Health Questions

10th October 2017
Philip Dunne answers MPs questions to the Department of Health.

NHS Staffing Levels

6. What recent assessment he has made of trends in staffing levels in the NHS. [901011]

Not only has the number of nurses on our wards increased by more than 11,000 since May 2010, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned earlier, but the NHS has nearly 11,300 more doctors, over 2,700 more paramedics, over 26,000 more supporters for clinical staff, and 5,700 fewer administrators. However, we recognise the pressures on staff from increasing demand. That is why last year my right hon. Friend announced a 25% increase in the number of doctors in training, and why last week he announced a 25% record increase in the number of nursing training places.

Huddersfield Royal Infirmary, which is in my constituency, is currently facing plans for a downgrading that would result in the loss of 500 hard-working professionals. Is it too much to ask for the Minister, or the Secretary of State, to visit the hospital, as I have requested, before those hard-working trained professionals are lost, and can he assure me—and my constituents—that those cuts, and the pressures on nearby hospitals, will not jeopardise the safety of patients?

Order. There is a growing tendency for colleagues to ask two questions rather than one, which is not fair on other colleagues who are trying to get in. Forgive me, but the questions are too long, and frequently the answers are as well.

I will try to keep this answer short, Mr Speaker.

As the hon. Lady will know, the local joint health overview and scrutiny committee has referred those proposals to the Secretary of State, and it would not be appropriate for me to visit the hospital while the referral is in progress.

On the subject of vital NHS staff, will the Minister join me in congratulating the thousands of community pharmacists on their daily commitment and professionalism? Will he confirm, once and for all, that he has no intention of downgrading their role and putting patients at risk? Surely he agrees that the Prime Minister would have been well advised to seek a cough remedy from a qualified community pharmacist rather than relying on an unqualified Chancellor of the Exchequer.

As the hon. Lady will know, we have inserted payment for extra activity into the contract for community pharmacists because we want more activities to take place in community pharmacies. For example, many flu vaccinations throughout the country are now being carried out by pharmacists.

I thank the Minister for the recent meeting that he had with me and other colleagues about Grimsby Hospital, which is in special measures. It was clear from a recent meeting I had with the chief executive that staff vacancies are one of the biggest problems preventing the hospital from getting out of special measures. What additional support can the Department offer in order to get the hospital back on track?

I was pleased to welcome my hon. Friend to a meeting a few days ago to discuss the situation, together with his Opposition constituency neighbours. One of the things that we will be looking at in the coming weeks is the allocation of the new doctor training places. As part of the criteria, we will be looking to ensure that some of those places are allocated to areas where it is difficult to recruit, such as rural and coastal areas.

The Minister has visited Kettering General Hospital and knows the wonderful work that the doctors and nurses there do. The problem that the hospital faces, however, is that too few of the doctors and nurses are full-time permanent members of staff, and too many locums are being hired, at great expense to the hospital budget. What is my hon. Friend’s advice for Kettering hospital on tackling the issue?

When I visited Kettering General Hospital we discussed excessive agency staff costs. One of the measures announced last week by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was a drive to invest more in both regional and local bank agencies within the NHS so that we can reduce the reliance on more expensive agency staff.

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Congenital Heart Services: North-West

13. What recent assessment he has made of the adequacy of provision of congenital heart services in the north-west. [901018]

As the hon. Lady knows, the adult congenital heart disease service provided in Manchester has been included in the long-standing clinical assessment of CHD services undertaken by NHS England, which is now reviewing the more than 7,500 responses to the public consultation, which ended in July. The adult CHD service in Manchester was suspended by the trust in June, when the only CHD surgeon left. Hospitals in Leeds and Newcastle continue to deliver level 1 care and paediatric CHD services continue to be provided by Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.

Is not the truth behind what happened that Ministers and NHS England prejudged the review and therefore left services untenable and unviable in Manchester? There are no level 1 adult congenital heart services anywhere in the north-west and patients are having to travel to Leeds and Newcastle for the treatment. Will the Minister apologise today to those patients for this botched review, which has left patients with a great deal of uncertainty and has meant that they have had to travel huge distances?

I am sure that the hon. Lady will not want to confuse her patients by suggesting that relying on a single surgeon for prolonged periods is necessarily in their best interests. The facilities that remain in Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are intended to remain and include CHD outpatient services for adults and children. Level 2 services also continue to be provided in Manchester.

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Topical Questions

T9. The last Labour Government downgraded Frenchay hospital in my constituency. My constituents and I have been waiting for several years for the much-needed and much-promised community hospital. What action are the Government taking to ensure that that finally happens? [900895]

My hon. Friend is a doughty campaigner for Frenchay hospital and keeps it uppermost in our minds. The way in which we are looking at the pattern of health provision for the next period is through the STP process, and I encourage him to engage with the STP leadership in his area and make the case for Frenchay hospital.

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The Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust capital expenditure bid would fund a 24-hour urgent care service, and it would also increase bed capacity and improve hospital performance in Gloucester and Cheltenham, to the benefit of patients throughout the county. When do Ministers expect to announce the results of the bid? Will they take this particular bid into careful consideration?

I am aware that, under the Gloucestershire STP, a proposal has been submitted for capital funding to support plans to improve the clinical environment for patients and staff at the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital. I am afraid that my hon. Friend will have to join me in awaiting the Chancellor’s announcement in the Budget as to whether there will be a second phase of capital funding for STPs. If there is any funding, it will be allocated thereafter.

Newly released NHS guidance makes it clear that walk-in services can have a future as part of urgent treatment centres. Does the Secretary of State agree with me and thousands of patients in Bury North that Bury walk-in centre can, should and must stay open and that Bury CCG should ensure this when it concludes its review?

Current plans by NHS England to look at the urgent and emergency care pathways include creating 150 urgent treatment centres by the end of this year. I am happy for the hon. Gentleman to write to me about Bury and will respond in due course.

Yesterday the private ambulance service that provided non-urgent patient transport at Bedford hospital ceased trading, leaving the East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust to pick up the pieces. Will the Minister order an inquiry to establish what went wrong, and does he agree that using private companies to run key services for our NHS is simply not working?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that private and independent providers of patient transport services provide services all across the country and support the ambulance services in that work. I will look into the case that he raises in relation to Bedford and write to him.

All of the local dementia and rehabilitation beds in my rural constituency of High Peak are earmarked for closure. In some cases, patients and their families will have to travel 25 miles across the moors to Chesterfield. Given the importance of staff being able to work with families to support patients to return home, will the Minister agree to look again at such decisions, which make this work practically impossible?
The hon. Lady will be aware that the STP plans being considered for her area include providing more services in the community by community nurses and other nurses in our community hospitals being reassigned, which will allow them to undertake care for more patients than they can at present within community hospitals.



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