hear about that really good news for my hon. Friend’s constituents—I know she works tirelessly for them. Of course, I will be very happy to meet her.

Photo of Richard Foord Richard Foord Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Defence)

Wendy Hart had a high white blood cell count when she was discharged from the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. Her husband, Terence, described a dreadful, pointless 60-mile round trip home and back to hospital before Wendy died of sepsis. Will the Minister consider distances between acute hospitals and rural communities when reviewing hospital discharge guidance?

Photo of Helen Whately Helen Whately Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I am very sorry to hear about what happened to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent. I send my condolences to her family and loved ones. Clearly, it is very important that discharge decisions are led by clinicians, who can make a clinical decision about whether somebody is medically ready to be discharged. I have no doubt that the family may well take up that decision with local NHS organisations.

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Ceidwadwyr, Colchester

No doctor wants to be on strike, so I welcome the new deal with the consultant unions. It shows that by being reasonable, pragmatic and acting in good faith, unions can deliver for their members. Does my right hon. Friend agree?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

My hon. Friend knows only too well the importance of industrial action and the impact it can have on patients and on the NHS as a whole. I am pleased that the BMA has announced today, following the previous settlement that was narrowly rejected in its ballot, that it has been able to get back around the table with my officials and me. We have been able to find a fair and reasonable settlement that the BMA will advocate for and recommend to its members. We hope that that shows those who are choosing to strike that constructive negotiations, and trying to sort out some of the concerns that we know clinicians have, can be dealt with in a reasonable manner, which is of benefit not just to staff, but to patients.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

How many people were treated for acquired brain injury last year?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

The hon. Gentleman has caught me off guard—I will write to him. I am keen to continue working with him on that issue. As he knows, we have already shared draft details of the acquired brain injury strategy with him and members of the all-party parliamentary group, and I am very keen to continue working collaboratively on that issue with him.