We're living in exciting times with Brexit

The pace of life at Westminster continues to keep me on my toes, with key hearings on the Public Accounts Committee on NHS matters, amongst others.

Thursday, 2nd February 2017, 4:14 pm
The Bill to trigger article 50, in front of the Houses of Parliament. Picture by Nick Ansell/PA Wire.

The annual winter pressures on A&E across the country is challenging us to consider how we use healthcare services for best value for money to the taxpayer, who foots the enormous bill of over £100billion per year.

As a former governor of Northumbria NHS Healthcare Trust, I have seen at the sharp end the pressures which fall on A&E services, but too often this is with a caseload that should not be ending up at the acute end of the health provision spectrum.

Commentators say that GPs are overworked or lazy, or filling in too many forms to be able to see patients, but a key part of the problem is demand management – and the best people to help expedite this and improve access to the right care when patients need it is us.

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My challenge to everyone is whether they are choosing the right level of care for their needs, or have we lost our resilience and self-management skills to too great a degree?

Pharmacists are hugely under-used, GPs are seeing too many patients whose ailments could be managed through self-treatment, and we need to find constructive ways to encourage citizens to reduce their reliance on getting someone else to make a decision for them, leaving more space in the NHS system for those whose need requires highly-skilled medical intervention.

The process of setting the Brexit wheels in motion has taken huge steps forward.

The Supreme Court determined that Parliament must decide to trigger Article 50, that is to say it must authorise the Prime Minister to write to the EU to tell it we are leaving. The Prime Minister laid the Bill before the House and we will be debating it for two weeks. Sitting times have been extended to ensure that everyone who wishes to debate can do so. The old-fashioned late nights at Westminster return.

The Prime Minister also confirmed that she will present a white paper with the proposals for our exit as set out in her Lancaster House speech. We live in exciting times.

On Friday the House debated the Homelessness Bill, a Private Member’s Bill which is supported by the Government. I am supporting it as we have some real challenges for people in Northumberland when they become homeless.

The Bill changes the point at which a person is classed as being threatened with homelessness from 28 days before a person is likely to be homeless to 56 days. A duty is placed on local housing authorities to take steps for 56 days to help any eligible applicant to secure accommodation.

Provision is also made for certain care leavers to make it easier for them to show they have a local connection with the area of the local authority responsible for them and the area in which they lived while in care.

I hope this will really be a step change for those in priority need.

This week the Commons debates the Second Reading of the Pension Schemes Bill. Those of us campaigning for fair transitional arrangements for WASPI women, a cross-party group, had hoped to table an amendment and force the Government to redress pension inequalities imposed on women born in the 1950s.

Frustratingly, the SNP have told us they will not work with the cross-party group or support the amendment so our first real opportunity to force the Government to stop ignoring these women is over before it has begun. I am extremely disappointed.

On Thursday I have been granted a full day’s debate by the Backbench Business Committee on the Armed Forces Covenant, a major area of my national work to improve welfare matters for service personnel and their families.