Improving Sepsis care

Last year, prompted by a constituent’s tragic loss of life and seeing first hand the dreadful impact on that death on the health professional caring for that patient, I started working with the UK Sepsis Trust.

I have written before in this column about Sepsis, an infection which sees a person’s immune system go into overdrive, diverting blood away from vital organs. When not detected and treated quickly this can, and all too often does, lead to organ failure and death.

It is estimated that 37,000 people die every year in the UK from Sepsis, more than breast, bowel and prostate cancer combined. This is a tragedy, made all the more so by the fact that Sepsis is treatable with antibiotics.

The UK Sepsis Trust, led by Dr Ron Daniels, have developed a treatment plan for Sepsis, known as the ‘Sepsis Six’. This consists of six simple medical procedures that can be administered simply. If applied within half an hour of Sepsis developing the treatment plan cuts the risk of death by half. Last year a pioneering report by the Health Ombudsman recommended that the NHS should deploy such treatment more frequently. This has the full support of Health Ministers and Department of Health officials.

I am very keen to see wide use of the ‘Sepsis Six’ and earlier this year worked with the UK Sepsis Trust, writing to hospitals across England asking them for information as to how they treated patients with Sepsis. What we found revealed a mixed picture. Whilst some areas, including the South West, are doing a relatively good job of detecting Sepsis and treating it appropriately, others are under reporting cases of Sepsis and are not deploying the right treatments quickly enough upon detection. Lives that could be saved are still being lost.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Sepsis that I founded and chair, published this information in our annual review on the NHS and Sepsis last week and on our website

We will do this each year, keeping the pressure on the NHS to accurately report Sepsis and comprehensively and consistently use the ‘Sepsis Six’.

In September we will be launching a national awareness campaign so more people are aware of the symptoms and seek medical help sooner. As we keep the pressure up over the months to come so yet further progress can be made, saving thousands of lives.

Whilst the Coalition Government’s decision to ring-fence NHS and Public Health spending, and to actually increase it in Cornwall, is helping staff in the NHS to cope with rising demand for services, early detection of Sepsis will free up precious resources as well as save lives. Early detection and treatment of Sepsis saves the NHS money.

Thanks to Dr Daniels and his team the knowledge is there on Sepsis to save lives and reduce pressure on the NHS. Knowledge must now be translated into action throughout the UK.


Some clarity on the Cornwall Council funding debate

Cornwall Councillors are preparing to consult us on their budget and future spending decisions, so I think it is helpful to highlight a number of facts to inform the ongoing discussion.

The first of these facts is encouraging – central government is at last waking up to the historic under-funding of Cornwall and other rural areas. In Parliament colleagues and I on the Rural Fair Shares Group have made the case that services can cost more to deliver in rural areas than urban areas and have made progress in securing more funds for rural areas. More money is now helping rural communities, with Cornwall Council’s Sparse Areas Grant, a fund designed to help deliver services in rural areas, increasing by 35%.

There is much more to do to close the unfair funding gap that has effected local government in Cornwall but we are, at last, on the right track. The average amount of money urban unitary authorities in the South of England will receive from central government for every person living in their area in 2014/2015 is £473. Cornwall Council will get £506 from central government for every person in Cornwall. Overall, as all Council’s deal with funding cuts, Cornwall’s reduction in spending power is less than the English average.

Of course this progress has to be set alongside the overall reductions in funding for local government. Reductions driven by the need to balance the nation’s finances and reduce the debt. This is a real challenge, but one that Cornwall Council staff have risen to. In 2010 Cornwall Council from an annual budget of £1,066 billion identified just under £200 million of savings to be spread over four years. Some predicted that this would result in ‘the worst service cuts to hit Cornwall in nearly a century’. Four years later we can say that this did not happen. Difficult decisions to save money were made, however four years later Cornwall Council is now spending nearly the same on service provision as Cornwall County Council and the six districts spent in 2007.

Looking ahead to the next four years we need to be provided with more accurate financial information and less scare mongering assertions. More willingness to work openly and differently with partner organisations in Cornwall, especially with our local NHS, could improve services and save money. I am very disappointed that Cornwall has been slow in applying for funds to build social homes for local people; more constructive use of government funding is needed.

Cornwall’s innovative spirit is delivering economic growth with unemployment in my constituency now below the level it was in 2005. While there is more to do, especially increasing wages, companies offering skilled, well paid jobs are growing here. As Cornwall Council now for the first time financially benefits directly from more businesses growing and people working in Cornwall, real support for enterprise could deliver more income to Cornwall Council. This would provide the income the council needs for vital services only they can provide.




Progress in tackling pensioner poverty

Amidst all the good news of last week’s Queens Speech two measures in particular stuck out for me, both of which will make a positive difference to local people.

Much for the credit for the first, the new 5p charge on plastic bags, must go to a local charity, St Agnes’ very own Surfers Against Sewage. For years they have joined other groups in calling for a tax on plastic bags to reduce wastage, wastage that all too often ends up in the sea where the everyday convenience of a plastic bag turns into a life-terminating threat for our marine wildlife. There is a growing body of scientific evidence about the effect of plastic in the marine environment and damage to human health. It is great to see action taken on this important environmental issue, part of a package of increased protection for our seas.

Changes to pensions mark another Queens Speech highlight. The reforms, which will enable employees to group together to create collective pension funds at work,
marks a further step forward in a campaign I have been involved in for many years; ensuring that people have sufficient income in retirement.

Collective pension funds, successfully pioneered in the Netherlands, drive down scheme running costs meaning that there is more money for scheme members when they retire. This new freedom for savers builds on a raft of Coalition policies designed to consign to history the pensioner poverty we saw during the Labour years. Earlier this year George Osborne set pensioners free to access their pension savings how and when they want, abolishing all the tax restrictions that had been in place. As the Chancellor rightly said at the time, it is not the job of Government to restrict how people can access their savings in retirement after a lifetime of hard work.

All pensioners have benefitted from the restoration of the link between the state pension and earnings, meaning that the average pensioner has received a £650 boost to their pension since 2010. Pension Credit has been boosted in advance on the introduction a new simplified single tier pension that will ensure better income in old age for all. Crucially this will include
groups disadvantaged under the old system, including carers and full time mothers.

Overall these measures are having an impact. The Joseph Rowntreee Foundation, an independent charity that researches poverty, report that the proportion of UK pensioners in poverty has now fallen to its lowest level for almost thirty years. I am keen to build on this in the years to come, and to see this progress in tacking poverty also benefiting people of working age.

The Queen’s Speech commitment to increase fines on employers who don’t pay the minimum wage will help with this, building on the above-inflation minimum wage increase and 1 million plus new jobs that are starting to drive up incomes. As the UK’s recovery builds momentum, it is my priority to see that no-one of any age is left behind.





Affordable and good quality homes for all

One of the most important parts of my job is enabling local people to get on. A crucial part of this is enabling people to live in genuinely affordable, good quality homes they feel secure in.

Affordability and security should extend to rented homes as well as to home ownership. I am pleased to see the Government take a two-pronged approach to delivering this in the rental sector, focusing on boosting the supply of rental properties to drive down high prices and standing up for tenant’s rights.

The Government is investing over £1 billion to build thousands of new, good quality homes to rent. More such homes means more choice and lower rents for tenants, something I am very keen to see delivered here. 

At the same time tenants are being given more powers and rights than before, with all letting agents now required to publish all their fees and charges. A new model tenancy agreement is also being developed, which will provide tenants with a clear guide to rental contracts. Legislation is being prepared for a new tenants redress scheme and over £4 million has been invested in tackling rogue landlords.

These positive changes in the private rental sector are taking place alongside a scheme that is making a real difference to home ownership – Help to Buy. This scheme is helping people who want to own a home to do so, by reducing the amount of money needed for a deposit on a home to as little as 5% of the asking price. 

Figures announced last month show that over 27,000 people have now bought a home through the scheme, with the average property being bought through it costing £190,000, secured on deposits from £10,000 upwards. For the average Help to Buy buyer their purchase price is worth three times their annual salary, making mortgage repayments affordable. It is essential that people are not encouraged to take on debt they cannot afford to repay. 94% of completions under the scheme have been on homes outside London.

We all have the opportunity to press for more encouraging changes to housing locally, as Cornwall Council’s Strategic Housing Framework is put out to consultation. This document will, when adopted, set the criteria used to allocate affordable housing in Cornwall. Like many people I want to see changes made, with greater priority given to local people.

This would build on recent progress in Cornwall which has seen Cornwall Council use new powers given to it by the Coalition Government to bring empty properties back into use. Owners of empty properties are charged 150% Council Tax while the property lies empty and can access loans of up to £20,000 to help  get it back into use again. Similarly new powers given by Government to fund more Council House building are being used to deliver two hundred new council houses in Cornwall, from this year. I will be pressing for more to follow.  Overall Cornwall Council report that 2,227 new affordable homes have been built locally since 2011.