NEWS AND COMMENT FROM CHRIS LESLIE – Friday 13th October 2017
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How do you feel our local NHS hospitals are performing? At our regular meeting between local MPs and the Nottingham University Hospitals Trust management team, I raised a number of issues that have been flagged up by local constituents – including access to emergency treatment, the ambulance service, staff morale and pay, and car parking affecting roads near City Hospital.
Peter Homa the current NUH Trust Chief Executive retires this month and so it was good to meet his successor – Tracy Taylor, who has until now been the Chief Exec at Birmingham Community NHS Trust. I’ve always found Peter to be open, accountable and helpful and so in thanking him for his service I wish him very well for the future. We also have a new Chair of the NUH Trust Board, Eric Morton, and so if you have NHS policy issues you would like me to convey please do let me know.
The QMC Emergency Department has been under significant pressure in the past few years as attendances grow and the A&E facilities – designed to see 350 patients a day – typically host 550 or more. The Trust management have put in place new systems to pull up the waiting time back up towards the target of 90% treatment within four hours (it is currently around 80%) and I will be monitoring this closely.
But we need significant capital investment at QMC to make this a truly 21st century world-class emergency department so this will be a priority for me in discussions with the Department for Health.
I’ve also been spending time seeing the fantastic work undertaken in our local NHS and meeting with clinicians – and it was a real education to observe surgical operations in the operating theatres at QMC Treatment Centre; learning about the latest technology available to anaesthetists; hearing how the scale of a teaching hospital helps improve patient care and seeing the array of medical devices that have to be prepared and sterilised by operating department staff (see pictured below).
Financial pressures are not going to go away so we need to integrate our NHS, social care and community services to ensure patients get a joined-up and coherent experience. Nottingham’s NHS will need investment but also strong leadership to maintain the quality of care we all expect.
- I was pleased to hear from the Minister for Employment that plans to close the Hyson Green Jobcentre have been abandoned. When the announcement was made earlier this year that all 16 staff would be relocated from Hyson Green to the city centre Jobcentre, I demanded in Parliament that the Minister reconsider the closure (watch here). So I’m glad that the DWP have reconsidered their short-sighted decision and that the Hyson Green Jobcentre will continue to provide a valuable service to local people.
- I was concerned to hear this week about a series of recent deaths of prisoners at HMP Nottingham. It has been reported that four prisoners have died at the prison in the last month. The Prison Service have released a statement saying that they are putting more funding into prison safety and have launched a suicide and self-harm reduction project to address the increase in self-harm and self-inflicted deaths in their prisons. They also note that HMP Nottingham have recently put in place a number of measures to increase staffing levels. This is the latest in a series of reported problems at HMP Nottingham which include violence, drug and staffing issues and I will be asking to meet the prison’s Governor to discuss these challenges.
- Nottingham Trent University has been named ‘Modern University of the Year’ in The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide for 2018. The university scored particularly well on teaching quality and student experience in the Good University Guide’s annual rankings, and has improved in a number of other key performance indicators since last year’s guide. This is a great achievement for the university, and I would like to congratulate the team at NTU on their award.
- You may well have heard a lot in the news this week about the continued roll out of Universal Credit. MPs, councils and housing associations have raised concerns about the speed at which Universal Credit is being implemented. According to figures from the Citizens Advice Bureau, it is projected that 19,500 families in Nottingham East will be in receipt of Universal Credit by 2022, so any issues with the roll out could potentially impact a huge number of constituents. Data from the DWP shows that 1 in 4 claimants are being left without an income for 6 weeks while they wait for their initial Universal Credit payment. Other problems with Universal Credit include monthly payments, which can be difficult for people who are used to budgeting on a weekly basis, and the fact that payments are automatically made to one person in the household, which could be problematic for people in abusive relationships. It is time for the Government to listen to the concerns being raised and to look again at their handling of the Universal Credit roll out.
- Last week the East Midlands HS2 Strategic Board launched their East Midlands HS2 Growth Strategy. The strategy lays out plans for an East Midlands Hub Growth Zone in the area around the hub station at Toton. This would involve a new ‘Innovation Campus’ with the potential to create up to 10,000 jobs, community facilities and new housing. The hub station at Toton will be the most connected outside London, serving a catchment of over 2 million people. The strategy also discusses plans for connectivity into Nottingham and other population centres, which is welcome. If you’d like to read more about the report, you can do so on the East Midlands Councils website here.
- Robin Hood Energy has been announced as the winner of the 2017 Local Public Ownership Awards. The awards are run by campaign group ‘We Own It’ in conjunction with LocalGov, and recognises the most forward-thinking examples of local public ownership from around the UK. Congratulations to Robin Hood Energy and Nottingham City Council on their win, and a special mention as well to Nottingham City Transport, who were awarded second place.
NATIONAL & INTERNATIONAL NEWS
- On Tuesday, the Secretary of State for the Cabinet Office made a statement on the publication of the Government’s race disparity audit. The race disparity audit aims to assess differences between ethnic groups and to identify effective strategies to reduce disparities. It highlighted inequalities across society, including that Asian and black households are most likely to be in persistent poverty and that the proportion of defendants who were remanded in custody was highest for black defendants, and particularly for black males. These figures illustrate the shocking levels of inequality across the UK. The Cabinet Office Secretary said on Tuesday that the Government would take action to address the ethnic disparities highlighted by the audit. However, I am concerned at the length of time it took to publish this report and, of course, whether Government policy will adequately respond now to the scale of the issues revealed.
- This week the Business Secretary made a statement updating the House of Commons on the trade dispute brought by Boeing against Bombardier. Bombardier is a Canadian aerospace company which employs 4,200 workers in Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the UK. Following a complaint by Boeing, the US Department of Commerce made provisional judgements to impose tariffs of 220% and 80% on Bombardier in relation to alleged subsidies and mis-selling into the US market. A final ruling in the investigation is due in February and would be subject to further appeal if the complaint were upheld. The Business Secretary stated on Tuesday that the Government considered Boeing’s action to be completely unjustified. He said the Government was working closely with Canada and that Ministers had met with US counterparts and Boeing to encourage the American firm to drop its complaint. The Business Secretary emphasised that the Government was working to bring the Bombardier case to a satisfactory resolution. What this case shows is the need for a strong alliance of sensible nations able to come together to fend of ridiculous protectionism like this – which is why I believe the UK would be far better to stay in the customs union with other European countries.
- On Tuesday, there was a general debate in the House of Commons on Baby Loss Awareness Week, which this year takes place from Monday 9 October to Sunday 15 October 2017. This important event is crucial in helping to raise awareness of the work of the 40 baby loss charities and the support networks for bereaved parents and their families and friends. NHS England offers some of the best neonatal care in the world, along with some exemplary psychological and bereavement support services. However, these services are not equally available to everyone. Last year there was a reported 25% variation in stillbirth rates across England. There is also huge variation in the amount of bereavement training provided to midwives and some maternity hospitals do not have bereavement suites. I welcome the Government’s commitment to reducing the rate of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and brain injuries that occur during or soon after birth by 50% by 2030.
- On Thursday, the Business Secretary made a statement about the Government’s draft Energy Price Cap Bill. The draft Energy Price Cap Bill provides for a price cap for domestic energy customers on standard variable tariffs and default tariffs. The Business Secretary said on Thursday that the cap would be set by the energy regulator, Ofgem, and would be temporary, initially lasting until 2020, with the potential for a three year extension if necessary. I have long supported an energy price cap. However, this legislation will not protect the most vulnerable customers this winter. Members on both sides of the House of Commons have been pushing for months for action on this issue, yet owing to the Government’s delays, millions of households could now face another winter of cold homes or astronomical bills. I am also concerned that the Bill does not provide clarity on the parameters of the proposed cap, but instead passes much of the responsibility to Ofgem. Furthermore, the Business Secretary needs to provide greater detail of how and when he will reform the energy market. A price cap, while welcome, is only a sticking plaster until radical reform of the market takes place. There are also some concerns that – if designed inadequately – many energy firms will increase prices up to the level of the ‘cap’ in a similar way that universities have done so with tuition fees. So I shall watch this area of policy develop very closely.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
There’s a general consensus now that the Brexit negotiations with the EU aren’t going as well as could be hoped. I’m being contacted by lots of businesses from across the country voicing worries that – if no transition deal is secured by the end of this year – they may have to reconsider where they are located.
We were expecting by now to be starting the committee stage of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, the legislation that will formally give powers to the Prime Minister to determine ‘exit day’ and pretty much everything else as well – including the withdrawal agreement treaty.
As you may know, I have tabled quite a few amendments to the Bill (see full details at the link here) and believe strongly that we should be working across the political parties to stand up for what is best for the country as a whole. That’s why I’ve joined forces with Rushcliffe MP Ken Clarke to table an amendment that would enshrine the Prime Minister’s promise of a transitional period in law, because so far this is only a verbal commitment. If we don’t get a transition, we mustn’t crash out with ‘no deal’ – our amendment would ensure that a fresh Act of Parliament would be needed before ‘exit day’ could be appointed.
I realise that there are people who will criticise me for working with MPs of different political parties, but I’m afraid that Brexit is the most pressing issue for our political generation and it is too important to put ideological difference ahead of getting the best outcome for the country. I’d be interested if you have any thoughts on where the negotiations are going – or on any amendments you’d like me to pursue in Parliament on all this.