In his latest column for the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Michael has written about the need to build on Sevenoaks’ progress this year:
2016 was a very successful year for Sevenoaks. In an unsettled year nationally, our local economy remained strong, with unemployment falling to another record low.
Though there will be challenges, I believe 2017 could be even better.
After so many years of campaigning, in September our new grammar school annexe will finally open. I visited the site just before Christmas and I could already see that it will be a great addition to the remarkable range of high-quality school choice that is now on offer in Sevenoaks. There is still more to do to secure grammar provision for boys, though, and that will be one of my top priorities this year.
Meanwhile, discussions on the new rail franchise will be a great opportunity to lobby for the extension of the Oyster network and the many other rail improvements we want to see. I look forward to continuing to make the case for passengers this year.
With an ageing population increasing pressure on the NHS and our care system, we need to continue to protect Sevenoaks Hospital. It is a much-loved feature of our town – but it also has an important role to play in relieving pressure on facilities at Pembury and Darent Valley. Carrying on making that argument will be vital this year.
Finally, we need to make sure the District Council develops a robust and reasonable Local Plan that will give us the homes we need without encouraging inappropriate development in our town and in our villages in the years to come.
With all of these priorities and more, I am looking forward to continuing to represent Sevenoaks this year. After a successful 2016, let’s build on our achievements in 2017
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.
Last May, I was honoured to be elected for the fifth time as your Member of Parliament.
Since the election, I have continued to work hard on behalf of all of my constituents. I hold two advice surgeries each month, as I have done consistently since 1997, and I regularly raise issues and concerns on your behalf. My Westminster office also deals with hundreds of emails and enquiries every week. I work closely with our county, district, town and parish councillors, as well as other organisations such as Kent Police, the Citizens Advice Bureau and West Kent Housing.
I remain closely involved in campaigns across Sevenoaks and Swanley. From fighting to save Hextable Dance Studio to defending Sevenoaks Hospital, I am proud to support my constituents and fight for our communities.
Supporting our local schools
I am a strong supporter of schools across my constituency. Since the election I have visited schools in Westerham, Sundridge, Swanley, Sevenoaks, and elsewhere to speak to pupils and answer their questions about my work as MP.
Winning our campaign to secure grammar school provision last October was probably my best ever day as your MP. This decision was long in coming but the priority now is to get this annexe built and open for local parents and pupils. My next goal is to secure grammar provision for boys and I am working on this.
Getting a better deal for commuters
Our ageing railways cause a huge amount of frustration for commuters and passen
gers. Disruption may be the price of the vital work at London Bridge – but passengers need to know why they are delayed and what is being done about it. I was concerned to learn on a recent train cab ride that drivers are often unable to inform passengers about ongoing disruption and slow running while their train is in operation. Making sure drivers and passengers have rapid, clear and sufficent information is essential. I will continue to raise these issues with Southeastern to make rail travel easier for my constituents.
Bringing Oyster to Sevenoaks was another promise I made at the general election. Rail passengers have waited long enough and I will be meeting the Rail Minister again shortly to push for a definite date.
Fighting for our NHS services
I am committed to our local NHS. We need to see more services in Sevenoaks, not fewer. That’s why I have continued to defend Sevenoaks Hospital against the threat of closure. The withdrawal of some clinics was concerning but I have secured assurances that these vital services will continue to be available for local people.
Protecting GP services is also important. There is a review of GP provision underway and I will ensure the views of local people are fully represented. The NHS is so much more than the big district hospitals like Pembury and Darent Valley; it works best where it is local and loved.
Boosting our local economy
In Sevenoaks and Swanley, our local economy is strong. Compared with 2010, there are 600 fewer people out of work, including 200 fewer young unemployed, and we have 600 more businesses. I see evidence of this progress on each of my regular constituency days. Since the election, I have visited businesses, shops and local sites throughout the constituency and I have more visits already planned for the next few months.
But there is still more to do to support our local economy. Broadband is a key issue that businesses and the Chamber of Commerce continue to raise with me. I have recently begun a fresh campaign to demand further action from BT. We need to make sure our local businesses and those who work from home have the broadband they need to thrive, wherever they are based.
Michael has announced that he is ‘reassured’ after a recent visit to Sevenoaks Hospital.
His visit came following recent changes to the outpatient services offered by Sevenoaks Hospital.
Following significant local concern, Michael secured assurances from West Kent CCG and Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, which runs the hospital, that Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust would take over the clinics previously offered by King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.
Michael was met at the hospital by David Griffiths, Chairman of Kent Community Health, Paul Bentley, Chief Executive, matron Rachel Nicholls and other representatives. They showed him the hospital’s wards and the Minor Injuries Unit, before accompanying him to Darent House, the former site of the Knole Centre. Mr Griffiths and Mr Bentley then briefed Michael on the latest developments at the hospital.
Michael said: “There has been some concern in Sevenoaks about the future of our hospital. Having visited, I am reassured that it will retain its vital role in our local NHS, taking pressure off acute hospitals like Pembury and Darent Valley. We need more local NHS care, not less, and I will continue to press for even more services to deliver the healthcare we need at Sevenoaks Hospital.”
Michael has launched a defiant defence of Sevenoaks Hospital following the announcement that King’s College Hospital Trust is to withdraw its services.
He recently demanded assurances that the hospital will remain open from the local Clinical Commissioning Group and Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust, which operates the other services at the hospital.
In a response, Dr Bob Bowes, Clinical Chair of West Kent CCG, confirmed that all patients seen under existing arrangements will either continue to be seen at Sevenoaks, but by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust staff, or will transfer their appointments to Princess Royal University Hospital.
Dr Bowes also confirmed that Sevenoaks Hospital is part of a wider review of local health services. Michael is concerned about this process and will continue to watch developments closely.
Michael said: “I have always defended Sevenoaks Hospital against the threat of closure. I am as determined as ever to protect the vital services it offers for local people. I want to see more services in Sevenoaks, not less.”
Michael is currently awaiting a response from Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust and has requested a meeting with the Chief Executive.
In the first of a new monthly column for the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Michael has written about his support for a new GP surgery in Dunton Green:
Following our grammar school success and with renewed progress on the Oyster campaign, with this new monthly column I will be keeping you up to date about my work as your Member of Parliament.
One of the best parts of my job is spending Friday and the weekend visiting different parts of my constituency. I look in on schools and businesses, I meet residents, and of course I hold my monthly advice surgeries in both Sevenoaks and Swanley.
Recently, I spent time focusing on healthcare and the challenges that our growing and ageing population will bring to Sevenoaks. We need more GP places and I believe a new medical facility in Dunton Green could help.
This is not just about Dunton Green, though with the ongoing development at Ryewood this is a rapidly growing area. It’s a valuable opportunity to relieve the rising pressure on other surgeries, securing benefits for residents across Sevenoaks.
I also met West Kent Clinical Commissioning Group which oversees our GP services. As they made clear, it is important to create a long-term plan for GP provision in Sevenoaks – but we must also deal with the immediate situation. Several local surgeries are already full and without timely action the situation could worsen.
We also need to look again at Sevenoaks Hospital and make sure that we are making fullest use of all the services provided there. The NHS is much more than the big district hospitals like Pembury and Darent Valley; it works best where it’s local and loved.
Michael has welcomed the news that West Kingsdown Medical Centre will remain open after he intervened.
After a number of patients raised concerns with him, Michael pressed NHS England South East and Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley CCG to find a solution that maintained a local GP service in West Kingsdown.
Following his intervention, NHS England South East have announced that new local GPs will take over the medical centre, ensuring continuity for patients and opportunities for improved care.
Michael said: “This is excellent news. West Kingsdown needs its own surgery and I am glad that the NHS and the local CCG have listened to the concerns of local people and their representatives. I will continue to monitor the issue to ensure that the transition is as seamless as possible.”
Responding to the current uncertainty about West Kingsdown Medical Centre, Michael said: “I am concerned about the situation facing the residents of West Kingsdown. I have received representations from a number of constituents, whom I have advised to participate in the current consultation process. I have also written to NHS England to request further information and clarification on the subject.”
Michael has expressed concerns about the closure of the Knole Centre in his Sevenoaks constituency.
The centre provides neuro-rehabilitation care for patients across West Kent. It is run by Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT), which announced its intention to close the service earlier this year. This has taken place early due to concerns about safe staffing over Christmas.
Michael said: “Clearly this is not an ideal situation. People will be understandably concerned about the closure of the service just before Christmas. Ultimately, patient safety has to come first. If the Knole Centre is unable to guarantee patient safety then it is right that it closes.
I am confident that significant planning has gone into managing the immediate situation but I will be seeking assurances that the new permanent services will provide a high quality of local, personal care.”