Topical Questions

Health and Social Care – in the House of Commons at on 11 July 2023.

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Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Meon Valley

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Last week, on behalf of the Government, I signed a landmark partnership agreement with the pharmaceutical giant BioNTech. It aims to deliver 10,000 personalised mRNA cancer immunotherapies, including vaccines, to UK patients by 2030. This work will harness the groundbreaking mRNA technology that BioNTech used in its world-first cancer vaccine. Cancer vaccines work by stimulating patients’ immune systems to recognise and eliminate cancer cells, preventing their spread. Trials for BioNTech’s colorectal cancer vaccine are under way at multiple sites across the UK. To accelerate trials further, BioNTech is partnering with NHS England’s new cancer vaccine launch pad, a platform that makes it easier for both early and late stage cancer patients to join vaccine trials. In the coming years, hundreds of patients identified by the launch pad will join trials for BioNTech’s personalised cancer therapies, broadening the treatment options available to cancer patients. I hope the whole House will welcome the opportunity the deal offers future patients.

Photo of Flick Drummond Flick Drummond Conservative, Meon Valley

The announcement that a new hospital between Winchester and Basingstoke is going ahead is much welcomed by my constituents who will use it, as well as by those from other constituencies. It will provide a centre of excellence with better medical outcomes. Will my right hon. Friend meet local MPs, so we can update him on why the hospital needs to be built as soon as possible?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

I am always very happy for my hon. Friend and other colleagues to meet me or Lord Markham, who leads the capital programme. It is an important scheme. We are delivering it through the standardised Hospital 2.0 approach, using modern methods of construction. We are keen to progress early supported works on site, working closely with colleagues.

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

Last week, the Health Secretary said that he was willing to offer doctors a higher pay rise. Last night, the Chancellor slapped him down, saying that any increased offer will have to be paid for by cuts. How can the Health Secretary negotiate an end to the NHS strikes when he cannot even negotiate with his own Chancellor?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We have been clear throughout that Government decisions on the pay review bodies’ recommendations are taken on a cross-Government basis. The agreement that we reached with the largest group of NHS staff, those on “Agenda for Change”, has demonstrated that we are willing to work constructively with trade union colleagues, but the demand from junior doctors for a 35% increase is not affordable—indeed, the hon. Gentleman himself has said that he does not support it.

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

But the worst strikes in the history of the NHS are still to come. The impact of the junior doctors’ strikes and the consultants’ strikes will be devastating for patients. The Secretary of State has failed to stop these strikes for seven months. He has lost the confidence of nurses, radiologists, junior doctors and consultants, and he cannot even successfully negotiate with his Chancellor, so what is his plan to stop these strikes going ahead?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The hon. Gentleman’s message is not even consistent with what he said at the weekend in the media: that he was not in a position to offer more money to the NHS, and that the shadow Chancellor had made that clear—in a vain attempt to demonstrate some sort of fiscal responsibility. The hon. Gentleman has been clear that he does not support the 35% demand from doctors in training. We are demonstrating that we are working constructively with groups such as the “Agenda for Change” group—the largest staff group, made up of over 1 million staff—with which we have reached a deal. We have also been responding constructively to the British Medical Association’s principal demand for consultants, which was for changes to pension taxation. We are willing to engage constructively with trade union colleagues, but the 35% demand is not affordable. He needs to decide on his position. Which is it: his position at the weekend that the Opposition are not offering more money, or his position today, which seems to be that they will?

Photo of David Johnston David Johnston Conservative, Wantage

I have campaigned for more health services for my constituents since I was elected, and 97% of those who responded to my recent health services survey felt that we did not have enough doctors for the number of people in the constituency. Will my hon. Friend meet me to discuss how to sort this out and get my constituents the health services that they deserve?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

We are conscious that more is going on in general practice than ever before. There are 10% more appointments than before the pandemic, as well as 29,000 extra clinicians and nearly 2,000 more doctors, but we are conscious of the pressures that puts on the estate locally. I would be very happy to meet and have further conversations with my hon. Friend.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

I am sure that the Secretary of State shares my concern that school nurses report increasing rates of children presenting with health issues resulting from poor nutrition. In Scotland, the SNP Government have rolled out universal free school meals for all pupils in primary years 1 to 5 and special schools, and the expansion of the programme continues. What discussion has the Secretary of State had with Cabinet colleagues about following Scotland’s lead and expanding free school meal provision in England to improve children’s health and wellbeing?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Of course we have regular discussions, not just with Cabinet colleagues, but with our counterparts across the UK. I had a meeting just yesterday with Health Ministers, including my counterpart in Scotland, on the shared challenges. On the issue that the hon. Lady raises, as the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Neil O’Brien said a moment ago, we are providing significant support for households—over £3,300 in support—but we also have measures that target schools, including holiday support measures and wider health and wellbeing measures, such as our significant investment in school sport.

Photo of Julian Sturdy Julian Sturdy Conservative, York Outer

The Minister is fully aware of Bupa’s decision to close its dental clinic in York, at Holgate Park. I put on record my thanks to him for working with me to find a solution for those constituents affected by the decision. What is being done to reassess out-of-date dental contracts, so that we can ensure that increased demand is met and that my constituents get the access to dental care that they deserve?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We are taking action, which is why the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough met my hon. Friend recently. In his area of Humber and North Yorkshire, there has been an increase in the number of children seen by NHS dentists over the previous 12 months, so the picture is improving, but we recognise that there is more to do; that is why we have made a number of reforms to the dental contract and why we will announce further plans shortly.

Photo of Mike Kane Mike Kane Shadow Minister (Transport)

A recent freedom of information request by the Labour party revealed that mental health patients were left waiting more than 5.4 million hours for treatment in A&E last year. Last week, one of my constituents spent five days in A&E waiting for a bed on a psychiatric ward. When will the Government bring an end to this shameful situation?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We are taking significant action on mental health, which is why we are investing £2.3 billion more, compared with four years ago. We have targeted measures as part of our urgent and emergency care recovery plan, including 100 mental health ambulances. We are putting in additional capacity, such as crisis cafés, to support emergency departments. We are also making mental health support available through 111 for the first time, which will allow us to get to issues early, before people are admitted to hospital.

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

I was delighted when the Government awarded Stockton a new £25 million diagnostic hub, but my local Labour council, which is a partner in delivering the project, appears happy to accept months of delays in completing it. Does my hon. Friend agree that Labour’s delays could cost lives? Will he work with me to ensure that all partners understand the urgency of the project?

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

That is hugely frustrating, because I know how hard my hon. Friend campaigned for the Stockton community diagnostic centre and that he recognises the urgency of increasing diagnostic capacity locally. Delivery plans have to be agreed at a local level, so I urge Stockton council to work with him to meet the ambitious timeline and get Stockton CDC open as soon as possible.

Photo of Steven Bonnar Steven Bonnar Shadow SNP Spokesperson (DEFRA Team Member)

A recent report by the Trussell Trust warns that people facing hunger are more likely to be affected by spiralling debt and a decline in their physical and mental health. The same report shows that one in seven people in the UK faced hunger in the last year due to a lack of money. Will the Minister make representations to his colleagues at the Department for Work and Pensions about increasing support for low-income households, thereby improving public health outcomes for all?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

It is to protect public health that we have provided cost of living support worth £3,300 on average per household, and that is why we have been paying about half of people’s average electricity and other energy bills. However, we always look at further things we can do to drive improvements in public health.

Photo of Andrew Lewer Andrew Lewer Conservative, Northampton South

What steps is the Department taking to prevent chronic kidney disease, given that the recent report published by Kidney Research UK predicts a significant rise in cases of kidney failure in 10 years’ time?

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

In the last three years, the National Institute for Health and Care Research has invested more than £30 million in kidney disease research. NHS England is following a national approach to reduce healthcare inequalities, with a specific focus on some of the risk factors for kidney disease, such as chronic respiratory disease. As diabetes is the most common cause of kidney disease, it will be a focus of our major conditions strategy.

Photo of Marsha de Cordova Marsha de Cordova Labour, Battersea

Four in 10 people who visit low vision clinics have been diagnosed with clinical depression. It is vital that blind and partially sighted people have access to psychological therapies throughout their sight loss journey to address the impacts. However, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance does not include psychological support in the eye care pathway. Will the Secretary of State commit to reviewing the NICE guidance to ensure that psychological therapies are integrated into the eye care pathway?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

The hon. Lady raises an important issue. I would be keen to take it away and look at it to see how we can work together to pick it up.

Photo of Jason McCartney Jason McCartney Conservative, Colne Valley

Many of my constituents are still struggling to get NHS dental appointments, so what is happening right now—this week, this month—to increase the availability of NHS dental appointments for them?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

I know how intensely my hon. Friend is campaigning on this issue. The amount of NHS dentistry being delivered has gone up by a fifth over the last year, partly as a result of the reforms we are already rolling out. He will have seen in the workforce plan that we are going to increase training places for dentists by 40% so that we have the NHS dentists we need. However, that is not all we will do, and our forthcoming dental plan will take further steps.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

We have known for a while that our life expectancy is shorter than it was in 2010. However, we are now seeing impacts on children in the UK, who are about 7 cm shorter at five compared, for example, with the children of our neighbours in Holland. What is the Secretary of State doing on this issue, and will he support the all-party parliamentary group on health in all policies in assessing the impacts on health and health inequalities?

Photo of Neil O'Brien Neil O'Brien The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care

Of course we are taking action to improve public health, and that includes children’s nutrition. That is why we are spending £150 million on healthy food schemes, such as the school fruit and vegetable scheme, the nursery milk scheme and Healthy Start. It is also why we are investing £330 million a year in school sport and the PE premium and a further £300 million through the youth investment fund. We will continue to take action on this key issue.

Photo of Jonathan Lord Jonathan Lord Conservative, Woking

I am delighted that a new diagnostic centre is shortly to be built at our terrific Woking Community Hospital, very close to Woking town centre. Does the Minister agree that providing state-of-the-art diagnostic care right in the heart of the community can cut NHS waiting lists, reduce carbon emissions and, most importantly, help to optimise health outcomes for patients?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Not only do I agree, but I have been with my hon. Friend to see this scheme at first hand. He has championed the scheme vociferously and helped to secure that investment for his constituents. I look forward to working with him to ensure it is delivered as quickly as possible.

Photo of Tim Farron Tim Farron Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government)

Plans to remove overnight primary care clinicians from Westmorland General Hospital three nights a week are a massive risk to our community and mean that, overnight, people will be reliant on Barrow or Penrith for an out-of-hours doctor. Will the Secretary of State instruct the ICB to intervene to protect people in South Lakeland from this massive reduction in the quality and accessibility of services?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Some of us remember when the Lib Dems were for greater localism. One of the things we are looking at is how to empower commissioners, on a place-based basis, to make decisions on where best to place services. We need to move more services into the community upstream, to address the frail elderly before they get to hospital and to have more community services. I am happy to look at the specific issue the hon. Gentleman raises, but I would have thought the Lib Dems would support the general trend of empowering integrated commissioning systems to make place-based decisions.

Photo of Greg Clark Greg Clark Chair, Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, Chair, Science, Innovation and Technology Committee

Several important pharmacies in my constituency, including the one in Hawkhurst, have been experiencing pressures, with long queues of customers sometimes going outside the door. It is said that access to trained pharmacists is proving very challenging. Will the Secretary of State comment on the situation and say what steps he might be able to take to alleviate the pressure?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

There are a number of measures in the primary care recovery plan, from how we better use the skills mix within pharmacies to how we deregulate some of the tasks that take up pharmacists’ time, such as the requirement for a pharmacist to be present after drugs have already been prepared or to clip out tablets because they do not match the number prescribed by a GP. There are a number of areas in which we can better use the skills mix, and there are areas where we can take load off pharmacists. We are also funding additional services through Pharmacy First to support the pharmacy model.

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

The number of deaths increased by 13.5% in December 2022, particularly around influenza and pneumonia—up by 26.2%—so York’s public health team want to know what the Government are going to do about winter planning and when.

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We set out comprehensive plans for winter preparation in the urgent and emergency recovery plan. Similar to what I said a moment ago, this includes making much better use of community schemes, particularly those targeted at the frail elderly, and making better use of technology through schemes such as virtual wards. It has also put additional bed capacity into hospitals, with more than £1 billion of funding for 5,000 more permanent beds to help alleviate the pressure on bed occupancy and get flow through hospitals, which is so important to addressing the pressure on ambulances.

Photo of Steve Brine Steve Brine Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Health and Social Care Committee

Back to NHS dentistry, I am afraid. Later this week, the Select Committee will publish its report on NHS dentistry services. Spoiler alert: it will be uncomfortable reading for some. Will the Secretary of State tell us when and how he plans to bring forward plans for the tie-in of newly qualified dentists? Could that go hand in hand with a “return to the NHS” campaign for dentists who have already left that part of the service?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

It is characteristically astute of my hon. Friend to zero in on the tie-in, which is an important part of the long-term workforce plan. Around two thirds of dentists do not go into NHS work after training, so having a tie-in is more pertinent there than it might be elsewhere in the NHS workforce.[This section has been corrected on 12 July 2023, column 8MC — read correction] I look forward to the Select Committee’s report but, with some of the reforms already in place, we are boosting the number of patients treated. There were a fifth more dental treatments in 2022 than in the previous year. We are also making NHS dentistry more attractive with some of the changes to the previous 2006 contract, but we recognise that there is more to do, which is why we will shortly set out our dental recovery plan.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I have received a wave of concern from clinicians on the safety of using physician associates, following my Adjournment debate last week in which I raised the death of Emily Chesterton, the 30-year-old daughter of my constituents Marion and Brendan. Emily died of a pulmonary embolism after being seen twice by the same physician associate at her GP practice. The physician associate failed to refer her to a doctor or to a hospital emergency unit for tests, which the coroner concluded could have prevented her death.

Yesterday, on “Good Morning Britain”, the Secretary of State boasted of increasing the number of people working in primary care, presumably including the workforce plan proposal to triple the use of physician associates. Will he look urgently at the details of Emily Chesterton’s case and ask himself whether lessons can be learned to avoid other preventable deaths?

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

Having responded to the hon. Lady’s Adjournment debate last Thursday, I hear the calls she has made. I know that she has also written to the Secretary of State, and I will ensure that she gets a full response, with answers to all the questions she raises.

Photo of William Wragg William Wragg Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Chair, Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee

My good friend the mental health Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my hon. Friend Maria Caulfield—will know that I have been busy beavering away, together with the UK Government’s mental health ambassador, Dr Alex George, on the early support mental health hubs project. It will relieve pressure on child and adolescent mental health services and save undue distress and money. The pilot scheme is ready to go. Might I suggest that the shared outcomes fund could be the means to press on with the pilot?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Dr Alex George does a lot of fantastic work. I am due to meet him shortly in the coming days, and I look forward to that discussion. My hon. Friend is right to highlight the importance of getting more mental health support into the community, which is exactly what our additional funding is focused on delivering.

Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Labour, Weaver Vale

Eighteen community pharmacists in my constituency are reporting challenges on medicine supplies. What more is the Minister going to do to get a grip of this situation?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We have a long-standing team in the Department focused on medical supplies, which are a continual issue; as a matter of routine business, there are often challenges in that area. If the hon. Gentleman has specific issues he wishes to raise, we would be happy to look at them, but we have a dedicated team in the Department that focuses on that exact point.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West

As my right hon. Friend knows, I have been campaigning for £118 million of capital funding, the majority of it for Southend University Hospital, ever since I was elected. I am grateful that he has recently confirmed that the funding is secure. A new business plan is being submitted, including £9 million of enabling funding. Will he look upon that favourably and swiftly?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

As my hon. Friend knows, I have already met her to discuss this scheme, and the impediment was the business plan that came forward from the local trust—further work was being done on that. She is right to highlight our capital investment more widely. This Government have committed to investing in the biggest ever hospital building programme, with more than £20 billion. That is in addition to our long-term workforce plan—the first time the NHS has done this—in which we are making a further £2.4 billion of investment.

Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham

Is the Minister aware that the NHS North East and North Cumbria mental health and wellbeing hub is due to close this September? With mental health care in crisis in County Durham, that is an insult to the health and social care staff who desperately rely on those services. Will the Minister reverse that decision?

Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

There are two issues here. One is how much investment we are prioritising towards mental health; the other is how local commissioners choose to prioritise services within those communities, and whether we try to run all of those decisions from the centre in Whitehall or embrace the 42 integrated care systems and allow them to make commissioning decisions. The bottom line is that we are spending much more on mental health, with an increase of £2.3 billion compared with the position four years ago. That is allowing us to replace 500 dormitory beds and provide 100 mental health ambulances, three new mental health hospitals, 160 projects such as crisis cafés to support accident and emergency, and £75 million to help those with mental health challenges get back into work, which is one of the best prevention measures we can take for people who are suffering with their mental health.