Constituent concerns about the humanitarian situation in Syria:

January 31, 2014

I know many of my constituents are concerned about the humanitarian situation for those in Syria and for those Syrian refugees who have fled to nearby countries. On Wednesday the Home Secretary Theresa May made a statement to the House about the UK efforts which have been made to help these people. She referred to the need for a peaceful political solution to the ongoing civil war and talks are ongoing in Geneva in order to try and achieve this. In the meantime the UK is the second biggest bilateral donor (after the United States) to the Syrian relief effort and has already provided £600 million of which £500 million has already been allocated to refugees and those internally displaced.

For some time people have been looking to the UK to provide greater sanctuary for Syrian refugees and Theresa May also announced plans to run a “vulnerable person relocation scheme” which will assist with the relocation of those individuals where evacuation from the region is the only option and they have been nominated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR). This programme is intended to help survivors of sexual violence and torture.

The UK is making a valiant effort to the help those in Syria. It is especially important that we help those who have suffered as a result of torture and sexual violence. We must hope that a political solution can be found to the civil war and fast, but in the meantime as a country constituents can rest assured that we are certainly providing tremendous assistance to those that need it most.

Jeremy Hunt and “whole-stay” doctors…

January 24, 2014

Yesterday the Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt announced the introduction of “whole stay” doctors who will be in charge of the entire package of a patient’s care. It used to be the case that there was one nominated doctor in charge of each patient admitted to hospital but this practice was phased out by Labour during the last administration. It is difficult for patients and their relatives not knowing who has overall responsibility for their loved one’s care whilst in hospital.

It will be reassuring to know who is in charge and to whom patients and their relatives can address any questions and it allows for proper continuity of care. By having a “whole stay” doctor, there will be one care plan and proper handovers to the patient’s GP once they are discharged.

This new initiative has already been trialled successfully in Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital in London. In order to extend continuity of care beyond hospitals Jeremy Hunt highlighted the need for named accountable GPs. From April, starting with the over 75s, GPs will be named to ensure there is less chance of a breakdown of communication about a patient’s care plan once they return to the community. This should reduce the risk of possible readmission to hospital. I welcome these two announcements and look forward to patients receiving a better “joined-up” service from the NHS.

Staggering amounts of money lost by the NHS just because of missed appointments….

January 24, 2014

In the National Audit Office report “NHS waiting times for elective care in England” which was published yesterday, I note reference has been made to the huge amount of money which is estimated to have been lost (£225 million) by the NHS by patients missing first outpatient appointments in 2012-13. This is a staggering amount of money to be lost just because of people failing to turn up for appointments.

The NHS is a marvelous institution which provides healthcare for all irrespective of patient means but I do think we need to treat the system with a little respect because of the sheer costs involved when the system is abused. If the £225 million which was lost could be ploughed back into NHS services we might have even more doctors and nurses and better provision of services.

I urge my constituents to keep to their medical appointments where possible and where not, ensure they contact the relevant medical department to let them know they cannot attend an appointment so that the slot can be offered to someone else and money can be saved.

Malaria No More

January 17, 2014

I was interested to read in a bulletin update from “Malaria No More” that malaria deaths have fallen by 45% since 2000. This is excellent news given that in 2012 malaria was responsible for causing an estimated 627,000 deaths (according to the World Health Organisation). I dread to think how many deaths malaria caused in 2000 but a reduction by 45% since then is an amazing achievement.

Back in 2011 I asked the then Secretary of State for International Development whether he and his Department would take a particular interest and show particular determination in tackling childhood mortality, particularly in developing countries (of which malaria is a major contributor) to which the Secretary of State replied that he would.

Of course tackling childhood mortality and combating HIV/aids, malaria and other diseases are two of the Millennium Development Goals. DFID also published in 2011 its Malaria Framework for Results Strategy which outlined DFID’s plans to deal with malaria up until 2015. It highlighted the government’s commitment to halve the number of malaria deaths in at least 10 high burden countries by ensuring they have the right mix of good quality prevention, diagnosis and treatment. This pledge by DFID is a significant undertaking and will do much to combat one of the biggest killers in developing countries. I am glad that the UK is taking a strong lead in addressing this important issue.

A warning for social housing tenants…

January 16, 2014

Constituents should be aware that subletting your home if you are a social housing tenant is now a criminal offence under the Social Housing Fraud Act 2013. If social tenants are caught subletting without their landlord’s consent, they can face a penalty of two years imprisonment for the first offence and if convicted a second time they face two years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £50,000. The court also has the power to make the tenant in question pay back any profits made.

This piece of legislation is long overdue in attempting to deal with the issue of sub-letting and social housing fraud. I am aware that sub-letting happens and so I encourage any of my constituents who might be engaging in such activities to cease immediately before they are prosecuted. Social tenants are allocated their housing because of their housing requirements. They should not be seeking to make a profit from it and if they no longer need to live there, they should let the Housing Association house one of the families on the Register, who really need a home.

The Government’s “Digital Transformation” and driving licences…

January 16, 2014

Francis Maude’s announcement about the digitalisation of people’s driving licence records is good news. It forms part of the Government’s move to cut bureaucracy and drive down the cost of the Civil Service. According to his statement, as of this June it will become possible to view driving licence records online. This will provide insurance companies with an accurate account of customers’ licence details and any penalties which might possibly drive down the cost of insurance premiums too. There are 24 other areas of the Government’s “Digital Transformation” which are being considered and these include electoral registration, claiming for carers’ allowance, digital tax self assessment plus many more which are in various stages of being rolled out. Applications for Student Finance have already been digitalised. I look forward to the introduction of digitalisation so that people’s lives are improved and money is saved.

Fairer conditions for energy customers announced by Ofgem

January 3, 2014

Ofgem’s reforms for the energy market sound very sensible. According to the announcements made by Ofgem today, energy suppliers will now only be able to offer four tariffs for gas and four tariffs for electricity. Complex tiered tariffs will be banned and only one tariff structure will be provided which will comprise a standing charge plus a unit charge. Cash discounts will provided for those customers who have dual fuel (gas and electricity) accounts from the same supplier and who manage their energy accounts online. Ofgem is also seeking to ensure that energy bills are easier to understand and by the end of March 2014, energy suppliers will now have to provide bills which show key information about a customer’s tariff and the amount of energy used in each bill.

Importantly, new standards of conduct were brought in last August by Ofgem so that consumers receive fairer treatment and in addition to these, other measures that have been introduced mean that suppliers will not be able to alter any fixed term deals which consumers entered into on or after 15 July 2013, either. I understand that energy suppliers will now be required let their customers know in advance of any price changes and also provide notice 42-49 days before the end of a fixed term tariff. Those customers who choose not to switch tariffs will then be automatically rolled onto the cheapest standard tariff provided by their current supplier.

I think these measures which have been announced by Ofgem are long overdue. Many of my constituents have found their energy bills difficult to understand for some time and a uniform tariff structure coupled with bills that are clearer to interpret will surely make their lives easier. I am also glad to hear that those customers who at the end of their contracts do not choose to change tariffs, will now be moved onto the cheapest standard rate tariff.