Members feel strongly about this issue. The hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) has whizzed his way here from his Bill Committee, where other Committee members will be missing him as we speak. I do not intend to keep him for too long. He joins a number of Members who have campaigned hard for years—not just me and the others here today, but my hon. Friend

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the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), who has also been in a Bill Committee; I have spoken to him about the issue a number of times. My hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) has lobbied me regularly, although he is unable to speak today from his position just behind me in the Chamber. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, have campaigned on behalf of residents in Epping Forest. This has also been a strong issue for other Members across the House who want to make sure that residents are protected and can feel confident about their rights and ability to look after their homes, for themselves and their families.

The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) also contributed to the debate, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Waveney, for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) and for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) and the hon. Members for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) and for Hartlepool. They have shown the strength of feeling in favour of making sure that our residents are well protected and can have confidence about their rights in respect of their homes.

The hon. Member for North East Derbyshire raised a particular resident’s issue about a site owner’s claim that having a property empty is breaking the rules and that the property could be put in the hands of the site owner’s solicitor and sold. If that is what the resident is being told, it is simply not correct—the law does allow for a property to be empty. If the hon. Lady wants to write to me or contact me outside, I will happily take the matter forward and give her a formal response.

The 2013 Act was the biggest shake-up in park home legislation in 30 years. The Government were pleased to support it during its passage through both Houses. It marks our commitment to ensuring that park home owners are protected and that their rights are fully respected. One of those is the right to sell a park home without undue interference from the site operator. As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) said, there was significant evidence that the role of the site operator in approving the purchaser was being abused by the unscrupulous to block the sale. This is as much about protecting the integrity and reputation of good site owners as about weeding out the scourge of the bad, rogue landlords whom none of us want to be viable. Park owners in my constituency, such as Blue Sky, work hard to provide a good environment for people to live in. The Act has removed the opportunity for abuse by abolishing the right of a site operator to approve the person to whom a home could be sold.

The new system for buying and selling has been in place since last May. As Members have outlined, it is much fairer than the old system in which the site operator could demand to interview, or otherwise vet, a prospective purchaser—often with a view to putting off a purchase so that the site operator could acquire the home from the seller at a fraction of its true market value. That was simply not acceptable. While the practice of sale blocking was not endemic, it was acknowledged to be widespread. The new procedure reduces the opportunity for abuse. As we have heard, there are still, sadly, some unscrupulous operators who continue to do what they can to interfere with people’s homes and their rights over them.

It is fair to say that, as has been reported to me, some site operators have experience of sellers not complying with the new system and not following the correct

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procedures when selling their homes. This may not be in any way deliberate—I would imagine that in most cases it is not—but if a sale goes through that does not comply with the law, there could be grave consequences for the seller and the purchaser. This is why we have constantly urged, and continue to urge, that parties to the sale of a park home obtain professional advice, as almost everyone buying or selling any home would do, and as we would encourage them to do.

On the payment of commission, although the 2013 Act did not, for reasons I shall explain, change the maximum amount payable, it did make significant changes to how it is paid to the site operator. Members will be aware of that from the debates that took place at the time. The maximum amount of commission did not change, and it remains at 10%. I can understand why owners object to commission on the sale of a home. They feel aggrieved that they have to give up 10% of the sale price, which is paid to the site owner, who they feel does nothing in exchange. Sometimes they see this charge as a kind of estate agency fee at a point when the site owner is no longer involved in the sales process. However unfair home owners feel the payment of commission is, the fact that it is payable should not come as a surprise. It is an implied term of the pitch agreement, and they should have been aware that it was payable on a sale when they purchased the home.

The maximum rate of commission is 10%, as it has been since the Conservative Government reduced it from 15% in 1983. As we have heard, site operators do not have to charge the maximum rate. The right hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole made the fair point that it would be interesting to find out more about whether anybody is charging less than the maximum amount. If Members will bear with me, I will return to that in relation to their comments about a review.

Commission is a legitimate income stream for park home businesses, and there is no evidence that its payment leads to profiteering. As the right hon. Member for Leeds Central and others said, that was the finding of the independent report on the economics of the industry commissioned by the previous Government in 2002. The other income strands come from selling homes and pitch fees. Income from selling homes is obviously limited because it requires the availability of pitches—land in anyone’s ownership will always be restricted to a certain amount—or site redevelopment.

Changes in pitch fees are regulated and linked to inflation, as are certain other costs that the operator incurs in running the site. Therefore, if the maximum rate of commission were to be reduced from 10%, or abolished altogether, there would need to be compensatory relief through pitch fees. The independent report noted that if the commission were decreased or abolished outright, operators would look to increase prices elsewhere. In particular, it found that abolition would result in pitch fee rises of between 20% and 32%.

As the shadow Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leeds Central, has said, property owners have mixed feelings about what the impact would be. It has been argued today that the report is flawed and that the views of home owners were not fully considered. It has even been suggested elsewhere—I think my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole referred to this—that the report was not independent.

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Annette Brooke: It has indeed been suggested to me that site owners and those involved in the business had quite an input into the report, albeit not in the writing-up stage. I do not know how true that is, but it contributes all the more to the case for having a review sooner rather than later. A lot of things have changed since 2002.

Brandon Lewis: My right hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is nice when we all agree from time to time.

The right hon. Member for Leeds Central also said that things have moved on in 12 years. The report is 12 years old and I agree that it had a small sample base, but it was based on a range of park home sites—from the very small to the very large. Although it was published in 2002, there is no great evidence at present to suggest that the economic structures of the industry have changed significantly in the intervening years. There was some involvement from homeowners—there had to be, given the nature of the study in preparing the report. However, the report was on the economics of the sector; it was not, to be fair to the previous Government, a consultation.

Jeremy Lefroy: Does the Minister not agree that one of the things that has changed is the value of those homes? Given that the commission is a percentage of the value, which has probably outstripped inflation considerably in many parts of the country, that is a substantial change, even since 2002.

Brandon Lewis: My hon. Friend makes a very good point, although I would point out that the proportion changes for both parties and the percentage remains the same.

Home owners also complained that the report’s findings were not borne out by the facts and, as hon. Members have said, that the 10% commission is not necessarily invested in the management and maintenance of the site, but is simply treated as profit. I have no doubt that there will be examples where that is the case. We are aware that some sites are poorly managed and poorly maintained and that operators do not invest in them. However, that does not mean that that is universally the case. The majority of site operators need that commission to maintain their sites.

Stephen Lloyd: I concur completely that it is not always the case, but does the Minister agree that, whether or not the operators maintain their sites, they still receive the 10%?

Brandon Lewis: Yes. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The fact that some do not bother to maintain their sites should be dealt with. It is for the local authority to tackle the issue through the new licensing enforcement tools introduced by the Mobile Homes Act 2013, which was promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney and came into force just a few months ago, in April 2014.

The answer to poorly maintained and managed sites that suffer from a lack of investment in their infrastructure is to use that new law and report poor conditions to the local authority, which under the licensing powers can require the site owner to spend money on improving conditions.

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Natascha Engel: The Minister says that a majority of sites are well managed. What evidence does he have that it is not a minority that are well managed and a majority that are mismanaged?

Brandon Lewis: Actually, what I said was that the majority of site operators need the commission to maintain their sites. On the question of whether they are poorly managed and maintained, I said that some operators are not investing in them. That is exactly what the 2013 Act—the rules and laws that came into force on 1 April 2014—deals with.

The independent report carefully evaluated the economic structure of the industry and concluded that commission was an important income strand that could not be abolished or reduced without relief. Nevertheless, the previous Government consulted on what the appropriate maximum rate should be. Although home owners favoured a reduction in or abolition of the commission rate, very few thought it should be linked, as the right hon. Member for Leeds Central has outlined, to a reduction or an increase in their pitch fees. Understandably, and as the right hon. Gentleman also said, those who generally saw their park home as their home for life wanted to retain the existing system, while other site owners wanted no change at all. The then Government’s preferred option at that time was to have a 7.5% commission on existing agreements and to abolish it on new ones, but to have unregulated pitch fee increases, for which consultees showed little support. The consultation was therefore inconclusive. It looked at options in relation to the payment but, as we all now know, it was not about reducing or abolishing commission. The then Government therefore decided that no case had been made to change the status quo.

In the spring of 2012, the issue of commission was looked at again by the Communities and Local Government Committee. It held an inquiry into the sector, and published its finding in June 2012. Its report, which identified widespread malpractice in the sector, led the Government to support the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney. We agreed with the Select Committee’s finding that there should be no change to commission. That was our view in 2012, and it remains our view today, but I will return to the issue of the review in a moment.

Annette Brooke: I am afraid that I may be anticipating the Minister, but does he think that the Select Committee conducted a thorough review? I praise it for its whole report on park homes, but I was not aware that a large part of its work related to the 10% commission.

Brandon Lewis: It is not for me to question the decisions of the Select Committee or its Chair about how they go forward, but I will turn in a few moments to how what they looked at can be taken forward. I now want to make a bit of progress with my speech.

As other Members have rightly said, the justice campaign and its founder, Sonia McColl, are to be congratulated on their fantastic, sterling work in raising issues about problems with the park home sector and on the need for reform. As I have explained, we believe that commission is a legitimate income strand. It does not result in profiteering—at the moment, the evidence does not back up such a claim—and site owners who run a

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legitimate business within the law are entitled, like any such business, to make a reasonable profit. If the commission were changed, compensatory relief would be needed. There are good site owners who run professional businesses within the law. I am sure that all Members want them, for the benefit of their residents and of the economy, to thrive and grow. We therefore do not want to put in place measures that could affect their continuing viability.

I appreciate that that may be unwelcome to some home owners who have campaigned for a reduction in the commission or its abolition. We should not, however, lose sight of the substantial reforms that were introduced by the 2013 Act. It targets unscrupulous and criminal operators who think that the law does not apply to them: it does, it should and it must. Apart from introducing new provisions to prevent the blocking of sales and a new scheme for selling homes, the Act requires site operators to use a statutory form, and to set out what is included in any proposed new pitch fee and how that fee has been calculated. We are therefore starting to see the transparency that we want to exist more widely. The Act has banned certain types of rules that can be used to block sales on sites. It also introduced important provisions to reform local authority site licensing, which came into force on 1 April this year. These hugely important changes for the first time give local authorities powers to take enforcement action against rogues who refuse to maintain their sites.

I want to reassure the House that the Government recognise that more work needs to be done to change the culture of the sector and to crack down on the rogues operating within it who give everybody in the sector a bad name and affect the lives of residents unfortunate to live in such areas. To achieve that, we will continue to work with partners to raise standards generally, and to remove criminality from this sector.

In particular, I am determined to stamp out the continuing bad practices in the industry, such as unlawful sale blocking, or local authorities and other agencies not using their powers effectively to protect home owners. That is why I have asked a ministerial colleague to bring together representatives from across the sector to identify evidence of poor practice where it exists, and investigate how best to raise standards further and tackle abuse. That group will significantly help to shape the review of the Mobile Homes Act.

I agree with hon. Members, not least my right hon. Friend, that the review should have an independent chair. The review will be undertaken in 2017, which will give us a couple of years to see the impact of the new laws before we review how they are working. However, I would be very happy for that group, under its own auspices, to consider a wider review of the issues that have been raised today. I hope that my right hon. Friend will take up the opportunity to be part of the group. I know that the Under-Secretary will welcome Members who want to contribute to and be part of it.

Mr Iain Wright: I might be giving the right hon. Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) responsibilities that she does not want, but should she not chair the group?

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Brandon Lewis: I hope that the right hon. Lady will take an active part in the group, but I do not want to put too many dates in her diary, unlike the hon. Member for Hartlepool. I have asked for an Under-Secretary of State to chair the group so that it is taken forward as a Government working group. I hope that other colleagues across the House who have concerns about this matter will participate in that work to improve the sector. We will also involve national resident groups and industry trade bodies, as well as representatives of local authorities and other agencies that are involved in the park homes sector.

I reiterate that we are committed to improving the sector so that those who run professional, honest businesses can prosper without unfair competition from the rogues, and so that home owners, some of whom are vulnerable, can be assured that their rights are respected, that their health and safety is protected and that they will not suffer bullying and harassment.

4.21 pm

Annette Brooke: It is a pleasure to have you presiding over our debate, Madam Deputy Speaker, knowing that you have an interest in this subject.

I thank all Members for their excellent contributions. I thank the park home owners who have contacted us in various ways. I also take on board the representations that I have received from good site owners, who have contacted me either directly or indirectly, about how well their sites are managed. I would like them to come to the new group to showcase their good practice.

I thank the Minister for his response. I am sure that park home owners will feel very reassured that their interests are being looked at. We have to continue looking for the right balance, but I think that everybody here has acknowledged that site owners need a return on their capital and that, equally, park home owners need justice.

I liked the words from my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) when he said that bundling everything together was preventing the free market from working. I am not always a great free marketeer, but he made a strong argument. We have vulnerable constituents who are not being given perfect information on which they can make rational choices. It is therefore important to think about the model.

In conclusion, I hope that we have taken another little step forward, but we need to deal with this issue sooner rather than later. We must bear it in mind that there is a general election coming up. I am afraid that each time we have had a general election, we have taken a couple of steps backwards in our attempts to achieve more for park home owners. I hope that we really have made progress today and I look forward to participating in future work.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House calls on the Government to set up a review of the current fee of up to 10 per cent of the sale price of a park home payable to the park home site owner.

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General Practices (Coventry)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Jenny Willott.)

4.23 pm

Mr Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry North West) (Lab): This debate might not be as lively as the debate on post offices in May, when we also had the pleasure and privilege to have you presiding over us, Madam Deputy Speaker. Nevertheless, we have an important topic to debate and I am pleased that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter) is ready to respond, because we have one or two questions for him. I thank Mr Speaker for granting the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) would like to take part and he has my willing acquiescence. I do not intend to detain the Minister or the House for long this evening, but I wish to put to him a point that was made to me in a precise and graphic way by the local medical committee for Coventry—it is also for Rugby, but in this debate I am principally speaking as the Member of Parliament for Coventry North West.

The situation has been described as a “crisis”. A letter, almost a cri de coeur, went out from the local medical committee on behalf of GPs, issued in the name of the chairman of Coventry local medical committee, Dr Peter Whidborne. He said that,

“due to increasing workload, and decreasing resources, general practice has now reached crisis point.”

That is what triggered my interest in this matter and my concern as the local MP, and it was reinforced by many anecdotal and personal encounters with residents in my constituency—I am sure my hon. Friend will confirm the same thing for Coventry South—who said that they cannot get appointments with GPs. Patients are finding the situation increasingly frustrating, and an assiduous campaign has been waged by certain elements of the popular press against the 2004 GPs contract and all the weaknesses that we know it contained, yet there is also the reality of the pressures under which GPs operate.

The public’s general impression is that the previous Government granted GPs all too easy a deal but that GPs have not responded in kind, and that despite the general improvement in their terms and conditions, rather than improving services they have in fact responded with a decrease in the level of service provided. Many would agree that there has been such a decrease, but they would disagree that that is due entirely, or even mainly, to the 2004 contract changes. In fact, it is a reflection of the general unease throughout the whole health care service. Such unease is reflected in, among other things, reliable figures produced by the Deloitte Centre for Health Solutions, which I will refer to in a moment. On access to GPs, as with other areas of the health service such as A and E departments in the acute hospitals or services for elderly people who suffer from a chronic condition, people are finding it increasingly difficult to get the level of care required, and the resources needed to provide it, because of the stretching of health service provision at a time when resources are relatively stagnant.

Let me cite some figures that I think graphically illustrate the situation we are facing. In Coventry, the number of people emigrating from other countries is

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increasing and the number of GPs is decreasing—the figure from the Deloitte study is something like a 2.5% decrease in the total number of GPs over the last five years, at a time of increasing demands on them in terms of visits and patients to be seen. Let us remember that 90% of all patients are first seen in a primary practice by GPs before they access any other services offered by the NHS, including the general hospital, and that figure is increasing every year. For the first time in the NHS’s history, however, the number of GPs is shrinking. We must deal with that basic fact at a time when numbers should be increasing.

I am pleased that the Labour party has pledged—this is not a party political point—to increase the number of GPs by 8,000, and to raise the money for that and for wider £2.5 billion spending on the health service through a mansion tax and a tax on tobacco companies. I am sure that in so far as such measures have success—I have some experience of that with the windfall tax that some Members may remember—the latter idea will find widespread support throughout the House. If at the end of the day the mansion tax does not prove successful for whatever reason, the Government will have to look elsewhere, but the need for additional resources can no longer be denied.

Shortly before coming to the Chamber for the debate, I heard on the news that the Secretary of State has said that the reconfiguration involves not only integration of care for the elderly and social care with the mainstream health care services. That is important, but it also involves dealing with the divisions between the acute hospitals, which take the bulk of the spend, and GPs. The reconfiguration must mean that more is done by GPs when services can be sensibly provided by them, and that less is done in hospitals. I believe I am correct that that idea was first mooted by Lord Darzi in around 2008-09. The word used at the time was “polyclinics”, which require a lot of investment. In the interview on television news, the Secretary of State said words to the effect that we need more GPs and 15,000 more community workers in GP practice to make it a success, both of which clearly require more money.

Somehow or other, the Government must face up to the fact that, when it comes to claims for money, services to patients in Coventry and cities throughout the country must be increased. Otherwise, we will have more closures of local management committees and GP practices. Some 518 UK practices have closed in the past five years. Others have expanded, but in Coventry alone, eight major practices have closed. We have shrinkage of capacity and an increase in demand. By the definition of those two statements, we have a crisis, which is the subject of our debate.

Will the Minister tell us how far the Government have got with the pilot scheme under the clinical commissioning group in north Lancashire? The pilot intends to find out how the additional resources—£1 million has been put up—can be fed in without taking away from other parts of the health service, which it is important to emphasise. How is that working out?

That point came to my attention with the letter and prompted me to apply for the debate. The situation was highlighted in an early-day motion back in June. I did not sign it at the time but have rectified that. It was tabled by a Member who speaks for the Liberal party and seconded by two distinguished Labour Members, a

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former Chairman of the Select Committee on Health and my right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Frank Dobson), a previous Labour Secretary of State for Health—he was Secretary of State in one of the earlier Labour Administrations. An amendment that I would be interested in supporting was tabled by a Government Member. He said that money was available for that pilot study. I would like to hear how it is making services more effective and providing more resources effectively for the delivery of GP services.

There is a conundrum. Why are GP practices not as attractive as they ought to be to new entrants? Fewer of those qualifying in the medical profession want to go into general practice, hence we have a net decline in the total numbers at the very time when, for all the reasons I have given, we should be increasing those numbers. Why is it so difficult? When one gets into a practice, and before becoming a partner, one gets more than £50,000 a year. Beyond that, when people become partners, they get approaching £100,000 and sometimes more, even in the initial stages. The average pay for GPs in Coventry is more than £100,000 a year.

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): Some months ago, I visited one or two different general practices in Coventry. The disparity in medical technology was startling. I have raised that in the House before, but I hope the Minister will touch on the reasons why we get such disparities.

Mr Robinson: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention.

Some 10,000 GPs—I am sure these figures are well researched by Deloitte—have expressed an intention to retire in the next five years. That is 2,000 a year, and Labour is promising to increase the number of GPs by 8,000. We will therefore need considerably more than that just to remain where we are now. What are the projections for doctor qualifications and the division between secondary and primary care? Are we catering for enough or will we have a continuing crisis with people blaming the previous contract, as they do in the press all the time, when in fact there are simply not enough doctors or resources to go around?

I do not want to say that all doctors are perfect. They are no more perfect than the rest of the human race. The simple fact is that they are under strain. I could cite many instances, but I would like to mention one in particular. Dr Jamie Mcpherson, the secretary of the local medical committee in Coventry, is a very fine and dedicated GP whom I have known for years—he was one of the first people to come and see me when I was first elected—through the troubled years when Lady Thatcher’s Governments were first introducing tremendous cost pressures. When there was the idea that GPs would be budget holders of practices, he came to see me and said, “We don’t want that. We are aware we have to improve, but we want to be doctors serving the community.” That was his view. There is always a tension between the pressure to make GPs into budget holders who look at costs and the need for them to be committed to what they are really there for: serving the community as doctors.

I said I would give plenty of time for my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South to speak and I intend to do so. Before I sit down, however, I would like to raise a few more points. What are the Government’s

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plans to ensure that there are more GPs, not five years out but in the next year or two? Can we expect any net increase in resources and in the number of GPs? Do we have any plans to have 15,000 extra community care health workers? It seems to me that we have an undue concentration on the reorganisation of the secondary sector. We have always had, in this House and outside, a top-down preoccupation with the secondary sector, the acute hospital, as if we solve everything by a concentration on it.

When I received the letter from the Coventry GPs, I realised that an increasing problem relates to the place that GPs occupy within the health community. What progress is being made in north Lancashire? What are the Government’s plans in the next year or two—they must have them, because they budget over three years—for the number of GPs, increasing resources and the establishment of new buildings?

I would like to mention another point that has been brought to my attention. There has been some investment in new buildings for GP practices. Has that investment been made with a view to them becoming polyclinics and taking on more of the “routine” jobs, if we can call them that? They are still very specialist and require trained nurses, which is why Labour has plans for 20,000 more nurses—not all, perhaps, for GP surgeries—and 8,000 more doctors. They are very skilled jobs, even though they are more routine. How much of the investment in new buildings for GPs has been devoted to the provision of a wider range of care? I ask that because it is clear that the capital cost of investing in providing new premises for practices is one of the stumbling blocks to getting new entrants into GP practices.

The other point I want to draw attention to when it comes to the Government’s plans, in addition to whether there is a problem with the practices and the capital costs of buildings, relates to women GPs. Nearly half of all GPs are now women—I think it is roughly 50%—and they need to be able to work part time. We therefore need a flexible contract. Is it flexible and is flexibility encouraged? They have a tremendous and increasing role to play.

Those are the questions I wanted to put to the Minister. We are very pleased to see him in his place and I am very pleased that we are having this debate.

4.39 pm

Mr Jim Cunningham (Coventry South) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) for the invitation to contribute to this evening’s Adjournment debate. I am told—I hope I have got this right—that it is the Minister’s birthday today, so may I get off on the right footing by wishing him a happy birthday? [Interruption.] He is looking rather puzzled about how I might have found out, but I think we should wish him a happy birthday anyway, even if he disagrees with what we say in this debate.

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West, because family doctors in Coventry have warned that local GP surgeries are at breaking point. The Coventry local medical committee has written to the Government to highlight just how much GPs are struggling. The letter was sent on behalf of 198 GPs, nurses, managers and other staff. I am concerned that the life of a GP is becoming increasingly unattractive.

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We are seeing earlier retirement and emigration to other countries. We do not want a shortage of experienced GPs because we are driving them away. We are all aware of the demographic changes that are putting increased pressure on GPs, but we can try not to exacerbate them. I have written to the Health Secretary on this matter and I look forward to the reply.

I want to raise a few areas of concern about the ways in which GPs are put under pressure. I have heard from GPs on the ground that the level of paperwork required is ever increasing. Targets for GPs can be useful, but GPs feel that they are continually trying to satisfy changing requirements in order to receive the required funding. When that is combined with the climbing numbers of appointments, GPs are hard pushed to tick all the boxes needed to ensure that they are not financially penalised. I am concerned that GPs are being forced to spend far too much time doing administrative and managerial work, which is simply not practical when patient numbers are soaring and GP numbers are dropping. That has been made far worse as a result of the Government’s top-down reorganisation of the national health service, with the introduction of GP-led commissioning. We ought to be asking our GPs to do what they should be doing: treating patients, rather than being swamped in paperwork.

I am concerned that, as a result, GPs are unable to meet the expectations of patients. GPs routinely work between 10 and 12 hours a day and offer appointments at 10-minute intervals. That is extremely demanding, but it also means that they are unable to give patients the care they would wish to. For example, 10-minute slots do not allow time to discuss more than a few medical issues, and certainly not in any depth. Doctors want to help their patients, but the vast numbers of patients, combined with the paperwork and administrative work demanded of them, make that difficult. Patients deserve doctors who have the resources and the time to provide the best care they can.

Last year, a survey of GPs by the British Medical Association showed those points clearly. Almost all the doctors responding to the survey said that bureaucracy and quality and outcomes framework box-ticking had increased in the past year, 94% said that their workload had increased, 82% felt that some of the new targets were reducing the number of appointments available to the majority of patients, 90% said that their practice’s resources were likely to fall in the next year, and 45% said they were less engaged with the new clinical commissioning groups because of the increased workload. Perhaps most significantly, 86% of GPs said that morale had fallen in the past year.

I know that GP surgeries are working hard to keep things going, but we cannot replace resources. Will the Minister make a commitment to Labour’s £2.5 billion Time to Care fund? The Time to Care fund will support 20,000 more nurses, 8,000 more GPs, 5,000 more care workers and 3,000 more midwives. Nothing speaks like adequate funding. The extra funding will help to reduce the pressure. I want to know what the Government are doing to alleviate the pressure on GPs, to ensure they have the adequate resources to do the job and to improve morale. Finally, will the Minister make a commitment to Labour’s plans to spend more on the NHS?

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I call the Minister, and the House wishes him a happy birthday.

4.44 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr Daniel Poulter): Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I thank the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) for his kind regards in that respect.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Coventry North West (Mr Robinson) on securing this debate. Like his hon. Friend, he raised a number of important broader points about the future of general practice and the work force—I hope to provide some reassurance in that regard—and some important local issues, which I also intend to address.

I commend both hon. Members for their interest in local health care matters as they affect their constituents, and I pay tribute to the dedication and professionalism of all the GPs and other staff working in primary care in Coventry and surrounding areas. The House will agree, I am sure, that good quality patient care is expected, regardless of which part of the country we live in. GPs are the bedrock of our NHS, with an estimated 340 million consultations taking place in general practice every year. We want to ensure that we always give GPs the right support so that they can deliver the best possible care for patients.

I am aware that the Coventry and Rugby local medical committee of the British Medical Association issued an open letter on 26 September, giving its views on national and local issues in general practice.

Let me turn first to one of the important points raised in the debate, which was that there has quite rightly often been a focus on the NHS as viewed through the prism of secondary care, yet the majority of engagements with patients is in primary care and in the community. We need to recognise the role of pharmacy, too, as many people’s first point of contact will be with the pharmacist and, in the NHS, with their GP or another element of primary and community health care. It is therefore important to challenge that traditional prism through which the NHS tends to be regarded. We know that it is not just about hospitals; it is about primary care, too, and about ensuring that we invest to support GPs and deliver other high-quality community health care services.

Mr Robinson: We are greatly reassured by the Minister and agree with what he said. Will he confirm the figure—I was quite surprised to discover it—that at least 90% of all initial contacts with the NHS are through primary services? As he rightly says, it is mainly GPs, but chemists and others, too. Is the 90% figure correct?

Dr Poulter: I believe that that estimate is correct, although it is impossible to give a totally accurate figure, because some of the consultations, particularly with a pharmacist, might be informal rather than registered as an official consultation. For many people, it is important to get advice from their local pharmacist about how better to manage their medication regime or just to seek simple advice about what to take for an upset stomach. Those informal consultations are not usually registered in the same way as GP consultations, even though they happen every single minute of every day in our health

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service. Those points of contact are in the community, not in secondary care. This is how most people will come into contact with the health service, although in this place we sometimes talk about the NHS through the prism of secondary care. It is a legitimate challenge for all us of to recognise the importance of primary and community care and to continue to invest in and support those people who deliver that when we design health care services in the years ahead.

As a doctor myself, I particularly recognise the work of GPs and the vital role that they play. Shortly after the local medical committee issued its letter, as highlighted in the remarks of the hon. Member for Coventry North West, the Government were pleased to see that NHS employers, on behalf of NHS England and the BMA, reached agreement on changes to the GP contract. The BMA made the point that these changes will provide much needed breathing space for general practice and greater stability for patients. However, we accept there is much more that we need to do in the longer term to support general practice, such as recruiting more GPs to help tackle GP burn-out. I shall say more about that later.

We are of course pleased to have reached agreement with the BMA, and I think it is useful to set out a few points about what we have done nationally and what we want to do in the coming years, as this will help to address some of the concerns raised by the hon. Gentleman.

First, it is worth highlighting some of the investment in general practice that has taken place. We recognise the need for a reversal of the shift that the hon. Gentleman described so articulately—the shift that has taken place, over decades of investment, away from community care and towards hospital care. I hope the hon. Gentleman will be reassured by the latest figures, which show that the total investment in general practice increased in cash terms by 2.92% between 2012-13 and 2013-14, from £7,863.8 million to £8,093.4 million. I shall write to him to confirm those figures, but I think we should all welcome the reversal of the traditional shift in favour of secondary care, towards general practice and other primary care. The hon. Gentleman may be aware that NHS England published its “Five Year Forward View” last week. In that report, it committed itself to more investment in primary care over the next five years, including investment in infrastructure.

I know that the hon. Gentleman is rightly concerned about GP numbers. Although the headcount figure in this year’s annual work force census shows a very small decrease of 29, the full-time equivalent figure has increased by 423, or 1.2%, which represents a real increase in capacity in the system. There are now 36,294 full-time equivalent GPs working in the NHS, including registrars and retainers. That is an increase of 423 since 2012, and an increase of more than 1,000 since 2010. There are 329 full-time equivalent GPs working in the Coventry and Rugby clinical commissioning group area, compared with 305 in 2010, so numbers are beginning to increase locally. I hope that that, too, is reassuring.

I understand that the NHS England Arden, Herefordshire and Worcestershire area team is working with the deanery, examining work force development issues and, specifically, ways of improving the process for GPs who want to return to general practice after a career break. The hon. Gentleman made the important point that the work force now includes many women

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GPs. That is one of the great strengths of the profession, but we must bear in mind the need to enable women who take career breaks in order to start a family to return to general practice. I know that a great deal of work is being done in that regard, not just locally but nationally, involving the Royal College of General Practitioners and the General Medical Practice.

We accept that the work force must grow to meet rising demand from an ageing population. That is why our mandate to Health Education England requires 50% of trainee doctors, after graduation—3,250, on the basis of current forecasts—to enter GP training programmes by 2016; the current figure is about 40%. That will enable further increases to be made in the GP work force: we expect an increase of about 5,000 by 2020. Although numbers are rising, we know that GPs need more resources.

Mr Robinson: My hon. Friend and I are very reassured by what the Minister has said. As for the numbers—which, of course, we always have to plan for—does the increase of 5,000 by 2020 mean an increase in the total number of doctors, or an increase in the number of GPs? Will that be enough, given that 10,000 doctors will retire from general practice alone in the next five years? Does the 5,000 figure relate to the position after those GPs have retired? How does the calculation work?

Dr Poulter: The figures that I gave are based on what we assume will be the attrition rate over the next five years. The total number of doctors has increased by, I believe, about 7,000 over the last four years, but the 2020 figure relates specifically to GPs.

The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. The same consideration has historically applied to health visitors. When a large proportion of that work force has been close to retirement over a five or 10-year period, it has meant the loss of a great deal of experience, but that is not the only issue: there is also the need to plan for those retirements in advance. The figures that we worked out with Health Education England take account of attrition rates.

Part of that is about ensuring that half those medical students become GPs on graduation; currently, only 40% do so. That is where the extra increase in capacity will come from. That will also address the fundamental issue that we have been discussing today—namely, that we need more people working in the community and in primary care. We need to move the prism of the discussion about what good health care looks like away from it being just about delivering good health care in hospitals.

The work being undertaken by Health Education England will improve the applications and fill-rate for GP training. The work includes: a review of the GP recruitment process; development of a returner and refresher scheme; development of a pre-GP year to give prospective GP applicants exposure to the specialty; and careers advice for foundation doctors and medical students. That careers advice is important. When I was at medical school, everyone in my year wanted to be a hospital doctor. I entered a hospital specialty. It is therefore important that, from day one at medical school, students are encouraged and supported to recognise the tremendous opportunities that a career in general practice could offer.

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Part of the challenge is to set the aspirations of medical students appropriately and to recognise that the work of a general practitioner is as important as—if not sometimes more important than—the work of a hospital specialist. We need to encourage greater recognition of that fact in medical schools, given that we want to deliver more care in the community. I believe that it is Lancaster medical school that has done a very good job of placing a greater emphasis on prospective GPs doing more community-based and primary care placements during medical school training. That has encouraged more students to enter general practice afterwards. I think I am right in saying that it is Lancaster medical school, but I will write to the hon. Member for Coventry North West after the debate to outline exactly where that kind of initiative has been effective. When looking at how we should train our future work force, it is vital to ensure that more medical students focus on a career in general practice from an early stage of their development if we are to encourage more of them to choose that route. We know that that has worked in the past.

I shall not detain the House by describing the work that Health Education England is doing nationally. Instead, I want to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s questions by talking about what we are doing now to support GPs through technology to enable them to provide a better service to patients. This applies not only to the service available during the current opening hours but to how we might facilitate community and primary care services on a more seven-days-a-week basis.

Last autumn, the Prime Minister announced a challenge fund of £50 million to support innovative GP practices in improving services and access for their patients. As well as offering seven-days-a-week access and evening opening hours, pioneer GP groups will test a variety of forward-thinking services to suit modern lifestyles, including Skype, e-mail and phone consultations. We need to recognise that this is about engaging with people on their own terms. Someone who is working might want to engage with their GP in a different way from someone who is retired, for example. The challenge fund will help to address those questions.

The challenge fund is now supporting more than 1,000 practices covering every region. The pilots will draw best and innovative practice from GPs on the ground to determine what is needed and works locally. We recently announced a second wave of access pilots, with further funding of £100 million for 2015-16. Yesterday, NHS England published details of how to apply to become a wave 2 pilot site, including the application criteria, process and time scales. I hope that practices in Coventry will take advantage of that fund and make applications to support local patients.

The £3.8 billion Better Care Fund combines existing funding in a single health and care pot, promoting integrated care and joint working between health and care services. It aims to ease pressure on services by encouraging greater prevention and by supporting people to stay independent for as long as possible. I have been informed that, in 2015-16, the Coventry clinical commissioning group will receive £9 million to improve services in the local area. Demand continues to grow nationally, and Coventry is no exception to that trend.

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However, I am told that significant work has been done over the past few years to increase access and to support local initiatives. Significant investment has been made in premises to improve better access to services and an improved patient experience. Four practices co-located to the City of Coventry health centre in 2012 and three practices moved to the new centre at Clay lane in 2013. The hon. Gentlemen raised some issues about practice closures—

5 pm

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. It being Five o’clock and there being a total lack of Whips in the Chamber—

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I beg to move that the House do now adjourn.

Madam Deputy Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his attempt to be helpful, but I will invite the Minister to move that the House do now adjourn, after which he may recommence his speech.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Dr Poulter.)

Dr Poulter: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise for the lack of the usual accompanying member of the Treasury Bench team to conclude proceedings, but I am pleased to continue the informative debate we have been having.

I was addressing the point about practice closures. The way the information is collected sometimes leads to a headline of “practice closures”, but it may well be that practices have merged, and it is important to recognise that when we have a debate, even an informed one such as this. When a number of practices have co-located locally to improve premises and there has been improved investment, that is an enhancement of services; it in no way diminishes the services available to patients. I do not know the details of each and every surgery in Coventry, but clearly collaboration has taken place, along the lines of the Darzi model outlined by the hon. Member for Coventry North West, whereby surgeries can pool their resources and work together. That can bring benefits to all their patients and mean an additional freeing up of money to invest in other community-based health services, for example, physiotherapy or speech and language therapy. That approach has worked well in many parts of the country, including in the examples I gave in Coventry.

I understand that NHS England has also given approval for new premises for the Prior Deram Walk practice in Canley, Coventry, with the new facility expected to be completed next summer. Ongoing investment is taking place locally. Practices in Coventry have a good provision of extended hours, through the enhanced service for extended hours, and have adopted online booking for appointments and repeat prescriptions. NHS England’s area team monitors complaints from patients and is currently receiving no complaints about access or difficulty in registering with a practice in the Coventry area, although if there are concerns, I would be happy to take an intervention.

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Mr Jim Cunningham: I thank the Minister for his announcement about a new practice in Prior Deram Walk, which is badly needed and which we would welcome.

Dr Poulter: I am pleased to have brought some good news about future planning to the debate. As I will be writing to the hon. Member for Coventry North West in detail about some of the initiatives with medical students, I am happy to outline further the future plans for that practice in the letter.

GP patient survey results from 2014 indicate that 85% of people who responded in the Coventry and Rugby clinical commissioning group area rated their GP surgery as “very good” or “fairly good”. Although this is a high proportion, it could of course be improved further. The figure is, however, testament to the work of local GPs and the quality of care they provide, alongside everybody who works in those practices. I am also aware that Coventry local medical committee had concerns that Coventry and Rugby CCG was not following NHS England planning guidance and investing more in general practice to support it in transforming the care of patients aged 75 and older. I understand the LMC has now reached agreement with the CCG on that, which is good progress. Our plans for personalised care for the most vulnerable patients included NHS England asking CCGs to set aside £250 million from existing funds. However, as has always been the case, CCGs are not restricted to using this funding on general practice only. For example, in some areas, CCGs have used the funding to employ extra district nurses for local practices.

On the important point about the wider community work force, it is increasingly the case that although a nurse may be counted as a member of hospital staff, their role goes across not just the hospital, but the community. That is particularly the case for nurses who support patients with long-term conditions such as multiple sclerosis and diabetes. Although that nurse is officially counted as a hospital employee, they play an increasingly important role in supporting the patient in the community. Having visited the local hospital in Coventry, I know that there is a great emphasis on the hospital working much more collaboratively with the community. The role of the hospital is about not just picking up the pieces when things go wrong but proactively supporting patients, especially those with long-term conditions, when they are at home.

Jim Fitzpatrick: I apologise to the Minister for intervening on him while he is replying to a debate on Coventry. He just mentioned collaborative service. The Barkantine practice in my constituency combines a 10-handed GP practice with a walk-in centre. It is able to offer appointments from 8 o’clock in the morning to 8 o’clock at night seven days a week, which is what the Prime Minister made a big point about in his conference speech. However, because of restructuring, the practice is having to hand over its walk-in centre finances to the local CCG, which means that the critical mass for providing the 8 am to 8 pm service seven days a week is no longer appropriate. Will the Minister look at that with regard to collaborative working, as we are talking about breaking down a system that the Prime Minister wants to see replicated across the country?

Dr Poulter: I hope the hon. Gentleman will excuse me if I do not detain the House in addressing that specific point today, but I will look into it and write to him

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separately about it. We have discussed local issues in his constituency before. I will take away what he says and get back to him, hopefully with some reassurance on the points that he has raised.

The CCG is developing a pre-hospital model to help manage urgent care and reduce attendance and admission to hospital. The development includes operational and clinical staff from a number of organisations including patient champions, primary care, local trusts and authorities, and unscheduled care providers.

The model being considered at the moment describes a community urgent care system designed around the patient, ensuring easy and timely access at a convenient location without blocks or diversions. The CCG and its partners at the Coventry urgent care board have developed and agreed a winter capacity and resilience plan. NHS England has made £2.8 million available to support the plan, and a number of specific winter schemes are already being put in place. They include: additional home care capacity for both planned and unplanned support; additional social worker capacity to support A and E and ward board rounds; GP responders; and hospital at home.

The plan sets out a clear mechanism for engaging and developing leaders and staff to enable the cultural changes required to support clinical commissioning activities, performance improvements and services changes necessary in the changing NHS environment at a local level. As we have said, this is about ensuring that the emphasis is moved away from a reactive care model in the hospital—having met the staff in Coventry I know that it is a very good reactive care model—and giving people better support and care at home. That is what investment in local GP practices and increasing GP numbers is about. It is also about ensuring that the right relationships are engaged at a local level to support the right type of care being delivered to patients in Coventry. Its focus is on developing internal capacity and capability to ensure that the emphasis is on upstream interventions, preventing people from becoming so unwell that they need to go into hospital, and making sure that people with long-term conditions and disabilities get the proper community-based support that they need.

I hope that I have brought some reassurance to the hon. Members for Coventry North West and for Coventry South, and I have a couple of points on which I will write to both of them. Once again, I convey my gratitude to the front-line staff working in Coventry. I have seen the local hospital for myself and know how hard local staff work. It is clear that investment is going into GP premises locally and that there is a commitment to continuing to support general practice in Coventry and the development of improved community services to ensure that the big challenge that faces the NHS, which is to support people with long-term conditions, is met, not just nationally, but in particular for those patients who need services from the NHS in Coventry.

Jim Fitzpatrick: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. On 16 October, during the Backbench Business Committee debate on cycling, I said that

“the proportion of cars on that stretch of road is already less than 9%”.—[Official Report, 16 October 2014; Vol. 586, c. 502.]

Further research has clarified that the 9% figure refers to an assessment of the percentage of private cars using the A3211 route at certain times of the day. This is

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based on counts carried out by transport consultants Steer Davies Gleave for Canary Wharf Group. It would have been more accurate for me to have said, “the proportion of private cars on that stretch of road is already less than 9% at some times of the day.”

I am grateful to be able to set the record straight. I apologise for not accurately reflecting the position. I am not sure whether this qualifies technically as misleading the House as it was an incomplete picture, but I apologise unreservedly for doing so, as that was clearly not my intention.

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Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I recall the lively debate and the lively bit of road to which he refers. The House is grateful to him for coming forward with his usual courtesy and sense of duty in order to set the record straight.

Question put and agreed to.

5.11 pm

House adjourned.