Topical Questions

Oral Answers to Questions — Health – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 17th November 2015.

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Photo of Kate Hollern Kate Hollern Labour, Blackburn 11:30 am, 17th November 2015

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

On Friday, I announced an ambitious plan to halve the rates of maternal deaths, neonatal harm and injury and still births by 2030 by learning from best practice in this and other countries. Following the tragic events in Paris, I know the House would also like my reassurance that we regularly review and stress test the NHS’s preparedness for responding rapidly to terrorist attacks. I have written to Madame Marisol Touraine, my French counterpart, to offer our solidarity and support. Vive la France!

Photo of Kate Hollern Kate Hollern Labour, Blackburn

Just after the election, the Health Secretary called childhood obesity a national scandal and made tackling health inequalities one of his key priorities. How will a flat-rate cut in the public health grant across all authorities, regardless of specific health challenges, as well as a further projected cut, under the reformulation, of £3 million in my constituency, help him to achieve his mission?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I gently say to the hon. Lady that we have to find efficiencies in every part of the NHS, and we are asking the public health world to find the same efficiencies as hospitals, GP surgeries and other parts of the NHS, but that should not be at the expense of services. I completely agree with her about childhood obesity, on which we will announce some important plans shortly.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, Chair, International Development Sub-Committee on the Work of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact

This is alcohol awareness week. In Scotland, the number of drink-driving offences dropped by 17% in the first three months after the introduction of a lower drink-driving limit. In the light of this encouraging evidence, is the Minister’s Department looking at the public health implications of reviewing the drink-driving limit in England and Wales as part of its alcohol review?

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

Obviously, tackling drink-driving remains a priority for the Government. We will be interested to see a robust and comprehensive evaluation of the change to the Scottish drink-driving limit, and I can confirm that Public Health England’s review of the public health impacts of alcohol will include drink-driving. Obviously, some of the issues my hon. Friend raises are for the Department for Transport, but I can confirm that we will be looking at this issue, and I will be interested to see the evidence.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Shadow Secretary of State for Health

On Sunday, independent experts, the King’s Fund, the Nuffield Trust and the Health Foundation, had this to say about the coming winter:

“Expect the inevitable: more people dying on lengthening waiting lists; more older people living unwell, unsupported and in misery; and a crisis in Accident and Emergency.”

Are they all wrong?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

They are right about the pressures on the NHS, which is why we are investing £5.5 billion more into it than Labour promised. Those pressures will be made a lot worse by the forthcoming strike, so will the hon. Lady clear something up once and for all: does she condemn the strike—yes or no?

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Shadow Secretary of State for Health

Let us be clear: if junior doctors vote for industrial action, one person will be to blame, and that person is the Health Secretary.

The Health Secretary does not want to admit that NHS funding is not keeping pace with demand and that over the last five years, his Government’s deep cuts to social care have left the NHS bleeding. Will he guarantee that every penny of the money his Department had set aside for implementing the now-postponed cap on care costs will go directly into funding social care?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

That is the difference: the hon. Lady follows the unions; I lead the NHS. When Labour had a big choice whether to support vulnerable patients who desperately need better weekend care, they chose political expediency—and the whole country noticed.

Photo of Seema Kennedy Seema Kennedy Conservative, South Ribble

St Catherine’s hospice provides outstanding end-of-life care, but receives only 26% funding compared with 34% nationally. Will the Minister confirm whether he has any plans to encourage clinical commissioning groups to pay their fair share for hospice care?

Photo of Ben Gummer Ben Gummer The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

I thank my hon. Friend, who is right to raise the issue of end-of-life care, which is central to our plans to provide better care across the NHS. Indeed, it was a manifesto commitment of ours at the general election. NHS England is looking at a more transparent, fairer and clearer funding advice formulae for CCGs. I encourage her CCG to look very carefully at that and to copy the example of some CCGs such as Airedale, which have put this at the centre of the work they do looking after local patients.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Labour, Brentford and Isleworth

I strongly associate myself and my colleagues with the remarks of the Secretary of State about the atrocities in France this weekend. What assessment has the right hon. Gentleman made of the impact of housing problems on the difficult task of recruiting and retaining clinical staff, particularly nurses in London and London’s NHS?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I do think it is a serious problem. People find it hard to live near to the hospital at which the work, particularly where housing is very expensive. This is an issue that we are looking at closely.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

Can the Secretary of State assure me that the NHS funding review that is currently under way will deliver a fairer formula for my constituents and many others across York and North Yorkshire by putting age and rurality—some of the biggest drivers of health costs—at the heart of this long overdue review?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt The Minister of State, Department of Health

Clinical commissioning group formulae are based on advice provided by the Advisory Committee on Resource Allocation. I can assure my hon. Friend that an adjustment per head is made for morbidity over and above age and gender, but as to whether or not one area is fairer than another, I am afraid that that is always a matter for local decision and discretion.

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West

Can the Health Secretary explain how cutting £200 million from public health budgets is consistent with the emphasis on prevention and public health as set out in the five-year forward view?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I have already explained that, but I hope the hon. Lady will understand that we also need the Labour party to explain why it is committed to £5.5 billion less for the NHS over this Parliament than this Conservative Government, on the back of a strong economy that her party has never been able to deliver.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Portsmouth South

Some of our GP surgeries are finding it difficult to attract new GPs. What plans do the Government have to train new GPs and encourage them to work in areas where it is difficult to recruit?

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt The Minister of State, Department of Health

We are very conscious of the pressure on general practice and of the pressure of ensuring that enough GPs are available. The Government’s plans are for 5,000 more doctors to be working in primary care by 2020, and that is supported by our recruitment, retention and returning campaign, as well as by efforts to ensure that medical schools do everything they can to ensure that general practice is made more attractive. This work will continue right through this Parliament.

Photo of Imran Hussain Imran Hussain Labour, Bradford East

According to Public Health England, life expectancy in the most deprived areas of Bradford is 9.6 years lower for men and eight years lower for women, demonstrating that there are clear health inequalities in urban areas in Bradford. The Government’s attack on the poor makes this issue worse, so will the Minister tell me what they are doing to tackle these inequalities and give people in Bradford the quality of life that they deserve?

Photo of Jane Ellison Jane Ellison The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

The hon. Gentleman will be aware of my earlier answers to other questions. A wide range of aspects of the public health work that this Government are taking forward attack that very issue—the inequality of outcomes for some communities. I gave examples earlier, including the family nurse partnership and the troubled families programme, which has a health aspect to it. More widely, the universal health visiting programme, which has just moved into commissioning by local government, contains significant elements that were designed exactly to support poorer families and disadvantaged communities.

Photo of Heidi Allen Heidi Allen Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

For the avoidance of doubt, will the Secretary of State please repeat again that he will enter into completely open-minded, non-preconditional negotiations with the British Medical Association? The public need to see that we are approaching this matter with an open mind.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I am happy to confirm that we are willing to talk about absolutely anything with the BMA to avoid a dispute that would be very damaging to patients. We do, of course, reserve the right to implement our manifesto commitment to seven-day reforms if we fail to make progress in the negotiations, but at this time, in the interests of patients, the right thing to do is sit round the table and talk rather than refusing to negotiate and going ahead with the strikes.

Photo of Simon Danczuk Simon Danczuk Labour, Rochdale

Rochdale infirmary now has fantastic dementia provision which really meets the needs of local people. Will the Secretary of State observe the good practice there, and look into how it could be shared more widely?

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I shall be happy to do that. We have made great progress in tackling dementia, and there are some very good examples all over the country, but we can still do a lot better. We now need to concentrate not just on dementia diagnosis, but on the quality of the care that we give people when they have been given such a diagnosis.

Photo of Chloe Smith Chloe Smith Conservative, Norwich North

What support will be available to hospitals over the winter? Norfolk and Norwich University hospital declared a black alert last week.

Photo of Ben Gummer Ben Gummer The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health

We are preparing for the winter on an unprecedented scale, having learnt from the experience of last winter. Specific support has already been provided for Norfolk and Norwich University hospital, and support will be provided consistently throughout the winter to enable us to deal with the additional challenges that are, I am afraid, being thrown in the way of hospitals throughout the country by the junior doctors and their industrial action.

Photo of Norman Lamb Norman Lamb Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health)

Is the Secretary of State doing everything he can to ensure that we secure extra dedicated investment in mental health in the spending review? He will know that introducing the access rights that everyone else already enjoys requires hard cash. I am sure he will agree that we must end the outrageous discrimination against those who suffer from mental ill health.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt The Secretary of State for Health

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his timing, given that the Prime Minister is now present. I assure him that we are committed to putting extra resources into the NHS, and to ensuring that we increase the proportion of those resources that go into mental health. I also congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the mental health award that he received last week, which was extremely well deserved.