Asthma Outcomes — [Steve McCabe in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:40 am on 7th December 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Edward Argar Edward Argar Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care) 10:40 am, 7th December 2021

That is one of the easier things to do, given that this policy area belongs to the Minister for Care and Mental Health, my hon. Friend Gillian Keegan, so I can commit to her writing to the hon. Lady. I am happy to do that, though I suspect that response will come back to the point about clinical judgment and decision making. I will also commit my hon. Friend to writing to the hon. Member for Strangford on the detailed and specific point he made about the annual review.

The use of remote consultations and biologic medication that can be taken at home mean we have been able to support most people with severe asthma during the pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, NICE published “COVID-19 rapid guideline: severe asthma”, which provided guidance on starting or continuing biological treatment. In writing that guidance, particular attention was paid to streamlining the process of moving patients on to biologic therapies, to compensate for any barriers that may have occurred because of changes to the NHS in response to covid-19.

The hon. Member for Strangford raised the subject of unified guidelines. NICE’s updated guidance is produced jointly with the British Thoracic Society and SIGN, so it will update all three key areas. They are working with other UK expert bodies to develop a joint guidance for the diagnosis, monitoring and management of chronic asthma, which will update and replace existing guidance.

Community diagnostic centres or CDCs—another theme raised by several hon. Members—which diagnose a number of conditions, are to be launched in place of asthma diagnostic hubs. Diagnostics for respiratory conditions are part of the proposed core services to be provided by CDCs. I hope that gives reassurance.

A review of diagnostics in the NHS long-term plan highlighted that patients with respiratory symptoms would benefit from that facility due to the number of diagnostic tests involved. At the spending review, we announced an extra £5.9 billion of capital support for elective recovery, diagnostics and technology over the next three years, with £2.3 billion of that to increase the volume of diagnostic activity and to roll out CDCs. The planned increase will allow the NHS to carry out 4.5 million additional scans by 2024-25, enhancing capacity, enabling earlier diagnosis and benefiting asthma patients.

I am conscious that I need to leave the hon. Member for Strangford at least three or four minutes for his winding-up speech. One point that has come up among hon. Members this morning has been about prescription charges: a challenging area. Currently, we have no plans to review or extend the NHS prescription charge medical exemption list to include asthma. I heard the points made by hon. Members, but a number of conditions are analogous to asthma, in terms not of their effects, but of their chronic or lifelong impact.

Equally, a balance has to be struck with proportionate charges and the contribution that makes to the NHS drugs budget to facilitate the provision of new treatment. Approximately 89% of prescriptions are dispensed free of charge already, and arrangements are in place to help those most in need. My hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough alluded to the fact that to support those who do not qualify for an exemption, the cost of prescriptions can be capped by purchasing a prescription pre-payment certificate, and that can be paid for by instalments. A holder of a 12-month certificate can get all the prescriptions they need for just over £2 a week.

When we started the debate, I wondered whether we would use the full hour and a half. It is testament to the hon. Member for Strangford, and the contributions of all hon. Members, that we have, and I should stop here to give him a few minutes to come back. To conclude, it is right for him to bring this debate to the House. I am grateful, as other hon. Members are, because asthma affects many of our constituents, day in, day out, and while we have made huge progress, it is right for him and other hon. Members to continue to press for even more ambition and even more progress. I pay tribute to him for that.