Topical Questions

Health and Social Care – in the House of Commons at on 17 October 2023.

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Photo of Aaron Bell Aaron Bell Conservative, Newcastle-under-Lyme

If he will make a statement on his departmental responsibilities.

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

First, may I welcome Opposition Front-Bench Members to their new roles, as there have been changes since we last met? Since then, we have launched a new £30 million fund to speed up the adoption of tech across the NHS. Even when local pilots prove their effectiveness, it often takes too long for those innovations to be rolled out nationally. This fund can change that, giving integrated care systems across England the chance to invest in tech that is proven to improve care, for instance in detecting cancer sooner. These investments will be made this financial year, getting patients care faster. We are also making more than 200 more medical school places available for universities from next September, accelerating a commitment that we made in the NHS long-term workforce plan and delivering more doctors to areas that need them most.

This Government are listening to patient voices too, particularly on the importance of biological sex in healthcare. That is why, following a consultation later this year, we will amend the NHS constitution to make sure that we respect the privacy, dignity and safety of all patients. The Prime Minister has also unveiled plans to introduce a new law to prevent children who turn 14 this year from ever legally being sold cigarettes, creating the first smokefree generation. Last week, my Department launched an expedited consultation to crack down on youth vaping.

Photo of Aaron Bell Aaron Bell Conservative, Newcastle-under-Lyme

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement, particularly what he said about tech. On dental provision, I recently met with Dr Khan of Westbury Park dental practice in my constituency to discuss access to NHS dentistry, which is becoming more difficult for many of my constituents. I welcome the plans we have to increase the number of dentists and I reiterate my support for a dental school at Keele University, but those plans will take time. In the short term, there is a huge backlog of overseas clinicians waiting to take the registration exam so that they can practise here. What steps is the Secretary of State taking to expedite this?

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

He is right that we are taking both long-term and short-term actions. A key part of the long-term workforce plan is to boost the number of dentists being trained. In the more immediate term, earlier this year we made legislative changes that give the General Dental Council the flexibility to improve the way professionals are registered, giving more flexibility in terms of the skills mix and, for example, tripling the number of people sitting part 1 this year, so that more overseas professionals can be recognised and qualified to practise in the UK.

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

In Mid Bedfordshire last year, 165 children—[Interruption.] I do not know why Government Members are laughing; perhaps they should listen, as it is not our party that has let down the people of Mid Bedfordshire. Last year, 165 children in Mid Bedfordshire had teeth removed due to tooth decay. Some 800 patients were forced into A&E for the same reason and 100,000 people across the region cannot get access to an NHS dentist. Instead of laughing, the Government might like to adopt Labour’s plan to provide 700,000 extra dentistry appointments every year.

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

Since 2010, we have had 6.5% more dentists, a quarter more appointments and, as we have just touched on, increasing flexibility in regulation and boosting overseas recruitment. It is striking that one area of the country that the shadow Secretary of State does not want to talk about is Wales, which has a record of what a Labour Government will deliver. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition says that he wants Wales to be the “blueprint” for what the NHS would be in England. There, this week, we have seen a fiddling of the figures on health. Even without that fiddling, we know people are twice as likely to be on a waiting list in Wales as in England—

Photo of Lindsay Hoyle Lindsay Hoyle Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, House of Commons Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Speaker's Conference Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Client Board Committee

Order. One of us has got to sit down and it is not going to be me. I let you have a good crack at the beginning, Secretary of State. Your opening statement took quite a long time, which I do not mind. I do not mind your having a go about Wales, but I am certainly not going to open up a debate between the Government and Opposition Front Benches. Topical questions are for Back Benchers and about short questions with short answers. I want it to be kept that way, so please understand that. There must be too many by-elections, because Members are getting carried away.

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

It is not just Mid Bedfordshire. Across the country, the No.1 reason children aged six to 10 are admitted to hospital is tooth decay. Given that, will the Secretary of State at least adopt the modest measure that Labour has proposed to introduce national supervised tooth brushing for small children—low cost, high impact—to keep their teeth clean and keep children out of hospital?

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

We are reforming the NHS workforce more fundamentally, looking at how we expand the roles that dental hygienists and dental therapists can perform. We are looking at how we can boost training, which is why we have made the commitment for more dentists in the long-term workforce plan, backed by £2.4 billion. How does that help? It increases the number of dentists being trained and we have a quarter more activity compared with last year.

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

Can the Minister confirm that the £312 million capital investment to transform the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust acute hospitals is on track through the NHS approval process, with its outline business case, to enable a full business case to be concluded in the coming months so that construction can commence during this financial year?

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

My right hon. Friend has long championed this cause. I hope it is good news that I am able to confirm that enabling works have recently been approved for the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust hospital transformation programme and are expected to commence this financial year. I can also confirm that funding has been provided for the development of the full business case and is expected to be submitted in the coming months.

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

New research by UNICEF UK has made clear how badly the cost of living crisis has hit the mental health of families with young children. Rising prices and services gutted by austerity have left 60% of parents feeling overwhelmed, anxious, unsupported and lonely all or most of the time. What representations has the Secretary of State made to his Cabinet colleagues ahead of the upcoming autumn statement to support families and to improve health outcomes?

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

That shows just how divorced the SNP line of questioning is from the reality of funding. The funding for mental health is £2.3 billion more this year than it was four years ago. We are funding 160 mental health crisis cafés and we have a programme of mental health support teams being rolled out in our schools, all of which is subject to Barnett consequentials on which the Scottish Government receive money. This Government are committed to investing in mental health. That is what we are doing. The question for the Scottish Government is why they are not getting the same results that we are.

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge

Most supermarkets practise place-based and price promotions mainly on ultra processed food—food that plays a key part in feeding the obesity crisis. How can the Government best ensure that supermarkets promote affordable, unprocessed and sustainable foods, not foods high in fat, sugar and salt, and, importantly how can we ensure that supermarkets comply with the regulations?

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

We have already brought in restrictions on the places that unhealthy food can be sold to stop pester power. That is on top of other measures that we are taking on obesity such as the sugar tax, calorie labelling, the extra money for school sport, and the extra facilities for young people. It is a serious issue and one on which we are taking urgent action.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Labour, Norwich South

I was going to ask a question about the shocking statistic of 85,000 people on the waiting list at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, but so poor was the Secretary of State’s response to the question of my hon. Friend Wes Streeting about the dental desert that I will tell him a quick story. Ukrainian refugees who come to my constituency are travelling back to war-torn Ukraine to have their teeth seen to because there is a better dental service there than in Norfolk and Norwich. What does he have to say to that?

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

As I have said, we have 6.5% more dentists now than when we came to power. There is also a quarter more dental activity this year compared with last year. I understand why the hon. Gentleman does not want to talk about the investment that we are making on the elective programme in Norfolk, because it includes funding for two new hospitals in Norfolk through our new hospitals programme and significant funding into diagnostic capacity, with a number of diagnostic centres being opened in Norfolk, which he does not want to mention.

Photo of Matt Vickers Matt Vickers Conservative, Stockton South

My local hospital, North Tees, is tired, dated and well beyond its life expectancy, with operating theatres too small to meet modern requirements, so I was hugely disappointed that my NHS trust failed even to apply for Government funding that could have built a new state-of-the-art surgical hub on the site. Will my hon. Friend work with me to ensure that the people of Stockton get the healthcare facilities that they need?

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

We will always work with my hon. Friend and the trust on capital improvements where needed, but I am pleased to note that the trust has been allocated significant investment from national programmes in recent years, which my hon. Friend fought hard for, including £32.2 million from our community diagnostic centres programme, which will provide vital testing to local residents close to home, and £3 million from our A&E upgrade programme. We will of course continue to work closely with colleagues in the NHS and the local trust to continue delivering for the people of Stockton.

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

Ten years on from the Francis report, the National Guardian’s Office—for freedom to speak up—reports that last year there were 937 cases where whistleblowers were not listened to and experienced detriment. If we add that to 170,000 complaints, with 30,000 reaching the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, we can see that the complaints system across the NHS is defensive and dangerous. Will the Secretary of State review the NHS complaints system, and embed a listening and learning culture and early intervention?

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

I discussed this with Henrietta Hughes, the patient safety champion, just yesterday as part of the sprint that we have commissioned in the Department in response to Martha’s rule. We are doing considerable work with NHSE colleagues on how we better respond to the concerns of patients, whether it is through the work on Martha’s rule or the complaints process, and a significant amount of work is ongoing as part of that.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering

The Secretary of State has seen for himself the dilapidated steam generators at Kettering General Hospital. The new £34 million net zero energy plant designed to replace them faces challenges from rising costs and new design requirements. Will he ensure that the final business case approval process for this new power plant is completed as soon as possible, so that spades can hit the ground on time in spring 2024?

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

Yes I will. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the way he has championed this issue. I have visited the hospital; I have seen it for myself. As he will be aware, the full business case was received by the Department this morning. While the cost has increased, it is still within the wider funding envelope for the scheme on that site and I will do everything I can to expedite the process as he asks.

Photo of Paula Barker Paula Barker Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

In recent months, there was a concerted campaign from the public to prevent the closure of Park View Medical Centre in Liverpool, which was subsequently closed by the Merseyside and Cheshire integrated care board. Not long after the conclusion of the campaign, during which members of the public were turning up to board meetings, the ICB announced that 50% of its meetings would now be held exclusively in private. I for one do not believe that that is a coincidence. What would the Secretary of State’s advice be to Merseyside and Cheshire ICB on transparency and accountability, and is it not time we looked at strengthening the guidance?

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

The hon. Lady raises an important point. I was not aware of that decision by the local ICB. As a principle, I think we can agree across the House that greater transparency on such meetings is important, so I will follow up on that. The Government are making significant investment into Merseyside; both Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and the Royal Liverpool University Hospital have been rebuilt at significant cost as part of this Government’s commitment to investing in the NHS estate in that area.

Photo of Chris Loder Chris Loder Conservative, West Dorset

Will the Secretary of State join me in thanking the outgoing chief executive of the South Western Ambulance Service, Will Warrender? He came to join the service in the middle of covid, during very difficult times, and did a lot of work to help, and that comes after his 32 years of public service in the Royal Navy.

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

I am happy to join my hon. Friend; indeed, I am sure the whole House is happy to pay tribute to the exemplary public service Mr Warrender has provided, both in the Royal Navy and with the ambulance trust, and to wish him a very happy retirement.

Photo of Daisy Cooper Daisy Cooper Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

Immunocompromised patients are facing their fourth winter without adequate protection from covid, despite a new study showing that they now comprise approximately 25% of all covid hospitalisations, intensive care unit admissions and deaths. In the last few days, some hospitals have been giving guidance to their staff that they should not even test for covid unless they are working on specific wards. After three and a half years, what are the Government going to do to put an end to this appalling situation, where some of the most clinically vulnerable patients are scared of accessing the healthcare they need for fear it could literally be a death sentence?

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

During the pandemic, as the hon. Lady knows, the Government prioritised the clinically extremely vulnerable and significant investment went in there. We follow the guidance from the UK Health Security Agency about the right level of infection control. More widely, we need to look at what medicine is effective. If it relates to immunosuppressants, there was a big debate in summer 2022 about that issue and we keep the science under active review.

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

I thank Ministers for their earlier helpful replies about NHS dentistry, but I am afraid the situation in Weston-super-Mare remains extremely worrying. Local residents regularly say there is not a single local dentist accepting new adult NHS patients, and many practices have actively reduced NHS work since the pandemic. I have pushed both NHS England and the local integrated care board, but all we have so far are PowerPoint presentations rather than bookable appointments. What hope can the Secretary of State offer to Westonians who have paid their taxes, but are not getting any NHS dentistry in exchange?

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

My hon. Friend is right. The amount of NHS dentistry being delivered in his ICB has gone up in the last year, but we want to go further. The NHS has recently commissioned additional children’s orthodontic capacity within his ICB, but through the actions we are going to take, we will go further.

Photo of Judith Cummins Judith Cummins Labour, Bradford South

Having 100% fracture liaison services coverage in England would prevent an estimated 74,000 fractures, including 31,000 hip fractures, over five years. Will the Minister finally commit to 100% FLS coverage across England?

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

In the interests of brevity, I will actively look at that issue and write to the hon. Lady about it.