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 recognise that NHS managers have a range of health care backgrounds and bring a number of skills to the table. Of concern to my constituents though is the fact that we are dominated by managers who tend to have administrative rather than clinical backgrounds, and they are making key decisions about patient treatment, and even about medical care and access to drugs. None the less, I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and her valid point.

This brings me to the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the reorganisation. I have been told that reorganisation will lead to a significant step forward in delivering greater efficiency for the people of north Essex. None the less, I constantly have to ask the PCT, “What does this mean? What will this look like? What are the costs of the reorganisation?” I was told last autumn that the PCT could not quantify the cost of reorganisation as the process of reconfiguration had only just started. I have been asking for updates, but as yet, have not received any. Each time I ask anything, I am told that my question cannot be answered “at this time”.

There is far too much uncertainty. I welcome reorganisation, efficiency drives and reductions in management and bureaucracy costs, but there are major implications for front-line services. The language of the PCT is constantly about reorganisation producing greater efficiencies, which I would not dispute, but the PCT still has no detailed plans to show what the greater efficiencies will look like and what the formation of the new cluster will mean for local services.

The merging of back-office functions to save money is to be welcomed and I have no issue with that. In this case, however, I have discovered that there is no forward plan in the form of a route map and details of how things will operate. I have been asking questions for six months, but I have not received any substantial details about the new cluster, the staffing arrangements and what it will all mean for patient choice locally. I have sent written questions to the Secretary of State about the reorganisation but, again, I have not had a response.

Will the Minister examine this reorganisation and ensure that more information is made available to the public so that they have some sense of what kind of decision making is taking place locally within the new cluster and the PCT, and what it will mean to them in terms of access to health care and local services? It appears that many of the decisions have been taken behind closed doors, with very little accountability and transparency. It is in the public interest to know what has transpired within the reorganisation, and what the new arrangements will look like as well as the costs and the benefits.

As the PCT should rightly be beginning its winding-down process prior to its abolition, I would like to hear from the Minister about the redundancy arrangements for senior PCT managers. I am sure that that is a matter that is naturally in their minds right now. In view of the colossal levels of waste caused by PCTs, my constituents will be very disappointed to see PCT chief executives and other senior directors receive golden goodbyes to boost pension pots or huge redundancy pay-outs. In the interests of accountability and transparency, all constituents across the country will be looking, during the NHS reforms, for some encouragement from the Government on that issue.

Before I move on to some individual cases, let me just say that I make no apologies for being critical of NHS bureaucracy. In my limited time as an MP, I have seen endless examples of red tape standing in the way of my constituents getting the best health care that should be available to them. I am overwhelmed by the whole culture of tick-box management that has pervaded my local NHS. It is something with which I have been battling, day in, day out, on behalf of my constituents. It is an alarming state of affairs.

Let me now draw to the Minister’s attention a couple of cases. I have been in touch with the Minister and the Department about the issue of Sativex. There have been two cases in my constituency in which the PCTs have refused to treat patients on the NHS with the drug Sativex despite their doctors’ recommending its use to help with multiple sclerosis. In both cases, the PCTs have been able to afford to pay more to their managers and to spend more on red tape and bureaucracy, but have refused to provide vital medical treatment to my constituents.

First, Mr Shipton from Tollesbury was recommended Sativex by four doctors, to help his condition. Those doctors are medical experts who have been treating him and who are aware of his condition and medical needs. However, last September Mid Essex PCT, acting through officials sitting on its area prescribing committee, thought that it knew best and decided that it would not accept a request for Sativex to be prescribed to Mr Shipton on the NHS. That left him in considerable pain and distress. It then took more than a month for the chief executive of the PCT to respond to my request for copies of minutes of the meeting at which that decision was made. The minutes stated that the PCT declined to prescribe Sativex to Mr Shipton

“due to a lack of evidence of significant long-term benefit. Clinical trials are of very short duration and do not compare with current treatment.”

Despite that, however, Sativex is already licensed—in fact, it was licensed last June—for use to improve symptoms in multiple sclerosis patients with moderate to severe symptoms, clearing the way for the PCT to prescribe it. Indeed, the PCT itself had made 31 previous prescriptions of Sativex in 2009-10.

My constituent, Mr Shipton, ended up sourcing Sativex privately, at the cost of £125 plus VAT per bottle, which is a course of treatment that lasts for only two weeks. Contrary to the conclusions of the area prescribing committee, the drug is having a hugely beneficial effect on Mr Shipton. If the bureaucracy of the PCT had not stood in the way, he could have received that treatment at a much earlier date and he would not have had to endure extreme suffering and pain, as well as what I would describe as an unnecessary bureaucratic process.

I have another constituent, Mr Cross from Tiptree, who has also experienced horrendous problems. In fact, his wife, Mrs Cross, is on the phone to my office on a weekly basis, updating us about the terrible position that her husband is in and the suffering that he is experiencing. He has had horrendous problems receiving a prescription of Sativex, although in this instance the obstacle has been dealing with North Essex PCT. Mr Cross is wheelchair-bound and in terrible pain, experiencing constant spasms. In fact, he has recently been in hospital. Given his condition, any treatment would be a welcome relief for him. There is double suffering for his wife, as it were, because she is now effectively his full-time carer. Once again, getting access to this drug has been terrible. He has had his consultant neurologist battling for him and making his case, and I too have battled for him and made his case. But North Essex PCT, despite issuing 16 prescriptions for Sativex in 2009-10, still refused to prescribe this treatment for Mr Cross and gave him a highly dismissive response.

When I took up Mr Cross’s case from September 2010 onwards, I began a process of constant correspondence with the PCT. All I received were evasive non-responses and the odd reference to Mr Cross’s “medical needs”, which were then just dismissed. I found that totally unacceptable. Mr Cross’s condition has since deteriorated and he has been in hospital again. There needs to be a recognition of the endless stress and strain that this process puts on his own domestic set-up, especially his dear wife who is now his constant carer.

There is a compelling case for action in both of those cases, to press the PCTs to provide this drug. Also, both of my constituents have made the point that they have spent their lives working hard, doing the right thing and contributing to society. They felt that in their hour of need the NHS would be there for them, but now they feel that it has not been there for them. That is unacceptable. Although I appreciate that the Minister cannot intervene in individual cases, I ask her at least to examine these cases if she possibly can.

There are two other cases that I want to touch on briefly. The first is that of my constituent Mrs Emily Wetherilt, and again I would welcome the Minister looking into it. It is another example of a local PCT failing to perform adequately to meet the medical needs of my constituents. Mrs Wetherilt is 96 years old and requires 24-hour care. However, despite her case meeting the published criteria for NHS continuing health care funding, Mid Essex PCT has refused to provide any care whatsoever. So there has been no support for her from the PCT. Mrs Wetherilt’s daughter has taken up this matter directly with the PCT’s panel twice and she has been declined on both occasions. The PCT categorically refuses to look into this matter again, because an appeal had not been lodged within the two-week window that was available to Mrs Wetherilt’s daughter.

Many of us recognise that in cases such as this one, when a constituent’s family is caring for them, the family’s priority is looking after their family member and it is not to follow an appeals process within a two-week window. People become very emotional and providing care takes precedence. That care is the priority. Consequently, the tone and the attitude adopted by the PCT are utterly bureaucratic and deeply unhelpful.

Mrs Wetherilt’s daughter has also offered to work with the PCT to find out whether it is possible for the PCT to part-fund her mother’s care, but that suggestion was dismissed by the PCT without even being addressed. That is another example of the inflexible bureaucracy that fails to put patients’ care and needs first. It is more about the process—ticking boxes and filling in forms—and that is wrong.

I have a final shocking case to highlight. It is one that I have raised previously in the House and it is that of my constituent, 14-year-old Bethanie Thorn. Last October, Bethanie was struck down with a terrible illness and left bed-ridden. She literally went from being a healthy teenager one day to being completely bed-bound two days later. The cause of her symptoms was unknown and she became unable to eat as her condition deteriorated. Nevertheless, she faced lengthy delays to get an MRI scan and the other vital checks that were needed to diagnose her condition.

It was only last November, when I raised this matter on the Floor of the House, that the Secretary of State looked into Bethanie’s case and appointments were made for her to have an MRI scan. People in urgent need of an appointment should not have to rely on the Secretary of State, local newspapers or their constituency MP to raise their case and sort appointments out. It shows how serious this case was that, shortly after her scan and check-up, Bethanie was admitted to hospital and she was only able to return home two months later, at the end of January. Her mother has effectively become her full-time carer and her family have had to battle at every single stage for care, appointments and treatment, which is appalling. I must say that, if Bethanie had received the appointment that she needed straight away, she would probably be in a better state of health today. The Minister will appreciate that this has been terribly distressing for Bethanie and her family.

When the NHS was pressed about this case, the only explanation given for the delays was something described as a “broken pathway”. I have no idea what a “broken pathway” is in NHS management talk, but the case has highlighted just how damaging poor performance and failures in NHS services can be to individuals. This girl’s life has changed beyond all recognition now. This case also demonstrates what can go wrong when there are endless layers of bureaucracy in the NHS; it was unclear throughout whether it was Bethanie’s GP, the PCT or the hospital services who were actually responsible for ensuring that Bethanie received the care that she needed. There was to-ing and fro-ing constantly—there really was.

Like all Conservatives, at the last general election I was absolutely proud to stand on a manifesto commitment to cut the waste and bureaucracy in the NHS, so that we could invest in the front-line services and give more powers to doctors and patients. I want to reiterate that in my short tenure—10 months—as a Member of Parliament, all I have seen are examples of how bureaucracy has got in the way. If nothing else, I will continue to battle to get the services for my constituents, in the face of adversity—that is, in the face of bureaucracy.

I welcome the measures that have been announced by the Government about the reforms and plans for the NHS. The purpose of mentioning these cases now is to highlight the fact that in Essex we have seen more of the non-medical side of the NHS in action locally than we have of the medical side, which shows the need for reform of patients’ treatment.

Finally, I want to draw attention to the fact that there is some hope for my constituents. That is the hope that they have placed in Government legislation to reform the NHS. As the Minister will recall from Health questions last week, Witham town is the most urban part of my constituency and Witham town council and others have put forward a very strong case for there to be more health care specialist services in our town. Although Colchester, Braintree and Chelmsford all have significant health facilities, including general hospitals and community hospitals, there is nothing for the people of Witham in our town, and there is nothing for the people from the surrounding villages. That gives the impression locally that there is a two-tier health system.

I mentioned at the start of my remarks that the Witham area includes some pockets of serious deprivation and has a growing population. Unfortunately, the PCT has not taken enough action to close the gap created by the changing demographics and local needs. Maltings Lane is a new housing development in Witham town. It has evolved over a number of years, and many more new homes and other facilities will be built there over the next 10 years, but it was begun with no plans whatsoever for additional health care services. That issue needs to be addressed in the long run, and I hope that the Minister can help my town council, along with our district and county councils, to work with the PCT and the forthcoming GP consortia to develop additional local services that seek to meet local needs. The issue is one of supply and demand, and there is a crying need but no provision.

As a starting point, the town council, to its credit, is working cross-party locally with all our councillors, and has put together a list of services that Witham needs, including an additional surgery, an out-of-hours walk-in clinic, minor injury, oncology and out-patient clinics and a diversity of medical-testing facilities. By adding some of those services to Witham and the surrounding communities, we will naturally see real benefits in the form of health care provision, choice and diversity, and we will enjoy the convenience of more local NHS services.

I am conscious that I have spoken for a considerable time and that many other Members wish to speak, so I shall conclude by saying that although I could raise many more health-related issues, I hope that I have given the Minister a real insight into the challenges that we face in Mid Essex, where we are surrounded by a lot of health activity but have had this bureaucracy that has stifled both the delivery of front-line care to patients, and the choice aspect of health care provision locally. I thank the Minister and colleagues for their patience in listening to my remarks, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.


Heal Lynne
Posted on 17 Mar 2011 10:42 pm

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Heal Lynne
Posted on 18 Mar 2011 10:58 pm

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Heal Lynne
Posted on 1 Apr 2011 4:51 pm

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