It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to take part in this debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend Sir David Amess and pay tribute to my hon. Friend James Duddridge and my right hon. Friend Mr Francois for their contributions. They have all raised points that I wanted to come to and I hope I can respond to them in my reply, because the subject is very important. As constituency MPs, whether a Minister or no, we all recognise the crucial importance of local healthcare systems and what they deliver for our constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West is well known as a passionate advocate for his constituents, and has been for many years, but he was also right to point to his distinguished service on the then Health Committee, a Committee that has always done so much to drive thought. He mentioned a number of issues and said he did not want to blow his own trumpet, but some of the issues that he raised are now mainstream issues, and that is hugely important.
My hon. Friend was right when he said in his opening remarks that he thought the NHS was the best health service in the world. I completely agree; that is right. He is also right, of course, as was my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East, to say that it is the staff who drive the hospitals and the service for our constituents. As my hon. Friends did, I extend my thanks and those of everybody to those staff, and to everybody who works in the health service, whatever they do. They all contribute in a significant way. They also spoke of the role of volunteers, which was again right. I see the work that volunteers do in my local hospitals. People sometimes forget how that work contributes to the whole experience; it makes life easier for people at an extraordinarily stressful time. I also note with interest the comments made about the stars awards.
I had the chance to speak to Clare Panniker yesterday. She is clearly an impressive professional, driving change for the right reason, which is listening to clinicians and ensuring the best outcome for patients.
I wanted to make those remarks right at the start, and I will say a few words on the three issues that my hon. Friends have talked about—stroke, cancer, and transport and access. The national picture on stroke services is that there is a need to improve the quality of service provision and outcomes for all patients. It is well recognised that stroke is the fourth-biggest killer in the United Kingdom and a leading cause of disability. Although the 10-year national stroke strategy came to an end last year, a programme board was established in March 2018 to oversee the development of a new stroke plan. The fact that one has continued does not mean in any sense that the prioritisation has changed; indeed, that board is now chaired by NHS England’s medical director, Steve Powis, and by the chief executive of the Stroke Association.
To add to what my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West said about specific local issues, we should also mention the importance of the national context. I absolutely understand some of the issues that he raised, and he is right to say that changes, and the rationale for changes, should be clinician-led rather than politician-led. As my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East acknowledged, that is actually what is happening with the transformation programme, which is why I understand the frustration of my hon. Friends. They will understand that it is impossible for me to comment on that in detail today due to the referral, but I give the guarantee that when the process has ended and the decisions have been made, all my hon. Friends—not only the three who are present, but others who are concerned—will of course be given sight of that recommendation and the chance to comment on it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West has explained that he has a particular interest in transport. For the sake of clarity, it is important that I set out what has been agreed by the clinical commissioning group and what some of the alternative paths are, in response to the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford. On the transfer of patients, we all know that the CCGs have approved a treat-and-transfer model, whereby a small number of patients will receive initial treatment at their local A&E before being transferred to another hospital. Decisions on patient transfer will be made solely as clinical decisions and discussed with patients prior to transfer. Modelling by the CCG and clinicians suggests that, on average, 15 patients a day might be transferred from their A&E to a different site for clinical reasons and due to the proposed changes. It is a vital part of a joined-up service, especially where specialisation increases—the need for this may or may not increase. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford, I encourage hon. Members to continue to press this matter with the STP once it is resolved, because I think it is vital.