Brushing Up

Michael with Dr Dev Patel and the new Brushlink device at the Dental Beauty Surgery, Swanley
Michael with Dr Dev Patel and the new Brushlink device at the Dental Beauty Surgery, Swanley

A recent visit to Brushlink at Dental Beauty, based in Swanley helped Michael to learn more about their innovative new design which seeks to improve dental hygiene.

The device, which clips on to the end of a toothbrush, and is linked to an app on your phone, ‘gamifies’ the way people brush their teeth, setting targets for improvement and offering scores. It has already achieved success amongst school children, who enjoy the competition, and elderly people in care homes, who sometimes forget to brush. It is hoped that the initiative will be rolled out across the rest of the UK.

 Sir Michael said: “Brushlink is another fantastic example of the innovation and entrepreneurial flair that is abundant in my constituency. What sets Brushlink apart is the combination of innovation and dental expertise, meaning they are years ahead of other would be developers. I have recommended that the Department for Health and Social Care meet Brushlink, and I look forward to hearing more about their success in the future.”

NHS Re-organisation

Daily Telegraph
Here we go again.  There have been rumours for weeks.   Now there’s a formal invitation to be briefed on the forthcoming “strategic” merger of Kent’s NHS “commissioning groups”.

In 21 years as Sevenoaks MP I’ve known one constant – endless NHS re-organisation.  When I arrived in 1996 there was just one District Health Authority.  This was then split into a new West Kent health authority and several GP fundholding practices.  In 1999 these were merged into the Sevenoaks and Tonbridge Primary Group.   In 2002 this became the West Kent Primary Care Trust.  In 2006 this Trust was merged again, with two neighbouring Primary Care Trusts to form the North West Kent Primary Care Trust.

Then came the Lansley reforms.  His massive Bill, burning up hours of parliamentary time and much coalition political capital, swept away the Primary Care Trusts, on which GPs were already represented, and replaced them with Commissioning Groups (on which more GPs were represented).  Our West Kent Commissioning Group took effect in 2013.

Now its days, too, look numbered.  A statement last month suggests each of Kent’s eight Commissioning Groups will now be brought together to form “a single strategic commissioning function”.  Our commissioners have explained: “it has become clear to us collectively that there is a need for some aspects of the commissioning of NHS care to be more joined-up.”   So new notepaper, new senior posts, yet more change.

That’s only part of the ever-changing NHS mosaic.  Higher up, the South East Thames Regional Health Authority became the South Thames Regional Health Authority in 1994.  In 2002 this was split into smaller “strategic” health authorities, in our case the Kent and Medway Strategic Health Authority.  In 2006 this was enlarged to become the South East Coast Strategic Health Authority.  In October 2011 that merged with two neighbouring strategic health authorities to become the South Coast Strategic Health Authority.  Just 18 months later it was abolished altogether.

Beyond primary care, the same upheaval. Mental health and community services were originally provided to Sevenoaks by the District Health Authority.  In 1997 mental health services were transferred to a new Invicta Community Trust.  In 2002 Invicta merged with the Thames Gateway Community Trust to form the West Kent NHS and Social Care Trust.  Four years later the West Kent and East Kent NHS and Social Care Trusts came together to form the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust.

Meanwhile other community services moved in 2009 from the Invicta and Thames Gateway Trusts to West Kent Community Health, which in 2011 merged with East Kent and Coastal Kent Community Services NHS Trust to form Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust.   Ambulance services were run by Kent Ambulance Service: in 2006 this merged with the Surrey and Sussex Ambulance Services to form the South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Trust.

In the midst of this bureaucratic turmoil survives Sevenoaks Hospital, founded in 1870.  But its day-to-day operations are becoming increasingly complex.  Since 1997, it’s been owned by Invicta Trust, by the West Kent Primary Care Trust and by NHS Estates.  Now owned by NHS Property, it’s run by Kent Community Health NHS Trust, with clinics run by various NHS organisations – even some from Sussex.

I make that at least 19 different bodies that have been “running” the NHS in Sevenoaks, almost one for every year I’ve been its MP.  All these changes have been accompanied by hopeful PR, promising better patient service.  But each has involved more cost and more management time which could be better spent on patients. So much change erodes public confidence: nobody really knows who is responsible for what.

Ever-changing bureaucracies undermine local institutions and affections.  In twenty-five years we’ve moved from local to district, from strategic to local, and now back up to county again.  Who can be sure of the right level at which to allocate resources and prioritise services when there’s nobody in charge long enough.

The damage isn’t just to patients and the public but to front-line staff.  It is our hard-pressed nurses and doctors who have to re-adjust their reporting procedures, to cope with fresh layers of bogus accountability, to learn the latest jargon of the newly merged.  This isn’t why they joined.   And we don’t need more of it.    After serving as a surgeon in the Second World War my father joined the NHS as it began: in 25 years he dealt only with a single regional hospital board.  Are we really better served now ?

There are now 32,000 senior managers in the NHS, paid over £65,000 a year: 7 per cent up on a year ago.  Remember the empty St Edward’s hospital in Yes, Minister – the best-run hospital in the country, but which had no patients.  If we’re serious about putting patients before paperwork, it’s time we stopped endlessly re-organising the NHS.

Local MP Joins Kent Campaign for New Medical School

Michael has signed a joint letter by 16 MPs across Kent to support the bid from Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Kent to establish a medical school in the Kent and Medway area.

As Christmas approaches, local health services are preparing for the challenges the winter period brings.  Having discussed these challenges with many NHS and health organisations, Michael is aware that one of the main reasons local providers struggle is because they cannot recruit enough doctors.

Kent is one of the largest areas in the UK without a medical school.  The letter therefore raises awareness of issues surrounding recruitment in the health sector.  It also outlines the benefits a medical school would bring to the region, such as improving local people’s access to high quality healthcare.

The group of MPs add that a local medical school will attract newly qualified and senior doctors, thereby improving health outcomes for patients in Kent:

‘We face serious health inequalities across Kent & Medway, with life expectancy for males up to eight years lower in the most deprived areas […] we firmly believe that a medical school would be transformative for our local health services.’

Michael Celebrates Super-HERO Officers

Michael has officially launched Sevenoaks District Council’s new Super-HERO service in a ceremony at the Housing Forum.

The Sevenoaks District Council’s current Housing, Energy and Retraining Options (HERO) service has received national recognition for its work.  According to the Council, its HERO service has helped thousands of people with issues relating to housing, debt, mortgage and further education and employment options.

Super-HERO extends the decade-old HERO service to offer a more holistic approach to providing support.  It will help people to live independently in their own homes, offering small home adaptations such as grab-rails and stair lifts to more technologically-based devices such as remote health monitors.

HERO officers will now work closely with GPs and provide relief such as a maternity package covering benefits, housing and debt service to vulnerable parents and people fleeing domestic violence.

Michael awarded the Council’s HERO officers with certificates as a mark of their achievement.

He said: ‘I’m pleased that HERO has evolved into a service that will now look beyond just housing, with health at its core.  I refer hundreds of my constituents to Sevenoaks District Council services every year, and I see at first-hand the commitment and professionalism of its officers.’

New Housing Strategy Launched

Michael has officially launched Sevenoaks District Council’s newly adopted Housing Strategy at this year’s Sevenoaks Housing Forum.

The launch, which took place on Friday (3), follows the completion of the Housing Needs Survey in winter 2016.  The Housing Strategy document is the response to this survey.

The Strategy aims to tackle the shorter life expectancies associated with poor quality housing, using HERO officers to combat homelessness at an early stage and develop suitable housing options for young professionals and an ageing population.

With a focus on health, the document outlines a plan to support vulnerable people with mental or physical health issues, older people and military personnel re-adapting to civilian life.

In his address, Michael highlighted the ‘chronic issues poor housing causes’, particularly to individual wellbeing.  He asserted that ‘growing up or getting stuck in unsuitable housing are injustices that we must address in order to build a country that works for everyone’.

Michael hopes the Strategy will stand the test of time.  He said: ‘I’m delighted to support Sevenoaks District Council’s hard work to ensure our residents can access the housing that is right for them.  I hope their strategy will become an example that is followed by other councils across the country.’

Column: We’ve Beaten Mental Health Stigma – Now Let’s Finish the Job

In his latest column for the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Michael has written about the challenge of mental health:

For too long, mental health was a taboo subject.  But with MPs and celebrities speaking out about their own experiences, much of the stigma that used to be associated with mental illness has gone.

In its place, though, is a realisation of how significant this challenge is for our country.  One in four people experience a mental health problem each year, with myriad effects on their families, jobs and lives.

We have made a lot of progress already.  Mental health now has parity of esteem with physical health in the NHS; five times more people are accessing treatment for conditions like depression and anxiety than six years ago; and extra funding is being invested in mental healthcare over the next few years.

But more money and warm words need to mean something practical.  That means coming up with innovative and wide-ranging ways to make sure people get the help they need.

I have recently been meeting local organisations to discuss their efforts to meet this challenge.  Their work includes better liaison services in A&E, provided by Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT).  Another improvement is cooperation between KMPT and Kent Police to give people the care they need, rather than a night in a cell because there is nowhere else to go.  West Kent Mind has always offered a fantastic service to our community that I have been proud to support.  Now it is also providing counsellors, alongside KMPT, to talk to vulnerable callers to the emergency services.

There is still a lot more to do.  People need to be able to find help more easily and the system needs to be simpler.

But with these organisations working together to find the innovative solutions we need, this is a challenge we can beat.

Sevenoaks Community First Responders Vehicle Launch

scfr launch 2

On Saturday, Michael was pleased to attend the launch of Sevenoaks Community First Responders’ new 4×4 medical emergency response vehicle.

Communtiy First Responders are volunteers who are trained by the ambulance service to respond to emergency calls through the 999 system.  Their new vehicle, supported by the Big Lottery Fund, has been named Ingrid after a member of the team who recently passed away.

scfr launch 3Michael met the responders and discussed their important work.  He was joined at the event by the mayor, the leader of Sevenoaks District Council and Tom Tugendhat, Member of Parliament for Tonbridge and Malling.

Michael said: “It is a great pleasure to be involved in the launch of Ingrid.  Sevenoaks Community First Responders is an excellent voluntary organisation that plays a vital role in saving lives in our local community: this new vehicle will enable them to offer a better service than ever.”