Health Questions

7th February 2017

Philip Dunne answers questions from MPs.

Naylor Review

 

6. What plans he has to ensure that the implementation of recommendations in Sir Robert Naylor’s review on the NHS estate is compatible with local sustainability and transformation plans. [908626]

 

Sir Robert Naylor’s report on the NHS estate will be published shortly. In developing his recommendations, he has worked and engaged with leaders from across the NHS. This will ensure that his recommendations are informed by sustainability and transformation plans, and are designed to help to support their successful delivery.

 

I look forward to seeing the report, which has been due “shortly” for a while. Knowle West health park in my constituency is exactly the sort of community-based model that we should be promoting in STPs. It was established by the NHS and the council to prevent illness, to promote good health and to assist recovery after medical treatment. However, the NHS Property Services regime means that its bill has increased more than threefold—from £26,000 to £93,000. What assurances can the Government give that the Naylor report will ensure that there is co-operation on estates planning so that my constituents, who rely on the health park’s contribution to preventing ill health, can face the future with confidence?

 

We have already accepted one of Sir Robert Naylor’s recommendations ahead of the publication of his report, which is to look into bringing together NHS Property Services and other estates services in the NHS. With regard to allocations to the clinical commissioning group, the Department of Health has provided £127 million to CCGs precisely to contribute towards increases in the move towards market rents for property.

 

22. When the Minister looks at the estates and transformation plans, will he ensure that arrangements for travelling to different sites are taken into account for healthcare professionals, patients and, importantly, patients’ visitors? [908644]

 

My hon. Friend consistently expresses concern about the arrangements in Essex as we consider a possible reconfiguration of urgent emergency care arrangements. Ensuring that there is good access to A&E is as vital in that county as it is everywhere else.

 

In Leicester, the CCG is proposing to close a walk-in centre in North Evington and move it to another part of the city. Rather than being a walk-in centre, it will become a drive-in centre. Does the Minister agree that it is important that local people are consulted fully on the proposals?

 

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, service reconfigurations require public consultation. I am not sure whether that particular walk-in centre qualifies, but I am happy to have a look at that. A number of walk-in centres were established under the previous Government in a random way, and they need to be located more appropriately for local people.

 

Does my hon. Friend agree that the driving force of STPs is to improve and enhance patient care for our constituents? With regard to the STP for mid-Essex, will he confirm that no proposal that has been put forward involves any closure of an A&E and that, far from downgrading the existing A&Es, this is about upgrading the quality of care for my constituents?

 

My right hon. Friend is a regular attender at Health questions, and I am pleased to be able to confirm to him, once again, that the success regime for mid-Essex is looking at the configuration of the three existing A&Es, none of which will close, and each of which might develop its own speciality.

 

Analysis of the STPs by the Health Service Journal this week found that a substantial number of A&E departments throughout the country could be closed or downgraded over the next four years. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine has described that approach as “alarming”. Over the past month, we have all seen images of A&E departments overflowing and stretched to the limit, so surely now is not the time to get rid of them. Will the Minister pledge today that the numbers of both A&E beds and A&E departments will not be allowed to reduce below their current level?

 

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out that the STPs are looking at providing more integrated care across localities. A number of indicative proposals have to be worked through. At the moment, NHS England is reviewing each of the STPs, and the results will be presented to the Department for its consideration in the coming weeks and months. On bed closures, I gently remind him that, in the past six years of the previous Labour Government, more than 25,000 beds were closed across the NHS. In the six years since 2010, fewer than 14,000 were closed by this Government and the coalition.

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Nursing

 

12. What steps his Department is taking to increase routes into nursing. [908633]

 

Developing a variety of routes into nursing is a priority to widen participation and reflect the local populations served by nurses. That is why we have developed a new nursing associate role and nursing degree apprenticeships, which are opening up routes into the registered nursing profession for thousands of people from all backgrounds and allowing employers to grow their own workforce locally.

 

Are there any plans to roll out the associate role to include Wiltshire, and to enable the new nursing degree apprenticeship schemes to be offered in larger further education colleges so that counties like Wiltshire that have no university can still make that provision?

 

We have announced the first 1,000 nursing associates. In fact, the first cohort commenced at the beginning of this month. I visited, in Queen’s hospital, Romford, the first very enthusiastic group of nursing associates. We have announced a second wave of 2,000 associate roles. I regret to say that Wiltshire does not have any of those at the moment, but that will not stop it bidding for them in future. I will look at my hon. Friend’s point about further education colleges.

 

When the Secretary of State scrapped the nursing bursary, he claimed that his reforms would lead to an increase in nursing applications. Last week, figures from UCAS showed that there had been a drop in nursing applications of 23%—a worrying trend when the demands of Brexit will mean that we need more home-grown nurses. Will he scrap this disastrous policy or, at the very least, give Greater Manchester the ability to opt out of it and reinstate the nursing bursary?

 

I urge the right hon. Gentleman not to indulge in scaremongering about the number of people applying to become nurses. There are more than two applications for each of the nursing places on offer to start next August. He needs to be careful about interpreting this early the figure for applications from EU nationals, which has gone down significantly, because it coincided with the introduction of the language test for EU nationals.

 

With the reduction of 23% in applications to English nursing schools, the Minister might want to re-look at the policy. There has been a significant drop—a 90% drop—in EU nationals applying. With one in 10 nursing posts in NHS England vacant and a cap on agency spend, who exactly does the Minister think should staff the NHS?

 

I say gently to the hon. Lady that there are 51,000 nurses in training at present. The number of applications through the UCAS system thus far suggests that there will be more than two applicants for each place. As I have just said to the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), the reduction in application forms requested by EU nationals has coincided with the introduction of a language test.

 

Language test applications were more than 3,500 last January, so the reduction after the language test was from that to 1,300. In December, there were only 101 applications. This cannot all be blamed on the language test, so what is the Minister going to do to protect nursing numbers?

 

There are over 13,000 more nurses working in the NHS today than there were in May 2010. As I have just said to the hon. Lady, the language test came into effect from July last year, since when the number of applicants has been somewhat steady. It is down very significantly, but that is because, frankly, we have had applications from nurses from EU countries who have not been able to pass the language test.

Topical Questions

 

T6. People in Lancashire will be pleased that the emergency department in Chorley has reopened, providing access for people 12 hours a day. Will my hon. Friend welcome that good news and thank everyone involved? [908616]

 

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for recognising the work that went into reopening the A&E at Chorley last month. I am delighted, in particular, by the work that was done by the Deputy Speaker and my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy).

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A small business in my constituency was driven out of business by slow payments for relatively small sums by NHS providers. Will he ensure strict compliance with the guidelines for timely payments?

 

My hon. Friend will be aware that best practice for NHS bodies is to pay within 30 days. I am pleased to be able to tell him that figures for the quarter ending in September show that the Department of Health paid 98.4% of our bills within five days—one of the best performances across government.

 

What further efforts have been made to increase the level of nurses’ pay, many of whom have high levels of training, expertise and qualifications?

 

We recognise that nurses and other health workers deserve a cost-of-living increase. As the hon. Lady will be aware, the NHS pay review body is due to make its recommendations in a few weeks. We will be looking at them closely.

 

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