NHS (Essex)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 15th March 2011.

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Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham 11:00 am, 15th March 2011

I am grateful to Mr Speaker for granting me the opportunity in Westminster Hall to draw directly to the Minister’s attention a number of important issues regarding the performance of NHS services in my constituency and in the county of Essex. I suspect that the matters that I shall raise and the constituents’ cases that I shall mention are by no means unique to my constituency or the county. However, the Government are developing the most important and, in my opinion, long-overdue changes to the NHS, and I want to ensure that the problems and challenges faced by my constituents are thoroughly and fully considered.

Throughout the endless reforms and reorganisations undertaken by the previous Government, the health needs of patients were never afforded the same priority as the expanding tick-box bureaucracy suffered by my constituents. One consequence of the waste that was created is that the money put into the health service never achieved the true outcomes that my constituents deserved and needed. That has led in part to my constituents suffering poor patient choice and health care services. However, we cannot change everything about the past.

The Minister, the Government and, most importantly, my constituents want an effective NHS for the British people; it should deliver value for the taxpayer, ensuring that the mistakes of the past are not repeated and that all receive the care and front-line services that are their due. It is therefore essential that as the NHS is reformed, the needs of local communities in my constituency of Witham are not overlooked or ignored. That is why this debate is so timely.

By way of background, I shall give the Minister some details about my constituency and some of the health care challenges faced by my local community and me that are specific to the area, and the nature of current NHS services there. I shall then highlight the excessive and overblown bureaucracy that affects the NHS globally, which demonstrates the scale of taxpayers’ money that is increasingly and wrongly being taken from front-line services. I shall also draw attention to some of the most serious and heart-breaking cases that I have come across in the 10 months since I was elected, which show that the NHS too often fails the most vulnerable. I shall conclude my remarks by putting the case for new NHS services being delivered locally under the Government’s planned reforms.

Witham is a new constituency, so I forgive Members for not knowing much about it. It is not far from the London commuter belt, and lies within the heart of Essex. We have tremendous public transport and road links to London. The ports of Felixstowe, Harwich and Tilbury are not far away, and we have some major industrial towns and centres. It is not surprising, therefore, that Witham has experienced significant population growth in recent years. It is an attractive area to live in.

The three local authority areas in my constituency are Braintree, Colchester and Maldon. Under the previous Government, they were required to build more than 27,000 new homes in the 20 years to 2021, and 60,000 new homes between 2011 and 2031. Throughout Essex, the current population of 1.4 million could easily grow by 14% over the next 20 years. Members will be aware from their own areas that population growth inevitably puts more burdens not only on infrastructure but on the local NHS.

The local plans, particularly those that affect my constituency, unfortunately give no serious consideration to ensuring that the quality and quantity of local health services can keep pace with projected population increases and changing demographics. Although top-down targets are being scrapped by the present Government, the attractiveness and desirability of my constituency inevitably means that more people will move to the area, so we can expect to see a significant increase in the local population. That will put demands on local health services that are already struggling to cope.

It is not simply the sheer quantity of people that NHS services will need to support; they will also need to adapt to the changing demographics of the area. Because our local communities attract young families, we need stronger maternity services and paediatric provision. However, the most significant demographic change will be an acceleration of the number and proportion of residents over the age of 65. In that respect, my constituency and the county of Essex are not unique, as health services across the country are responding to an ageing population. By 2021, the NHS in Essex, along with its partners in local government, will need to accommodate the health needs of 45% more people in the county living beyond the age of 65, and 75% more people living beyond the age of 85.

Some of the most significant increases in Essex are expected to be in the Maldon district, part of which falls within the Witham constituency. It is worth noting that about 10% of the Essex population provides assistance, caring for family, friends or neighbours, with higher than average rates in Maldon, where the number of working-age people available to care for older persons will have nearly halved by 2029. These demographic changes present serious challenges to the front line of the NHS in my constituency and in the county.

I am pleased to report that Essex county council is taking a strong lead in implementing the Government’s reforms to deal with the challenge. It has already established a health and well-being board, and the Department of Health recognises it as an early implementer. I would welcome the Minister’s reassurance that the Government, unlike the Labour party, which has made no commitment to NHS funding to support this work, will continue to increase resources when necessary to support the health needs of my constituency and Essex. I shall emphasise throughout the debate the need for the money to be spent on front-line care, not bureaucracy.

That brings me to NHS bureaucracy in Essex and my constituency, and specifically to our local primary care trusts. The Minister will be aware that the medical needs of my constituents are served by a number of NHS trusts and by the East of England strategic health authority. There is no general hospital in my constituency; local residents usually use the Broomfield hospital run by the Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust, which is based in the neighbouring constituency—that of the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend Mr Burns—or the foundation trust hospital in Colchester for acute care services. Mental health services are provided by the North Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

My constituents are served by two of the five primary care trusts in Essex. Those who live in the Braintree district council or Maldon district council parts of my constituency fall within the area covered by the Mid Essex NHS trust, whose budget for 2011-12 has increased to just under £520 million. Those who live in the wards covered by Colchester borough council find themselves being dealt with by NHS North East Essex, whose budget for 2011-12 has risen to just under £547 million.

Later, I will give examples of cases in which constituents have faced unacceptable problems with those health trusts. In the meantime, it is worth looking at the obscene levels of bureaucracy, administration and management that have taken hold of those organisations. The number of managers and senior managers employed by the East of England strategic health authority doubled under the previous Government from 1,300 in 1997 to more than 2,700 in 2009. At Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust, more than £10 million is spent annually on 29 senior managers and 79 managers. In the North East Essex PCT and its three predecessor trusts, the proportion of administrative staff rose from 19% to 33% between 2001 and 2009. The number of managers and senior managers increased from 25 to 84.

Finally, Mid Essex PCT, which serves the majority of my constituents, and its four predecessor trusts, saw administration and staffing levels rise from 17% to 33%, and the number of managers go up from 10 to 102. When we consider that those two PCTs were formed from seven predecessor organisations, it is fair to say that the growth in management and administration over eight years is quite shocking. The PCT now spends almost £13 million on management costs alone. That money, which my constituents and I view as hard-pressed taxpayers’ money, has been taken away from essential local medical care to staff a bureaucracy. Mid Essex PCT is also experiencing slippage in progress on its quality, innovation and prevention plan and, as a result, could now miss its year-end target by £2.7 million. On 16 November, the minutes of its remuneration committee, which have not been disclosed fully, indicate that performance bonuses were to be paid to the chief executive and its executive directors.

What concerns me is not just the vast sums of money increasingly flowing into the pockets of bureaucrats and managers, but the way in which the PCT is behaving and functioning since it embarked on its reorganisation. It seems to have no real idea as to what it is reorganising into. That is a cause for alarm. I hope the Minister is aware that last autumn, North Essex PCT and Mid Essex PCT decided to form a cluster with West Essex PCT under a new chief executive. The first I heard of that change was when I received a press release last September. In a massive blaze of glory, it was announced that the chief executive of the strategic health authority would form closer working arrangements with the PCT.