NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE MP – Saturday 4th March 2017
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With the steadily growing pressures on the Queen’s Medical Centre emergency department in recent years – a facility that now sees around 550 patients per day when it was designed for a maximum of 350 – it’s obvious that we need a step change in the hospital A&E service. So it is a positive step that, as part of plans for a new trauma centre at QMC, Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust announced they are developing plans for an expanded and enhanced emergency department, which would enable them to better meet demand. But getting the plans agreed and drawn up locally is only one part of the equation; to deliver this upgrade we need the Government to provide the capital finance needed to pay for the building works (and the associated staffing package to provide the services).
I raised this issue with the Health Secretary in January, asking him to fast-track the capital needed to increase capacity at QMC’s emergency department. With these new plans from NUH now setting out the resources we need to deal with the increasing demand for urgent care services, I will continue to press Treasury and Health ministers to come up with the funds needed to make this a reality.
There are, of course, wider financial pressures facing the NHS and social care system and these will need long-term and nationwide solutions – and the Budget on Wednesday really ought to address this. But the campaign for 21st century emergency & trauma care is a specific step we must focus on for Nottingham and I’m determined to press Ministers to deliver the goods.
- On Friday I visited the local Women’s Culture Exchange to learn more about their work. The group is based at the Refugee Forum, and is a meeting space for women asylum seekers, refugees and those with a migration background. The group meet weekly to learn new skills, make friends and share experiences with women from a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds. Many of the women have fled some harrowing circumstances in other countries but unfortunately the system of asylum and treatment of those in great need leaves much to be desired in the UK. I will be taking up a number of the points raised with me in the discussion.
- This week I was invited to visit the city centre’s Barclays branch to find out more about the services they offer to customers and their activities in Nottingham. We talked about how customers are coping in the current economic environment as well as what kind of businesses are starting up in the area. We also discussed the organisation’s community links, including their ‘Life Skills’ project which aims to help young people into work by equipping them with interview and CV writing skills, and their apprenticeship schemes.
- It was good to catch up with Marsha Smith this week. Marsha set up Super Kitchen a few years ago, a network of social eating spaces aiming to offer affordable meals in their community. Super Kitchen is going from strength to strength, with Nottingham City Council recently agreeing to fund 10 new kitchens as part of their bid to make Nottingham the UK’s first ‘social eating city’. Marsha is now branching out into new projects around social eating, and it was really interesting to discuss her plans for the future.
- The revelation that thousands of letters about medical conditions and treatments intended for patients have in fact been languishing in a warehouse was a big story this week with the Health Secretary forced to come to the House of Commons to explain the situation. NHS ‘Shared Business Services’ have apologised for the administrative failure and currently a team of GPs have been paid to look through each case and check to see if any harm has arisen because of the missing letters. Because the Department for Health said that the ‘East Midlands’ has been particularly affected, in the Commons this week I asked the Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt to inform me as soon as possible of any Nottingham / East Midlands numbers or cases – and he promised to write to me about this. In the meantime, if you feel you have missed out on medical correspondence in this way, please do let me know as I would be very concerned if local services have been adversely affected.
PARLIAMENT AND POLITICS
- All public spending has to be approved by Parliament and each year ‘estimates’ of spending are debated. On Monday there was an ‘Estimates Day’ debate on Health and Social Care in which MPs considered reports from the Health Committee and the Public Accounts Committee. There were many issues raised in the Committee reports relating to funding for the NHS and social care. The NHS and social care systems are facing significant financial challenges as a consequence of an ageing and growing population. The NHS is required to find £22 billion of annual efficiency savings by 2020-21 and there are concerns that increasing demand for health services and pressure on council budgets are threatening the financial stability and sustainability of the health and social care systems. Last year 1.8 million people waited four hours or longer in A&E compared to just over 350,000 in 2009-10. It has been reported in the media that the Chancellor is considering providing more funding for social care on a short-term basis. The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services say the Government must invest an extra £1bn in the sector next year. I hope that a new improved funding settlement for the NHS and social care is brought forward in the Budget next week.
- On Tuesday the Work and Pensions Secretary was asked by my backbench colleague Stephen Timms to make a statement on the cuts to entitlement to Personal Independence Payment (PIP). PIP helps disabled people to fund their living costs, including the additional costs that they face because of their condition. As I mentioned in last week’s MP Update, the Government have issued new regulations to clarify the criteria used in assessing eligibility for PIP to overcome the tribunal rulings which allowed chronic “psychological distress” to be included in the PIP assessment. The Government has stated the regulations will restore the original aim of the benefit, but I am concerned that the new regulations, which will come into force in just over two weeks’ time, were issued without any consultation with the Social Security Advisory Committee. The regulations will reduce eligibility to PIP support for over 164,000 people with debilitating mental health conditions and I remain very concerned about the effects the regulations will have on the health and wellbeing of the people affected.
- On Wednesday the Bus Services Bill was debated in the House of Commons. In the mid-1980s the Government deregulated the bus industry across Britain, except in London. From almost the moment deregulation was introduced there have been calls to reregulate it. The Bill offers a step forward, offering an extension of the system that has worked well in London since then and provide the opportunity of improving services for passengers. However, I also know the risks of competition, and so I want to see strong safeguards, particularly in protecting workers from suffering a race to the bottom. I believe that local authorities all over the country need and deserve greater control over their bus services. I therefore believe powers to re-regulate local bus services should be available to all areas that want them, not just to combined authorities with an elected mayor. The Bill started its passage through Parliament in the House of Lords and was improved there. I support the Bill and was pleased to see it pass its Second Reading on Wednesday. I hope it now goes on to be further improved in its Committee Stage.
- On Thursday there was a Backbench Business debate on International Women’s Day. International Women’s Day takes place on 8 March 2017 and celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is “Be Bold for Change”. It emphasises that the economic empowerment of women and girls rests upon supporting women in the informal economy, getting more women into roles of leadership and protecting women from violence in the work place. While International Women’s Day is about recognising how far we have travelled in the fight for gender equality, we must also recognise how much further we have to go. In the meantime, I’m glad that the Government has finally taken steps to require large employers to publish their gender pay gap, but clearly there are questions about enforceability.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
In all the news about Brexit, Donald Trump and by-elections, you’d be forgiven for missing the usual speculation that typically accumulates in weekend before the Budget. Wednesday’s statement from Philip Hammond is being billed as a low-key affair, but the Budget ought to confront a series of challenges and will affect the quality of our local public services.
I’ve written about four of the drivers affecting our economic outlook in the New Statesman article at the link here http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2017/02/2017-budget-will-force-philip-hammond-confront-brexit-effect
Consumer spending power is taking a hit because import price rises are creeping up. Productivity in the UK remains a big problem. Our trade situation has got to be at the centre of policy because of the risk of severed markets with the EU. And the projections for long term national debt are truly scary – the OBR suggesting our ageing population and rising health costs could see debt reach 234% of GDP in fifty years’ time unless action is taken.
I’d be interested in your thoughts and observations ahead of the Budget as I hope to make some comments in response to the Chancellor’s speech and getting your input would be very timely.