It was time for questions to the Health Department yesterday. Perhaps the most noteworthy question came from Mike Penning (pictured right), who spoke in light of the revelation that in 2007-08 criminal sanctions following cases of assault in the acute sector rose by thirteen per cent.
Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley asked about sport in schools:
"I welcome the announcement of the Active England strategy, but it has taken a year to get there. I am afraid that the Secretary of State has got it wrong about school sports. The Government are not meeting their commitment to ensure that all pupils get two hours of sport a week in schools. In the school sport survey last October, the number of 11 to 16-year-olds getting two hours of exercise had gone down from 88 per cent. to 83 per cent. in a year. Will the Secretary of State, with his colleagues at the Department for Children, Schools and Families, ensure that the commitment to a minimum of two hours of exercise in schools is achieved, and will he tell us when will it be achieved?
Alan Johnson: From memory, the proportion of young children getting two hours of exercise in schools was about 24 per cent. when we came into government, so a drop— [ Interruption. ] Incidentally, I am not sure about the statistics that the hon. Gentleman just quoted. If there has been a slight drop, it should be seen in that context. Sport in our schools is essential to the sort of message that we seek to deliver, which is why we have pledged not just effort and time, but a huge amount of finance to meet those targets. And we will meet the target in 2010, just as I am absolutely sure we will move on to meet the extended target in 2012."
Shadow Health Minister Mark Simmonds was concerned about access to GPs:
"In Battersea, the provision of primary care is vital to the health of the community, but according to the Royal College of General Practitioners, seeing a doctor who knows the patient and their medical condition personally is important to more than 75 per cent. of patients. Yet the Secretary of State recently said that he “could not care less” which GP he sees. That is totally out of touch with patient needs both in Battersea and elsewhere. Can the Minister confirm that continuity of care is important to the vast majority of patients, particularly those with long-term conditions? If so, why are he and the Secretary of State centrally imposing polyclinics, against patients’ needs and wishes?
Mr. Bradshaw: Yes, I am happy to confirm what the hon. Gentleman asks me to confirm. However, what he says is another of the myths that were peddled by both the Opposition and the British Medical Association, at the time, in their opposition to new GP health centres. I do not know whether he has now abandoned the Conservative party’s opposition to the centres. I suspect that the Conservatives will quietly abandon that opposition, because where the new centres are opening, they are incredibly popular, not least with local Conservative councillors and Conservative MPs who want theirs to open as quickly as possible.
Of course continuity of care is important for many patients, particularly those with long-term conditions. However, many people, such as professionals who are otherwise healthy and who are juggling work and family life, find it very difficult to see their GP, because of opening times. They warmly welcome the opportunity to see a GP, and they do not particularly mind whether it is always the same GP."
It stretches credulity to say that people are indifferent about who their GP is; Mr Simmonds is correct.
Another member of Mr Lansley’s team, the formidable Mike Penning, asked about assaults against NHS staff:
"I am sorry to say that the Minister was very selective in her comments about how many assaults on NHS staff there were in 2007-08. The truth is that 12,500 staff who had gone to work to care for the community in this country were assaulted by cowards, and that criminal sanctions—I stress that they were not prosecutions, but sanctions, including some that were just cautions—were applied in fewer than 700 cases. Where is the zero tolerance that this Government promised to protect our emergency services?
Ann Keen: The hon. Gentleman raises an issue that concerns the entire House. When increases in violence against our front-line staff continue, it is a matter for us all to address, in order to get the prosecutions, which is why we work with the Crown Prosecution Service and, in particular, with the Association of Chief Police Officers. That is an area for the Crown Prosecution Service, but it is not an area that we dismiss in any shape or form, and it would be wrong to give that impression. We are talking about serious measures for serious times, for our hard-working front-line staff."
No Health questions session would be complete without Bosworth MP David Tredinnick asking about herbal medicine:
"Is the Minister aware that herbal medicines—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I have written to him about the fact that, if he does not introduce statutory regulation of herbal medicine practitioners by the time the herbal medicinal products directive is implemented in 2011, there will be no proper regulation whatever. What is he going to do about that?
Phil Hope: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. This is a serious issue that many people are concerned about. We will be undertaking a consultation on the future regulation of herbal medicines in the near future."
Rochford & Southend East MP James Duddridge wanted to know why flowers are being banned in hospital:
"Southend hospital has banned visitors from bringing in flowers on health and safety grounds. Does the Minister believe that flowers present a real risk to patients?
Alan Johnson: The hon. Gentleman raised the issue with me last summer, and I wrote to him about it on 27 June. It is a matter for the local trust. At that time the trust was beginning a consultation, to which I hope the hon. Gentleman contributed, and I understand that it established that there was 75 per cent. public support. The Department does not recommend the banning of flowers other than where they cause particular problems to patients, but we consider that this is an issue for local trusts, and that we should not dictate to them from the centre."
And David Evennett, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Universities and Skills, raised a matter that Health Secretary Alan Johnson admitted was of concern:
"Since 1997, almost 800 organs from British donors have gone to people resident outside the United Kingdom. Over the same period, the list of British people waiting for organs has increased by more than 2,400, while only 140 organs have been brought into this country from abroad. Do not the Government need to take some action as this situation is rather shambolic, and does not the Secretary of State need to get a grip on it?
Alan Johnson: We might need to take some action. As I understand it, this matter involves a few hospitals, and NHS Blood and Transplant has not been happy with the situation—its correspondence was leaked to the press over the weekend. The organ donation taskforce has been looking at a number of very important elements of organ donation, but we did not ask it to look at this issue because at the time it was not highlighted as a problem. We might need to do so, however, because the hon. Gentleman raises a serious point: we want to increase the number of people on the register, and if people think they are going on the register for their body organs to be part of some export system, that will not do us any favours in achieving that end, so we need to tackle this, and to tackle it quickly."