Health Services (Cornwall): 11th December 2012

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anna Soubry)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Leigh.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives (Andrew George) on securing this debate and on raising what can only be described as a rich pot-pourri of topics relating to the state of the health service in his county and to his constituents, whom he serves not only in St Ives and across Cornwall but on the Isles of Scilly.

I assure my hon. Friend that the total revenue allocated to NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly increased by 2.8% in 2012-13, which is entirely in line with the 2.8% overall increase nationally. That represents an additional £26 million to invest in front-line care in his local area. Indeed, the total budget for NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly is £941.8 million for 2012-13. On top of that, I am advised that the local NHS expects to achieve efficiencies of 4%, totalling £36 million, with those funds being made available to support improved services to patients in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

I understand that the independent Advisory Council on Resource Allocation has been developing a new allocations formula. I am told that allocations to clinical ​commissioning groups for 2013-14 will be announced by the NHS Commissioning Board later this month and that ACRA’s final recommendations are due to be published alongside those allocations.

It is not for me to say whether Cornwall should receive more or less money—it is difficult to think that Cornwall could possibly ever receive less—but if there are some inequities, I am sure my hon. Friend and his colleagues from the county will do their best, as they always do, to put forward those arguments with full force. I assure him that they will continue to be listened to.

Andrew George
The Government are clear that Cornwall receives less money than they say it should. I gave the figure earlier that Cornwall received more than £200 million less than the Government said it should.
 
Anna Soubry
Indeed, but it is for ACRA to come up with a new formula, and it is hoped that that can be advanced. The formula might, of course, be to the benefit of the county.

There is a rich number of topics to address, and it is difficult to know where to begin, but I will start by saying that I am disappointed that my hon. Friend chose to vote against the Government’s excellent NHS reforms. In his area, as he has already told us, the CCG was authorised yesterday. I will give some examples of how that movement of power and determination into the hands of front-line professionals will benefit his constituents.

The CCG has secured more than £500,000 from the Government’s dementia challenge fund to improve the lives of people in Cornwall living with dementia and their carers. The funding will be spent on improving dementia care in residential and nursing homes and in the community, and increasing peer support in communities and hospitals. Those are just some of the things that that successful application for £500,000 will achieve. The CCG is also investing £300,000 to expand the acute care at home programme. I have many other examples, including four services in Cornwall that have been expanded through the “any qualified provider” scheme: psychological therapies, back and neck pain treatments, adult hearing services and ultrasound and MRI diagnostic services. My hon. Friend raised concerns about the march of the private sector, but if there is such a march—I have no evidence of it—it would seem that in his county, it is by no means to be feared; indeed, it is to be welcomed.

My hon. Friend mentioned the loss of the helicopter from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly. I know that the service has ceased, and I understand the worry that that causes him and many of his constituents. I understand that the service previously fulfilled all non-emergency health transportation needs, but I am informed that emergency transport is usually carried out by RNAS Culdrose, so any interruption to routine travel affects only non-emergency appointments. The islands are also served by a passenger ferry, and the NHS has back-up arrangements in place to use a cargo ship if needed for medical samples.

In response to the ending of the helicopter service, I am told that the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, which runs the fixed-wing aircraft Skybus and the passenger ferry Scillyonian—forgive me for not pronouncing it correctly—
 
Andrew George
The Scillonian.
 
Anna Soubry
My hon. Friend knows it better than I. The company has enhanced its services to accommodate NHS needs, and has committed to purchasing a second aircraft to enable it to increase flights. I hope that those arrangements are of some assurance to him.

On registered nurse staff ratios and the skill mix, we know that patient care in the 21st century is different from what it used to be. Hospitals report that the type of demand that they face is changing. In particular, the average lengths of hospital stays are about one third shorter than they were 10 years ago. It is true that the number of nurses has been decreasing, but the total number of professionally qualified clinical staff in the NHS is rising.

Planning the number of nurses and the shape and size of the work force must be based on the needs of the people in our care. Services must be properly designed around the care and treatment that people need. Those decisions could result in a need for nursing numbers to change, but that must be based on properly redesigning services, not just on affordability. Changes must be decided at a local level, based on evidence that they will improve patient care. It is important to use this valuable staffing resource wisely, in properly constructed multi-professional teams with appropriately blended skills focused on the care and treatment needed by patients, families and communities.

The Government are committed to improving quality standards in the NHS. Our role is to clarify the standard of patient care demanded of the NHS through the mandate and to underpin it with robust external monitoring and validation by appropriate bodies. We are not here to impose management solutions.
 
Andrew George
I am interested in what the Minister says. However, is she saying that she and her fellow Ministers are content that registered nurse staffing levels are currently adequate in all settings within the NHS?
 
Anna Soubry
With great respect, I could not possibly say either yea or nay to that, because I do not know what they are, but I always look forward to the continuing representations made by hon. Members urging Ministers to raise or change the numbers.

I turn to the concerns expressed about the financial situation of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust. I hope that those concerns will now be allayed; the trust is forecasting a surplus of £3.8 million for 2012-13, and is progressing well on its path to achieving foundation trust status. Yesterday, through a video link, I spoke to one of the trust’s officers, who told me with much encouragement about plans for the future of the hospital and said that the trust believes that it is now on top of its financial situation. By way of example, I asked specifically about the trust’s preparations for winter, as it looks like we are going to have one of the hardest winters in this country for a long time. I was heartened by not only the trust but the PCT and others to whom I spoke about the high level of preparedness in Cornwall and Devon, two counties that are used to unusual snaps of weather, quick changes and sudden emergencies. I was left with a feeling of great confidence that those two counties are ​doing everything that they should to be ready. For what it is worth in this short time, I urge all counties to be in as great shape as Cornwall and Devon are.

In my remaining few minutes, I will turn to one particular point. My hon. Friend may have raised others. If I have not answered them, I will write to him. He rightly talked about a foundation trust set up by one of his constituents in memory of another of his constituents. I did not catch their names, so if he will forgive me, I will not make a hash of them, as it is a serious matter and a young woman lost her life. I am told that 80% of eligible women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly took part in the NHS cervical screening programme in the previous five years. That uptake has increased from the previous year and exceeds the percentage of women who took part nationally.

My hon. Friend’s point was about screening for women under the age of 25. He said that it concerns him, and asked why the age should not be reduced. In May 2009, the advisory committee on cervical screening reviewed the screening age specifically and considered all the latest available evidence on the risks and benefits of cervical screening in women aged between 20 and 24. The committee was unanimous in deciding that there was no reason to lower the age from 25, which happens to be in line with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations. The committee gave a number of reasons, which I cannot read out given the time available. I am more than happy to supply him with a list of those reasons.

That is not to say by any means that my hon. Friend and his constituents should cease their campaign to achieve better levels of screening and awareness among young women about the fact that cervical cancer can affect them even though they are young. I say that as the mother of two daughters, one aged 21 and one 22. It may be of some interest to him that by complete coincidence, I was stopped today by my hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), who approached me because she too, unfortunately, had a constituent under the age of 25 who died of cervical cancer. She raised the ​same issue with me. I gave her an undertaking that I am more than happy to meet with her and her constituents to discuss it further, and I extend that invitation to my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives and to his constituents who are campaigning. It may well be that the matter should be revisited. As I said, the advisory committee considered the issue in 2009. The technology may have changed—I know not—but it is certainly a matter that needs to be considered, and I am more than happy to meet hon. Members to talk about it and see whether anything can be done.

It would appear that I have dealt with all the items on my list of notes, and so—
 
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall) (LD)
I am absolutely delighted that the funding formula is being reviewed, but a crucial question for us in Cornwall, when the formula arrives at a solution saying how much Cornwall should get, is whether we actually get it. It has not necessarily been a problem with the formula; it is that we have never reached the existing formula. It is about renewed determination that there will be a road of travel.

Anna Soubry
With 50 seconds remaining, this is a perfect opportunity for any other Member to stand up and make exactly the same point. It is a good point, and it is about to be made again.
 
Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con)
I am pleased that we have made a lot of progress through the coalition—the gap has decreased from minus 7 to minus 2 —but a great enough rate of change to get Cornwall up to where it should be within this Parliament is essential for the people of Cornwall.
 
Anna Soubry
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. She makes a good point. Like others who have spoken in this short debate, she advances her county’s cause eloquently and undoubtedly with some merit. I cannot make any promises, but I can ensure on my return to the Department that the matter is raised yet again at the highest level so that we can see whether we can make some progress.