Philip Dunne responds on behalf of the Government to a debate on Corby urgent care centre.
Thank you, Mr Chope, for chairing the debate in your inimitable style. I was intrigued to learn that my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Tom Pursglove) had not used the precincts of Westminster Hall to raise an issue before; I was somewhat surprised, because he is such an assiduous campaigner for his constituency and such a frequent contributor in the main Chamber. The reason may simply be that he does not manage to find time to get into Westminster Hall, so often does he raise his constituents’ interests on the Floor of the House. It is good to see him so well supported again today by his constituency neighbours from Wellingborough and Kettering.
We have discussed this matter privately and, to a limited degree, on the Floor of the House. My hon. Friend the Member for Corby referred to the Adjournment debate to which he contributed before Parliament rose for the summer recess. We have also discussed during the summer, as events unfolded in a more unpredictable way, what could be done to secure the future of the facility for which he has advocated so well today.
I feel reasonably up to speed with events in Corby; for the benefit of other Members present, I will rehearse a small number of them. I will not go in to too much detail, not least because at the heart of the issue has been a contractual dispute, which has limited the ability of participants to describe the nature of it. That has, in itself, given rise to some problems in communicating to the local population what the problem has been. We remain bound by the confidentiality arrangements around the legal procedure, but suffice it to say that, as my hon. Friend correctly observes, we are close to a point where action has to be taken to maintain the facility from the end of this month.
From my conversations with the CCG leadership in preparation for this debate, I can assure my hon. Friend that on that side of the negotiating table they are determined to ensure that continuity of service is provided through the rolling four-month contract. They alerted him to that contract at the end of last month and are engaging with the provider, Lakeside+, to try to reach agreement. There is no doubt that without an agreement, some of the services would have to be provided in an alternative and less satisfactory way for the local population. That is inevitable, if it is put together in a short timeframe.
It is in everybody’s interest to make this work, but it will be a precursor to a longer-term solution, which is clearly required for the local population. I am pleased that my hon. Friend recognises that such a solution needs to be widely consulted on. Indeed, he is pressing for a more fulsome consultation than is perhaps typical. Given the circumstances surrounding this case, I will be urging the CCG regarding that full consultation. I have been alerted that it is due to start in November, and think that he has been given the same information.
I was not aware of a pre-consultation, and am not quite sure what it means. Hopefully, it means providing an opportunity to ensure that the full consultation is as detailed as necessary. I am quite sure that my hon. Friend will encourage all those who have been in touch with him to participate in that consultation when it gets under way. I was pleased to learn from him about the cross-party nature of the support and full engagement that he has been working, alongside the action group, to generate. I am sure that all those taking an interest will participate in the consultation.
To touch on the substance of the issue, I should say that the GP practice co-located with the urgent care centre has the largest patient list of any GP practice in the midlands, certainly, and possibly across NHS England’s footprint, so it has some unusual characteristics. One of the pressures on that practice, which my hon. Friend alluded to, is access to that GP surgery. Pressure is put on the urgent care centre by the difficulty in securing access to that part of the GP provision in the area. My understanding is that there is a federation of GPs, beyond the immediate catchment of the UCC, but within the CCG area, that has much better access. Work should be done as part of the consultation to see how the performance across the entire CCG area can be improved to relieve some of the pressure on the urgent care centre.
A consequence of that pressure is that the original contract, designed to undertake 120 patient episodes a day, has been dealing with more like 170 patients a day attending the urgent care centre. Of those patients, the vast majority—88%—could be dealt with either in that facility or in the GP practice itself. As I understand it, 12% definitely require treatment at the urgent care centre, and some of those are then referred to either Kettering General Hospital or, in a small number of cases, to Northampton’s A&E facility.
There is a need for an urgent care setting, but there is as much of a need to ensure that those who could be treated in the primary care environment can be. Part of the consultation will look at the appropriateness of a primary care home arrangement. That is an establishment that brings together primary care providers, social care providers and other providers, such as pharmacies, within an area, to provide a more integrated primary care service. That in itself might have benefits for improving access to treatment for the population served by the UCC at present.
My hon. Friend will be well aware of the history of the contracting challenge between the CCG and Lakeside+. I will not exhaust his patience by going into that in any detail, but will simply say that it is the intent of the CCG to re-establish a contractual relationship. The CCG wishes to have this moving forward on a four-month rolling basis while the consultation takes place, and then any subsequent arrangements will need to go out to tender. The intent is that this contract will continue until the successor arrangements are in place, so that there is continuity of care for his constituents—something that the Department absolutely supports.
I conclude by saying that it is really important that we use this public consultation to get the model of care right for the people in the area served by the UCC. That needs to take into account the evidence base for the clinical model, the right to patient choice for the people who will be using it, to meet the local need—my hon. Friend spoke eloquently about the particular local needs in the Corby area, and those are recognised—and also value for money. The approach has to be coherent and comprehensive, to come up with the right solution for the future.
I heard what my hon. Friend’s neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), said about looking for a similar hub in Wellingborough. I will look with interest to see how his private Member’s Bill progresses, to endeavour to bring that about. I also note his comments regarding the structure of the CCGs in the area. That is really a matter for the STP—the sustainability and transformation partnership—to make progress on and decide the structure of both commissioning and provision of service in the area. It is not really for me to comment on that off the cuff here today, but I note what he says and am aware that this is one of the smallest CCGs in the country. I am also aware that there is a very substantial programme of collaboration already underway with the neighbouring CCG at Nene, so I think that the CCGs themselves see the benefits of closer integration of their working.
On that basis, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Corby that I will endeavour to keep him informed as matters come to my attention, and I am quite sure he will continue to keep me and the Department informed as well.