Mental Health Awareness

On Sunday, I joined World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s imperative that we all understand the importance of promoting good mental health. I have had the privilege of helping a number of local organisations secure funding for new and improved mental health services, many take advantage of our splendid natural maritime environment to promote good mental health.

As a member of the Conservative Environment Network I joined colleagues last week in launching our most recent report and a copy is on my website.

The report, which has been sent to Cabinet ministers, includes an essay from my colleague Rebecca Pow MP who is encouraging gardening to be adopted as a policy by a range of government departments including health, justice, defence, local government and education.

Gardening can help to cut childhood obesity, improve public spaces, provide purpose for prisoners in jails and help people deal with mental stress.

Gardens in Britain cover an area the size of Exmoor, Dartmoor, the Lake District and the Norfolk Broads National Parks combined.

The garden economy makes a significant contribution to the nations’ coffers, with £7.8billion being spent on this sector by tourists every year.

That figure does not include the way our parks and gardens are valuable habitats for wildlife and nature, capturing and storing carbon helping to combat climate change and reducing flooding.

Providing people with the opportunity to green their communities can be a way of tackling unemployment, lack of skills, loneliness and improve wellbeing.

There are many great, local projects from growing food in schools to Glen Carne enabling gardening for formerly homeless men and those suffering with Dementia in St Agnes to Incredible Edible Penryn at St Gluvius Church Hall. You don’t have to own a garden or know anything about gardening to benefit from these great community projects.

First published in the West Briton 13/09/17

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Acid Attacks

We have seen a worrying increase in reports of attacks using acid or other similar substances as offensive weapons. Of course violence of any kind is unacceptable, but there is something particularly troubling about these kinds of attacks. Corrosive substances cause severe burns and serious tissue damage. All too frequently, victims’ lives are altered forever. Nobody should have to go through the kind of mental and physical trauma they suffer.

I have heard from victims and survivors, including from Truro, and they are at the heart of the new plan to tackle these appalling crimes that, as Home Office Minister, I announced in Parliament last week.

While mercifully there are relatively few attacks, I am acutely aware of this growing problem and I refuse to let those behind such attacks spread fear through our society. The law in this area is already strong, with acid attackers facing up to a life sentence. Meanwhile, by law, suspicious transactions involving sulphuric acid must be reported to police.

But there are ways we can and will improve. The plan I announced in Parliament is wide-ranging and a comprehensive cross-Government review of our response to this profoundly concerning phenomenon.

Earlier this month the Home Office, with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, hosted a conference which brought together a range of organisations and people united by a determination to make a difference, from law enforcement, from Government, from the medical sector, mental health experts and representatives of the retail industry. Because there is no one simple answer, this joined-up approach has informed this action plan.

And we need to make sure that when these attacks do take place, victims are given the care and support they need; from the initial medical response to giving evidence in court and throughout the recovery process.

Drugs Strategy

Drugs destroy countless lives. They lead to crime, violence and disorder on our streets. They are one of the creeping and corrosive threats to our society that we must do more to tackle. But I am also determined to do all I can to protect the most vulnerable, who too often become the victims. I am proud to have played my part in the development of the Government’s new drug strategy which sets out how we will tackle the deadly impact of drugs, including substances like spice or fentanyl.

Drugs are illegal because they devastate lives. They are illegal because traffickers target vulnerable people all over the world and exploit their misery. They are illegal because of the agony caused by those solely focused on their next fix.

Last year, the Psychoactive Substances Act introduced a blanket ban on so-called ‘legal highs’, meaning back-yard chemists can no longer dodge the law by making small changes to the make up of dangerous drugs.

Being tough on drugs is vital, but it cannot be all we do.

It is vital we protect the vulnerable – to prevent them falling into the cycle of drug abuse and to help them turn their lives around. Doing so will spare countless families the agony of seeing a loved one’s life destroyed. It could save lives. And it will reduce the burden placed on our public services, in particular the police and the NHS.

While drug use is falling we are not complacent and are redoubling our efforts to prevent children taking drugs.

The new post of Recovery Champion will travel up and down the country, meeting NHS staff, police officers, teachers, community groups and local authorities, who all have a vital role to play in enabling people to live their lives free of drugs.

First Published in the West Briton 18/07/17

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Last week Cornwall welcomed inspectors from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission who jointly carried out an inspection of our local area. Under the Children and Families Act 2014, the government placed new duties on our local health, social and education services that provide for children and young people with special educational needs and/or disabilities.

The inspection will evaluate how effectively the local area identifies the needs of children and young people who have special educational needs and/or disabilities, and meets the needs of these children and young people so that their chances of participating fully in society improve.

Improving the lives of the most vulnerable people in our community is I believe amongst the most important roles of Cornwall Council. Our public services working effectively in partnership with local businesses and charities as well as families and carers is essential for improving lives. This is especially true when public finances are tight as we all want to see public funds spent on improving the opportunities for children and young people with special education needs and/or disabilities.

Central government has its role to play too and I am pleased that an ambitious project which will help support vulnerable children and families in Cornwall has been awarded almost £2m from the Government’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme.

The project, developed by Cornwall Council in partnership with health organisations, is one of 24 projects across the country to receive funding from the Department for Education’s £200m programme which has been set up to encourage local authority children’s services to innovate their practice and the way they deliver services.

This new and additional funding will help transform the way education, health and social care services work together to better meet the needs of children, young people and their families.

First published in the West Briton 12/07/17

Health Services in Cornwall

Last week I returned to my weekly routine of spending Monday to Thursday in Westminster and Friday, Saturday and Sunday working for my constituents in Cornwall. I met with constituents to discuss support for local small businesses with the Federation Small Business and Cornwall Council transport to go through plans for our new train services and road improvements, including the A30. I enjoyed meeting voluntary community groups at the Perranporth Memorial Hall.

I also met with the Chief Executive of the RCHT to discuss the recent CQC report of an unannounced inspection of Treliske in January. One of my top priorities remains supporting our local NHS and care services. The Chief Executive told me that the full CQC inspection in July is an opportunity to demonstrate the action taken to improve and to provide the evidence that the trust’s care is safe and effective.

It’s important to note that urgent and emergency care services have improved their CQC ratings and shown their professionalism under pressure. Other parts of the report are very disappointing reading but the Chief Executive assured me that since the January CQC inspection, measurable improvement in areas such as emergency care, sepsis, mortality and stroke have been made.

The trust have just received the latest inpatient survey published by the CQC and seen good scores in important areas including, confidence in doctors and nurses, feeling safe and well looked after and treated with respect and dignity.

The very significant issue of delayed discharges remain and I have written to Cornwall Council to seek assurances that the considerable additional funding that they have been given for adult social care, £12 million alone this year, will be spent to tackle this issue. The delayed discharge of patients is not good for patients and leads to delays in planned surgery.

First published in the West Briton 19/06/17

Social Care Funding

The tragic loss of PC Keith Palmer was another reminder of the risks our police officers and members of our emergency services take each day keeping us safe. Leaving home each day for work not knowing what lies ahead. We are very grateful for their public service.

Thank you to the many constituents who contacted me last week asking after the wellbeing of my team and myself. Our overwhelming feeling was of sadness for the tragic loss of life and injury.

While the process has been painfully slow, following meetings in Cornwall last week, I am hopeful that local leaders of our NHS and care services are making progress in agreeing plans to improve our health and care services.

Each day, there are around three wards of people waiting in Treliske to go home or onto another care setting but can’t. Why, because of the continued inability of Cornwall Council to work constructively with care providers to enable them to safely leave the hospital.

The Liberal Democrat and Independent Councillors are in charge of Cornwall Council. They choose how to spend our money. They choose to spend less on social care than other councils despite the fact we have more frail elderly people than many places.

Along with my MP colleagues we have made sure Cornwall Council is receiving extra, new funding for social care – £12 million this year alone. We will do everything we can to ensure they actually spend it on social care so that people who have their care funded by the taxpayer or pay for it themselves have access to the support they need to enable them to leave hospital safely.

It is however down to Council Councillors to deliver the joined up service promised – the joined up service that other parts of the country have achieved.

First published in the West Briton 29 March 2017

Health Services

Winter is always a challenging period, and I want to thank all NHS staff and carers for their hard work and dedication. The NHS reported that, on the Tuesday after Christmas, it had its busiest day ever and that, earlier in December, it treated a record number of patients within four hours. Overall, A&E departments across the country are seeing 2,500 more patients within the four-hour standard every single day compared to 2010. The NHS made significant preparations for this winter, because winter is always a difficult time, including having 3,000 more nurses and 1,600 more doctors in full-time employment. Despite this effort nationally and locally, there remain problems we need to solve.

Having spent time in the A&E department at Treliske, shadowing the team there, I saw for myself the great job they are doing, often under considerable pressure. I also saw that many people who came along to A&E could have been cared for by their local pharmacist, Minor Injuries Department or GP. Despite the hard work of our local GPs, sometimes people wait too long to see their GPs. Sadly, the changes to the GP contract in 2004 resulted in 90% of GPs opting out of out-of-hours care. But we have been putting that right. Now 17 million people in England—about 30% of the population—have access to weekend and evening GP appointments. More than that, we have committed to a 14% real-terms increase in the GP budget by 2020. That is an extra £2.4 billion and that is expected to mean an extra 5,000 doctors working in general practice.

Ultimately, the issue of rising demand for NHS and care services is about demographic change and, as I have been saying for some time, more needs to be done to respond to that change. Over the decade to 2015, we saw a 31% increase in the number of people living to 85 and older. This is a cause for celebration, but sadly it is not matched by an increase in disease-free life expectancy. We know that when people of that age go to A&E at this time of year, there is an 80% chance that they will be admitted to hospital.

We also know that we will need to look after 1 million more over-65s in five years’ time and will need to continue to increase investment in the NHS and social care system. That is happening. But it’s not just about spending more tax payers money. It is about making smart decisions about how the money is spent.

The truth is that, to solve this problem, we need not only to increase the number of people working in general practice, which is why we are funding the second biggest increase in the number of GPs in the NHS’s history, but also to increase the number of carers and the support for family carers. Ensuring we have enough good quality care services is the responsibility of Cornwall Council. Cornwall Council need to address this and they and our local NHS leadership urgently need to get on with joining up the care they provide. This is happening in other parts of the country. This would prevent the ‘bed blocking’ we experience in Cornwall with all its dreadful knock on consequences, including cancelled operations.

As the local NHS consults on their plans for improving our local NHS and care services, I will continue to encourage the implementation here of successful approaches which have been developed in other parts of the country, where the joining up of services has improved outcomes for local people.

Sadly, as we approach the local elections in May, there is a great deal of scaremongering about the future of the NHS and talking down the considerable achievements that have been made. So let me set the record straight. We have more patients being treated and more saying they have been treated safely and with dignity and respect.

Next year the NHS will be 70 years old. I am determined to continue to ensure we have the safest, highest quality care anywhere in the world. When we have difficult winters and an ageing population, of course that makes things more challenging, but it also makes me more determined.

Published in the Falmouth Wave February 2017