Henry Smith MP – Westminster Report – May 2023
We all know the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on our health service. This is an issue I continue to highlight directly to ministers as well as through joint efforts with other parliamentarians.
A strong primary care system reduces accident and emergency pressures, helps people live healthier lives, and improves the efficiency of the NHS more widely.
Cutting NHS waiting lists is one of the Prime Minister’s five priorities and the Primary Care Plan will make a difference for patients around the country.
Firstly, reforms to booking GP appointments will make it easier to access these in the first place. We have all experienced ourselves, or heard from a friend or family member, about the ‘8am rush’ to get an appointment.
Reforms will ensure patients will no longer be asked to call back on a different day for an appointment. Instead, they will know on the day how their request is to be handled.
If urgent, they will be assessed on the same day. It is welcome to have confirmation that patient preference for a call, face-to-face appointment or online message will be respected. Some £240 million is being invested in new systems to assist GP practices in delivering this.
Secondly; patient choice will be increased by providing more services in pharmacies and on the high street. This will help alleviate pressure on GPs and save up to 10 million GP appointments a year.
Investment of £645 million will see more services provided by high street pharmacies. In England, four in five of us live within a 20 minute walk of a pharmacy. The Pharmacy First minor illness service will mean that for the first time, pharmacists will be able to supply prescription-only medicines for seven common illnesses.
Services available on the NHS app will be expanded, with patients in more than 90 per cent of practices being able to see their records, book appointments and order repeat prescriptions using the app by March.
Thirdly; ensuring extra capacity so more appointments from more staff can be offered. Work continues on the commitment of 26,000 more primary care professionals and 50 million more appointments by March of next year. This is being supported by an extra £385 million this year, with actions including expansion of GP specialty training also taking place.
The increase in GP workload outside of appointments by more than half since the pandemic will also be addressed through the streamlining of GPs’ priorities.
I welcome confirmation from the Health & Social Care Secretary that 10 per cent more GP appointments are taking place every month compared to before the pandemic. I will continue to work to ensure the focus of Government and NHS remains on securing improvements for patients.
I was privileged to be able to mark the Coronation of King Charles III in Westminster and in Crawley.
In Westminster Hall I met His Majesty for the first time as King. I was also honoured to join the West Sussex High Sheriff with Crawley Hospital League of Friends to officially plant three cherry trees for the King, our late Queen Elizabeth II and Maria Hains, a local charity campaigner who passed away this year.
Fighting fraud and supporting victims: We all have a right to feel safe in our own home. While technological advances have helped bring us closer to friends and family in so many ways, we also know that criminals use scam texts, phone calls and fake advertising as ways to target potential victims.
Fighting fraud has been made a priority for all police forces by including fraud in the national Strategic Policing Requirement, and by specifying the capabilities each force should have in place to tackle fraud. The Prime Minister has now confirmed further measures to crack down on this crime.
There will be closer working with telecommunications and tech businesses to stop fraud at source. Fraudulent text messages and cold calling will be targeted, helping to prevent fraudsters impersonating legitimate businesses, and placing a duty on social media companies to prevent fraud.
More will be done to catch fraudsters and bring them to justice. A National Fraud Squad will be backed by some £100 million and will not only target fraudsters overseas, but will review sentences for this intrusive crime.
The rights of victims will be enhanced with the law changed so more victims get their money back from their bank. The public will be empowered to recognise, avoid and report fraud: with expansion of Action Fraud services and ensuring it is easier to report fraud online.
Increasing the UK’s energy resilience: The increase in energy prices caused by Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine has been felt right across the world, including in communities such as our own.
To help support people at this time, the Government has been taking action to provide immediate help and to ensure enhanced UK energy resilience for the future, some of which I have detailed below.
The Energy Price Guarantee, which discounts the unit cost for gas and electricity use, has also been extended and provides certainty with bills. Following the Budget in March, I questioned the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Parliament on how people on lower incomes will benefit from fuel duty being frozen for the 13th consecutive year.
The Household Support Fund ensures councils can provide discretionary support to local residents. West Sussex County Council will receive more than £9.7 million in the latest round of the Household Support Fund, taking the total level of support for West Sussex through this fund to over £24.3 million.
Earlier this year the Prime Minister created the new Department for Energy Security & Net Zero: this has been tasked with securing the UK’s long-term energy supply, bringing down bills and halving inflation.
Central to this work is the Energy Bill which was debated in the House of Commons this month. The Bill will increase resilience and reliability of energy systems in this country, as well as supporting delivery of Britain’s climate change commitments. It will also go to reform the UK energy system while minimising costs to consumers and ensuring protections from unfair pricing.
As Crawley MP and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Future of Aviation the issue of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) is one I have continued to pursue with ministers.
Last month the Department for Transport stated it remains on track to achieve its wider aim of at least five commercial-scale SAF plants under construction in the UK by 2025, and I have followed up in the Commons where I asked the Nuclear & Networks Minister for an update in achieving this goal.
This legislation seeks to reform our energy system, ensure its safety, security and resilience, and liberate investment in clean technologies. There is no time to lose.
School funding: Extra funding from Government to provide schools in Crawley with more than £3.4 million in extra funding: as part of £2 billion this year and next for primary schools and secondary schools in England.
Every state school in England will receive extra cash. A typical primary school will receive approximately an extra £35,000, and £200,000 for a typical secondary school.
Cost of Living Payments: Almost one in four families across the UK will receive £301 as the latest Cost of Living Payments begin to be sent out, including 13,600 families in Crawley.
9,200 eligible individuals in Crawley will also receive the Disability Cost of Living Payment worth £150 again this year.
Over eight million households across the UK who claimed qualifying means-tested benefits during the eligibility period will be automatically paid £301 in their first payment this year. This direct support is part of the Government’s £94 billion package of cost of living support worth £900 this year for vulnerable households receiving means-tested benefits.
Further details on support available are published on: www.gov.uk/helpforhouseholds
British Indian Ocean Territory: Questioning the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Secretary over the importance of UK sovereignty of the British Indian Ocean Territory and the right of self-determination for the Chagossian people.
Animal welfare: Asking the Leader of the House of Commons for an update on the parliamentary progress of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.
G7 statement: Asked the Prime Minister about actions the UK Government is taking to counter the threat to our national security from the communist dictatorship in China.
£2 bus fare cap: Millions of bus passengers will continue to benefit from the Government’s £2 bus fare cap.
Supported by £200 million of Government funding, bus routes across the country will continue to cost passengers no more than £2 until October this year, and a further £300 million has been announced to protect vital routes and improve services.
This means millions of passengers will benefit from cheap travel, as the Government supports people with the cost of living and works to halve inflation, grow the economy, reduce debt, stop the boats and cut waiting lists.
More than £1.1 million of funding for bus companies and West Sussex County Council will extend this scheme locally, as part of a £500 million investment to freeze bus fares nationally and improve vital local routes.
AUKUS submarine project: Asked the Defence Secretary about progress of the AUKUS submarine project which will see Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States working jointly to enhance global security.
With my best wishes
Member of Parliament for Crawley