NHS (Essex)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:14 pm on 15th March 2011.

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Photo of Anne Milton Anne Milton The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health 12:14 pm, 15th March 2011

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Williams. I do not believe that I have had the pleasure before. I congratulate my hon. Friend Priti Patel on securing the debate. The fact that she has attracted so many of her fellow Essex MPs is a testament to the importance of the issue. The health services in any MP’s constituency are always of major concern and it is fantastic to have an opportunity to raise some of those issues in the Chamber.

I must add to the comments made about the staff in the NHS. The staff in Witham, and across Essex, should be congratulated on their work. I trained as a nurse, like the mother of Ms Abbott, and worked in the NHS for 25 years. I understand, therefore, some of the complexities of their job, and their dedication and expertise in driving benefits for my hon. Friend’s constituents on a daily basis is valued greatly. As a Government, we want to ensure that we support all staff and give them the framework to provide the highest standards of care for everybody they treat.

Before I go further, the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington need not feel sorry for Government Back Benchers at all. She does them a disservice by suggesting that they do not see the reforms for what they are. They are an opportunity, for the first time, to bring patients and their clinicians closer together in shaping the services that they need. She is right to say that the previous Government put untold investment into the NHS. Spending on health doubled, if not more, in the time that they were in government. It is important to realise, however, that just chucking money at services does not mean that they will get better—we need to have value for money. Taxpayers expect and deserve that, and for every pound of taxpayers’ money that goes in, £1-worth of services needs to come out at the other end, and that is central to the debate.

We have set out proposals to free the NHS from bureaucracy and central control. My hon. Friend the Member for Witham eloquently set out her concerns, as did a number of other hon. Members, about those levels of bureaucracy and about her constituents receiving the health care that they need, with the choices that they want and with the highest standards that they deserve. Like all members of the public, we want to end the overbearing top-down oppression and give front-line professionals the freedom to innovate and make decisions based on their clinical judgment and the needs of their patients, rather than centrally dictated, process-driven targets that have dogged the NHS in the past 13 years.

Responsibility for budgets and commissioning care will transfer from bureaucrats to consortia of clinicians, so that we can drive up the very highest standards of health care and achieve the highest outcomes that are specific to local communities. My hon. Friend Robert Halfon raised the issue of inequalities in health. It is critical to have outcomes that are consistent for everybody, not just a few, and a much simplified system—without two layers of management, the strategic health authorities and PCTs—which is, actually, reorganised in a way that is less top-down and more bottom-up. Why are we doing that now? Now is the time to do that, because now is the time that we are determined to drive down the overall administrative costs to the NHS, and achieve a better dialogue and partnerships with health and care professionals in all sectors.

Pathfinder consortia are now in place across all five Essex PCTs, involving a total of 146 practices and serving a population of almost 1 million people. The Essex commissioning consortia pathfinder in the area of my hon. Friend the Member for Witham consists of seven practices and serves a population of 70,000—debates are often an opportunity to demonstrate that we know all about the figures. I understand that the Witham practices are in negotiations about forming a mid-Essex consortium.

My hon. Friend Mr Amess raised a point on funding. As part of our desire to improve the standard of NHS care up and down the country, we are consistently increasing the amount of money that we provide. Total revenue investment in the NHS in 2011-12 will grow to more than £102 billion a year. The allocations announced on 15 December will provide PCTs with £89 billion to spend on the local front-line services that matter most—that is an overall increase of £2.6 billion, or 3%. Of that, Essex will receive £519.6 million, which is a cash increase of 3.2% above the national average. From 2013-14, the NHS commissioning board will allocate the majority of NHS resources to consortia, and funding will be arranged so that every area gets its fair allocation, based on the burden of disease and disability, which, again, is a point that my hon. Friend raised. Details of that will be announced shortly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Witham discussed population growth and demographics, and the pressures that they will bring to bear. I am pleased that the county council is taking a proactive approach—that is the thing to do—to get ahead of the game and make improvements to public health. With an ageing population, it is critical that people stay healthier for longer.

On redundancy and staff, there is, in fact, a great deal of natural wastage in the NHS already, and there are schemes such as the mutually agreed resignation scheme, which is intended to help the process. To some extent, redundancy is dictated by legislation and locally agreed terms and conditions of service. Some good staff will move on to assist the consortia.

The clusters that my hon. Friend spoke about are an important part of the transition, gradually moving upwards through the PCT organisation. The new consortia come in at the bottom. I suggest that she arrange monthly meetings with the PCT because, clearly, there are many issues that she wants to raise, in particular individual cases. She discussed the problems of Mr Shipton and Mr Cross not receiving Sativex. Of course, that will change when we have consortia, and clinicians make commissioning decisions. That will change things, and it will increase the opportunities for patients and their families to affect decisions.

My hon. Friend spoke about the case of Mrs Wetherilt, which sounds absolutely dreadful—no one should have to battle away like that—and she has raised the case of Bethanie on several occasions with the PCT. I do not know the details of it, and, as she recognises, I cannot intervene, but it is important that systems work for people who have complex needs or diagnoses. It is critical that we get that right.

On that point, I know that my hon. Friend Mr Newmark would have liked to mention the new community hospital in Braintree. It is a good example of a community hospital that serves the local community, which is what people want. I know that he campaigned long before the present Parliament on getting the right services for pregnant women who need maternity care.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West has a long and distinguished career on the Health Committee. I could say that I learned everything I know at his knee. Having sat on the relevant Bill Committee, his frustration over the formation of the PCTs must at times be unbearable. Being a prophet of the unwelcome consequences of legislation is not necessarily any comfort, albeit it is to his credit. His comments about leadership are so important, and it is not just clinical leadership but leadership across the board. Something that does not often get a mention is political leadership. Politicians and people in government have to be clear, when they are talking about health services, that nothing but the highest standards and quality of care will do. We have to keep saying that and be unrepentant about doing so. What the Government can do is set the right framework and outcomes. We get what we ask for, and if we ask people to wait more than four hours in accident and emergency, that is what we will get. Whether or not that is measured does not necessarily determine whether anyone gets better. Therefore, the Government have to be clear about exactly what they want, and not chase headlines.

Linear accelerators: does not everyone want one? Everyone would like a linear accelerator. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West is right in saying that we have to take the public with us when we make such decisions. “Consultation process” is a hackneyed phrase now. I do not think that anyone has much confidence in consultation processes. What we have to do, and what I feel we will be able to do through the health and well-being boards and the involvement of local authorities, is get a real and democratic voice for local people. I share my hon. Friend’s dislike of the term “stakeholder”. We are taxpayers; it is our money.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow discussed inequalities, and was right to say that they are a matter of social justice. For instance, it is outrageous that in Westminster there is a 17-year difference in mortality: people born in some parts of Westminster may live 17 years less than those born elsewhere in the borough—that is truly shocking.

My hon. Friend raised the issues of alcohol-related deaths and obesity, and discussed the fantastic work done by many local organisations. Again, health and well-being boards will be an opportunity to put public health right at the heart of local authorities, which have a long and proud history of improvements in public health and bringing together all the organisations that do so much.

My hon. Friend was also right to say that there is tremendous social capital in our communities. In my travels around the country—I try to get out a lot, for fear someone might say that I do not get out enough—I have been fascinated to find in some of the most deprived areas the greatest social capital, innovation and response from local communities to do something about their problems. They want a way out of poor health outcomes and the crime in their area, and their resourcefulness is outstanding.

My hon. Friend Jackie Doyle-Price discussed variations between Thurrock and Basildon. She was right to say that they are completely unacceptable. We cannot interfere from the centre with appointments, but she was right to reiterate the need for first-class leadership, and it was good to hear her positive comments about the new chief executive. The organisations around the country that do well have good leadership, and it is not about driving a coach and horses through something, which is what I fear the previous Government tried to do. They tried to dictate from the centre and tell people what to do. Actually, what good leaders need is inspiration and enthusiasm. They need to gather people up along the way and have a clear vision of what everyone is working towards. Such skills are hard to define, but we recognise them when we see them. I hope that Essex will get the leadership that it clearly deserves, and for which all Members of Parliament in that area have been fighting.

I agree 100% with my hon. Friend on getting accountability right. As a constituency MP who has a PCT with one of the worst financial records in the country, I know that, sadly, it is the public who suffer as a result of poor management. We are determined to get accountability right. Again, that comes to setting the right outcomes.

I believe that GP consortia, health and well-being boards and public health in local authorities will result in the kind of joined-up planning that all Essex Members want, and that we will see the improvements in health care services and public health that we want. I have outlined some of the ways in which we intend to transform the delivery of services and ensure that, in the transition from the old system to the next one, we get a patient voice that is loud and clear, and that patients get the services and the care that they need and deserve.