Emma Hardy – 2022 Speech on Access to GP Services

The speech made by Emma Hardy, the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, in the House of Commons on 21 June 2022.

Before I turn to the main substance of my speech, I want to take advantage of the presence of the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, the hon. Member for Lewes (Maria Caulfield), who is sitting there waiting to sum up the debate, by raising a few points further to my earlier intervention on the Secretary of State. They concern the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and the mandatory logging of mesh complications, which was a recommendation in the Cumberlege review. It has been more than a year since the most recent review, so I think that the Secretary of State may have been a little confused when, in his response, he referred to what was happening a year later. We have just learnt that the MHRA will continue the yellow card system, and will not be introducing mandatory reporting. I am keen to hear the Minister’s response to that point.

As joint chair of the all-party parliamentary group on endometriosis, I am also keen to hear from the Minister when we will see the women’s health strategy. Although that is not specific to the debate, it does relate to GP services. I should also like to hear her response to the anecdotal news I have been hearing that more appointments for gynaecological procedures are being cancelled than appointments for any other operations, and that gynaecological elective procedures are the least likely to take place. Again, it seems that there is a real issue surrounding women’s health.

I hope that the Minister will be able to address those issues of the women’s health strategy, endometriosis and mandatory reporting, but I will now turn to the main substance of my speech on access to GP services. Hull has only 40 GPs per 100,000 patients, which is one of the lowest proportions in the area. I want to draw attention to what two of my constituents have said. One, a gentleman called Rob Grimmer, told me about the birth of his granddaughter Nova. That was wonderful news, but unfortunately the family were unable to contact a GP surgery or get through to 111 when they needed to, and eventually they had to take the baby to A&E for treatment. The good news is that the baby is fine, but I am sure that Members can imagine the trauma involved. I have been a new mum myself, and I know that going to A&E with a new baby must be terrifying and very upsetting. I should like to hear from the Minister why we are seeing so many mums and babies having to go to A&E to obtain support.

Another constituent, a gentleman called Steven Draper, said that he waited three weeks for his grandson to see a GP. His grandson is only eight years old. What I really want the Government to take on board in this debate is the impact on children, and particularly on children’s education. If a child is repeatedly not feeling well and is unable to gain access to the services that they need, they will miss more school. The Department for Education says that attendance is very important and that it wants children to be back at school—Ofsted and a member of the Social Mobility Commission have also stressed the importance of attendance—but that does not seem to be joined up with children’s problems in accessing dental treatment and GP appointments, which lead to their having time off school.

I remember that when I was a primary school teacher there was a “brush bus”—I am not sure whether anyone else encountered one of these—which visited the school so that children could learn about the importance of brushing their teeth. There were even giant teeth in the classroom, which the children loved, so that they could see which bits get missed out during brushing. The problem is not just cuts in dental services, but cuts in public health provision, prevention measures and education. Long before the pandemic, we saw public health information services go.

Having teeth removed when a child is very small has an impact on that child’s education, not just in terms of time off but in terms of speech and language, and it will therefore affect phonics. It has a knock-on effect. I must emphasise to the Minister that we need to get this right. We are failing children when it comes to dental treatment. Indeed, we are failing people from cradle to grave, because we are also failing those at the other end of the spectrum.

This is another issue of which the Government should have been fully aware. They should have understood that people were ageing before the pandemic and that older people’s requirements are different. A few decades ago, most people in care homes had false teeth, which actually made them easier to look after, especially if they were dementia patients. I raised in Parliament, three or four years ago, the specific issue of dental care for people in care homes, particularly those suffering from dementia, who can find the whole procedure very traumatic while not understanding what is happening to them. This problem has existed for a long time, since way before the pandemic. There should have been plans that recognised that people were ageing, and ageing with their teeth, and would therefore continue to require dental treatment.

We are reaping what the Government have sown in the net spending cut of 25% between 2010 and 2025. We are reaping what they sowed in the five years before the pandemic, when the number of practices providing NHS dentistry fell by more than 1,200. I have huge sympathy for dentists and GPs in my constituency, and I want to add my thanks for everything that they do.

I was contacted by a local dentist about how she had been feeling. It was quite an upsetting letter. She had been pregnant and on maternity leave for part of the pandemic, but while she was pregnant she was trying to do her job in the middle of it. She was obviously worrying about her own baby, and she told me that she was having to give up being an NHS dentist because it was just not working out.

In her letter to me, she says:

“The Government have only offered £50 million in time limited funding which amounts to £40 a week per dentist. After a decade of savage cuts, it is no more than a sticking plaster of no consequence to the wider issues. I am likely going to go private this year despite enjoying helping high-need patients due to the Government’s poor contract and lack of funding.”

With respect, it is a bit odd for the Minister to blame the Labour party for not changing the dental contract when the Conservatives have had 12 years to look into it. I hope the Minister will urgently address the issue before more dentists step away from practice. That dentist had 3,200 patients in her practice, which means 3,200 more people now looking for support and help.

Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood (Cat Smith), I have not had a gentleman present me with his teeth, but I have had some really upsetting cases. A lady, who was pregnant and unable to access any other free NHS dental entitlement, said to me:

“Being entitled to free NHS dental care when you’re pregnant clearly isn’t an option any more. I think the situation needs to be addressed as I am sure it is not just in my area in Hull.”

She is absolutely right. Why is it that pregnant women are given free dental treatment? It is because pregnancy is likely to have an impact on teeth, so the lack of access to free treatment is storing up problems in the long run. I have had countless emails from people telling me they have been struck off their dentist’s list due to not attending during a period of illness. Someone else told me that despite the swelling in her mouth causing immense pain, she had been dismissed as a patient and told that there was a six-to-12-month waiting list even if she was accepted again. Another who needs dental treatment and whose dentist had passed away told me:

“I complained to the ombudsman service. The ombudsman has today telephoned with the news that they are so overwhelmed with complaints that they are only allocating caseworkers to cases where death or serious injury has occurred. Even the ombudsman service cannot cope with the incompetence and failure that we have in the NHS dental service.”

Another gentleman wrote to me about how he broke his tooth in July 2021 and was still waiting in pain to have it removed in February 2022. The list of people who have contacted me to say they cannot find a dentist goes on and on. We are storing up more problems for the future. Someone else contacted me to say that their one-year old son—aged one, children are meant to have a dental check whether they have teeth or not—is unable to get a dental appointment. If we do not treat people when they are younger, we will create more problems in the future. Mismanagement of our NHS and our public finances, because of a lack of preparation and things not being thought through, means that everything costs more in the long run,

Our dental services are in crisis. We are facing a collapse that will take years to put right. Waiting lists, delays, cancellations and shortages are the real growth areas in Conservative backlog Britain. My constituents, along with those in the rest of the country, have had enough.