Health questions, 14 June 2022

On 14 June Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, took questions in the House of Commons. Notable questions are grouped below, the full transcript can be viewed here.

Operose Health

Wes Streeting, Ilford North (Lab) – Shadow Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Q: Last night’s shocking BBC “Panorama” investigation into Operose Health revealed the extent of the crisis in GP surgeries, with patient referrals and test results left unread for up to six months, and with patients being seen by less qualified staff standing in for GPs without supervision. This is exactly what happens when private profit is placed above patient health and safety. Why is the Secretary of State asleep at the wheel instead of launching an investigation into this scandal?

A:  The hon. Gentleman should reflect on the rule changes made by a previous Labour Government that allowed the management of many GP practices to change hands. When such serious allegations are made, it is right that local commissioners investigate them properly and independently. When it comes to GP access and capacity, I hope he will welcome that we are making a record investment, with over £0.5 billion of support during the pandemic, and recruiting GPs at a record rate.

Karen Buck, Westminster North (Lab)

Q: The United States company Operose Health runs 70 GP surgeries across the country, including the Randolph Surgery in my constituency. Yesterday’s “Panorama” broadcast indicated serious concerns about its quality of service, staffing levels and patient safety. Since then, constituents of mine have approached me to reflect their concerns about the service. What steps is the Secretary of State taking now, urgently, to establish what has gone wrong? Will he meet MPs with those surgeries to discuss our concerns?

A:  I will ensure the hon. Lady gets the meeting she requests. She will know that NHS GP services all have to meet the same requirements, the same regulations and the same standards across the country. Where patients are not getting that care and those standards are not being met, we expect local commissioners to take action.

Andy Slaughter, Hammersmith (Lab)

Q: Operose Health is one of the biggest employers in the primary care sector. When it bought up 70 surgeries across England, including in Hammersmith and Fulham, the Government were warned that this would put patient care at risk in pursuit of profit. That is what Operose’s US parent company, Centene, is notorious for. Now that the Secretary of State has evidence of Operose employing half the average number of GPs per patient, and of not reading clinical correspondence for six months, what is he going to do about it?

A: In 2007 the then Labour Government changed the law to allow takeovers such as that to happen. He might want to reflect on that. In terms of local management, there are consistent high standards that need to be met locally, and local commissioners should be made aware of what he has just said.

General practice

Jeremy Hunt, South West Surrey (Con)Chair of the Health and Social Care Select Committee

Continuity | Has the Secretary of State read the study in the British Journal of General Practice that says that people who see the same GP over many years are 30% less likely to go to hospital, 30% less likely to need out-of-hours care and 25% less likely to die? If he has, will he consider changing the GP contract to restore individual patient lists and reverse the change of two decades ago so that everyone has their own family doctor?

A: I have not read that review, but now that my right hon. Friend has mentioned it I will certainly take a look at it. He raises an important point about access to GPs. He is right to say that many people would want to see the same GP again and again—that would be their preference. One can see how that may lead to better clinical outcomes, but I hope he will respect the fact that others do not mind if they do not see the same GP and just want rapid access. It is important that we get the right balance.

Jonathan Gullis, Stoke-on-Trent North (Con)

Mental Health | I am proud to support the “no time to wait” cross-party campaign to ensure that we have a mental health nurse in every GP surgery across the country. I was delighted to read that the Secretary of State has said that we will recruit 2,000 mental health nurses into GP practices. Can I have more detail on how that will work?

A: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to this important issue. The Government have put record funding into mental health, and I understand that the Secretary of State is due to meet him and supporters of the campaign soon.

Suzanne Webb, Stourbridge (Con)

Recruitment | What progress has been made on recruiting 26,000 primary care staff?

A: The Government’s commitment to deliver 50 million more general practice appointments is critical for improving access to primary care across the country. Our workforce are crucial for that, and we are well on track to deliver 26,000 more full-time primary care staff by March 2024, with more than 18,000 primary care staff already recruited since 2019.

Suzanne Webb, Stourbridge (Con)

Access | Does the Secretary of State agree that when it comes to accessing primary care services, the Government have given GPs the support and guidance that they need and that GPs must now make every effort to see our constituents face to face, which is what they expect? What more can be done to support GP practices to make their processes more efficient for patient access to test results and blood tests and for booking appointments?

A: I agree with my hon. Friend and am incredibly grateful for the huge contribution of GPs during the pandemic in helping to deliver the largest vaccination programme that the NHS has ever seen. Because of the pandemic, we also provided record support to GPs that helped to cut bureaucracy, helped them to share their workload and helped clinicians to give even more support to patients.

We are starting to see the results of that, with face-to-face appointments going up—we would like to see them go up much further. We would also like to see increases in appointments, including for access to blood tests.

Dame Caroline Dinenage, Gosport (Con)

Dementia | Timely and accurate diagnosis is really important to ensuring that people living with dementia get on the right care and support pathway. A lot of my constituents are still struggling to get the face-to-face appointments that are so crucial in that. What is she doing to ensure that GPs in my local area are equipped to recruit, train and be resourced to get early diagnosis in place for people?

A: We had been meeting our dementia diagnosis target consistently at the national level from July 2016 until the end of March 2020, when, obviously, we all know what happened. The diagnosis rate dropped below our target for the first time in almost four years, and reflects the impact the pandemic had on memory assessment services and GP referrals into those services. In the last financial year, we allocated £17 million to specifically address dementia waiting lists and increase the number of diagnoses. That was spent in a range of ways, including on investing in workforce to increase capacity in memory assessment services and on improving access to pre and post-diagnostic support and carer support.

Wider NHS

Vicky Foxcroft, Lewisham Deptford (Lab)

Shielding | Following the covid-19 outbreak and the roll-out of vaccines, thousands of immunocompromised people are still shielding, so can the Secretary of State update the House on where we are on delivering Evusheld, which would allow them to have the freedom that we all enjoy?

A: Specific guidance is already set out for those who are immunocompromised. As she will also know, Evusheld has conditional marketing authorisation from the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. With the MHRA and others, further tests are going on via the UK Health Sciences Authority, because it is essential to ensure that Evusheld works well and satisfies clinicians when it comes to omicron.

Theresa Villiers, Chipping Barnet (Con)

Recruitment | To tackle the covid backlog, it is essential that we expand the capacity of the NHS, and that means more people, so what is the Secretary of State doing to ensure that we recruit the skilled professionals we need for the NHS?

A: It is one of our biggest priorities. As well as asking the NHS to come up for the first time with a 15-year, long-term workforce strategy, we are also recruiting at a record rate, with more doctors and nurses working for the NHS than ever before.

Gareth Thomas, Harrow West (Lab/Co-op)

Diabetes | More nurses across the country, and particularly in Harrow, would make a real difference in helping those who suffer from diabetes. Given that this is Diabetes Week and that diabetes has a disproportionate impact on those from a south Asian background—particularly, for example, among my Gujarati constituents—when will the Minister put extra resources into tackling this terrible health condition?

A: We are investing more in more nurses, but there is also a large piece of work to do on health education and improving access to those services for people with diabetes. I urge him to look forward with eager anticipation to the health disparities White Paper.