Weekly political news round up – 13th April 2017

Overview

This week, a written parliamentary question on the availability of Changing Places toilet facilities has been answered, and the Government has published Public Health England’s strategic remit and priorities for 2017/18. The Royal College of Nursing has also launched a poll on whether nurses wish to strike over low pay; and the results of a study of GPs by the University of Exeter has indicated that up to two fifths of GPs could quit the profession within five years.

Parliamentary question on Changing Places toilet facilities answered

Labour MP Jim Cunningham has received an answer to his question on the steps the Department for
Communities and Local Government is taking to increase the number of Changing Places toilet
facilities in public places. While the question was originally asked on 17th February and a holding
answer provided on 22nd February, the question was only formally answered this week.

Housing Minister Gavin Barwell, responded that the Government has worked with Mencap, PAMIS,
and the British Toilet Association to “support increased voluntary provision over recent years”, as well
as introducing guidance as part of the Building Regulations in England in 2013. This guidance states
that “In large building developments separate facilities for baby changing and an enlarged unisex toilet
incorporating an adult changing table are desirable.” The minister also highlighted the funding given
by the Government to a website offering information on every registered Changing Place in the UK.

Government publishes PHE strategic remit and priorities for 2017/18

The Government has published the outcome of a review of Public Health England’s (PHE) role and performance and a letter setting out its strategic remit and priorities for 2017/18. The review was primarily conducted to assess the success of the creation of PHE from more than 100 organisations in 2013, and finds that overall PHE “has made good progress with integrating the staff, cultures, working practices and physical assets of the variety of organisations from which it was created”. It also makes a number of recommendations for improving performance further, including developing a plan “to build capability to allow [PHE] to work more effectively with DH and other government departments to support policy development on public health issues”, which is based on the need for PHE to provide the Department of Health with “timely, evidence based and contextualised advice to support the development of health policy at the time decisions need to be made.”

The report further recommended that PHE needs to “ensure that it continues to engage effectively with a broad range of stakeholders”, particularly in light of “potential future changes to the local government funding mechanism for public health spend”. Recommendation 9 also states that “health data should be collected, store and managed to minimise costs, ensure data security and maximise benefits to patients and the public”, and refers to work by Professor Keith McNeil, chair of the National Information Board, which will report on this in May.

The corresponding letter, from the Public Health Minister Nicola Blackwood to the Chief Executive of PHE Duncan Selbie, stipulates that one of PHE’s aims should be to “make the case for prevention with DH and NHS England and work with the NHS and local government to […] help reduce avoidable increases in demand on the NHS.” Specific public health issues which the minister directs PHE to address in the letter include antimicrobial resistance, infectious diseases, obesity, smoking and mental health.

Nurses consider striking over low pay

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has opened a poll of its 270,000 members to gather opinions on striking over protracted NHS pay restraint and will announce the result of the poll at its annual conference in May. The poll asks whether members want to strike; take “action short of a strike”, such as not working unpaid overtime and not completing tasks beyond their role; or take no further action. A formal strike ballot would need to follow before action was taken.

The RCN has stated that it believes that pay freezes and caps on pay rises have harmed living standards for nurses and adversely affected recruitment for the profession – with the suggestion that nurses have effectively experienced a pay cut of 14% since 2010, as wages have not risen with the cost of living. The Chief Executive of the RCN, Janet Davies, said that “Nurses should not have to fund the NHS deficit from their own pay packets. Whatever nurses decide, it is becoming clear that their goodwill cannot be relied on indefinitely.” The poll comes following a recent 1% pay increase for NHS staff, which unions strongly criticised.

Poll finds two fifths of GPs could quit within five years

A poll has been published in the BMJ Open indicating that up to two fifths of GPs in some areas of the country could quit within the next five years, leading to warnings of a recruitment crisis for the profession. A poll of 2,000 GPs from the South West of England found that 37% believe there is a “high likelihood” of them quitting direct patient care in this time frame, and 70% were considering a career change which “would negatively impact GP workforce capacity” by reducing their hours spent in direct patient care or taking a career break. Additionally, 14% of the GPs said they had high morale, compared with 54% saying they had low morale.

Professor John Campbell, who led the study with the University of Exeter, suggested that “If GPs have similar intentions to leave or reduce their hours in other regions, as many are reporting, the country needs to take robust action more swiftly and urgently than previously thought.” Responding to the statistics, the Chair of the RCGP Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said “As well as stepping up efforts
to recruit more GPs and make general practice an attractive profession, it is clear that we also need new initiatives to improve retention – such as those the College presented to the Government last year – implemented as a matter of urgency.”