VICTORIA PRENTIS MP WELCOMES MATERNITY SAFETY STRATEGY

Victoria Prentis MP was in the Commons Chamber on Wednesday 29 November to hear the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, announce a new safety strategy for NHS maternity services. New measures include the more effective sharing of best practice, independent investigations into the loss of a baby, and more accessible training for staff.

As Vice-Chair of the APPG on Baby Loss, Victoria takes a keen interest in maternity services. She welcomed the Secretary of State’s announcement and took the opportunity to ask about special training for coroners dealing with baby loss cases.

 

The following account is taken from the Official Report (Hansard) from Wednesday 29 November 2017.

Secretary of State for Health (Jeremy Hunt): With permission, I will make a statement about the Government’s new strategy to improve safety in NHS maternity services.

Giving birth is the most common reason for admission to hospital in England. Thanks to the dedication and skill of NHS maternity teams, the vast majority of the roughly 700,000 babies born each year are delivered safely, with high levels of satisfaction from parents. However, there is still too much avoidable harm and death. Every child lost is a heart-rending tragedy for families that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. It is also deeply traumatic for the NHS staff involved. Stillbirth rates are falling but still lag behind those in many developed countries in Europe. When it comes to injury, brain damage sustained at birth can often last a lifetime, with about two multi-million pound claims settled against the NHS every single week. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said this year that 76% of the 1,000 cases of birth-related deaths or serious brain injuries that occurred in 2015 might have had a different outcome with different care. So, in 2015, I announced a plan to halve the rate of maternal deaths, neonatal deaths, brain injuries and stillbirths, and last October I set out a detailed strategy to support that ambition.

Since then, local maternity systems have formed across England to work with the users of NHS maternity services to make them safer and more personal; more than 80% of trusts now have a named board-level maternity champion; 136 NHS trusts have received a share of an £8.1 million training fund; we are six months into a year-long training programme and, as of June, more than 12,000 additional staff have been trained; the maternal and neonatal health safety collaborative was launched on 28 February; 44 wave 1 trusts have attended intensive training on quality improvement science and are working on implementing local quality improvement projects with regular visits from a dedicated quality improvement manager; and 25 trusts were successful in their bids for a share of the £250,000 maternity safety innovation fund and have been progressing with their projects to drive improvements in safety.

However, the Government’s ambition is for the health service to give the safest, highest-quality care available anywhere in the world, so there is much more work that needs to be done. Today, I am therefore announcing a series of additional measures. First, we are still not good enough at sharing best practice. When someone flies to New York, their friends do not tell them to make sure that they get a good pilot. But if someone gets cancer, that is exactly what friends say about their doctor. We need to standardise best practice so that every NHS patient can be confident that they are getting the highest standards of care.

When it comes to maternity safety, we are going to try a completely different approach. From next year, every case of a stillbirth, neonatal death, suspected brain injury or maternal death that is notified to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ “Each Baby Counts” programme—that is about 1,000 incidents annually—will be investigated not by the trust at which the incident happened, but independently, with a thorough, learning-focused investigation conducted by the healthcare safety investigation branch. That new body started up this year, drawing on the approach taken to investigations in the airline industry, and it has successfully reduced fatalities with thorough, independent investigations, the lessons of which are rapidly disseminated around the whole system.

The new independent maternity safety investigations will involve families from the outset, and they will have an explicit remit not just to get to the bottom of what happened in an individual instance, but to spread knowledge around the system so that mistakes are not repeated. The first investigations will happen in April next year and they will be rolled out nationally throughout the year, meaning that we will have complied with recommendation 23 of the Kirkup report into Morecambe Bay.

Secondly, following concerns that some neonatal deaths are being wrongly classified as stillbirths, which means that a coroner’s inquest cannot take place, I will work with the Ministry of Justice to look closely into enabling, for the first time, full-term stillbirths to be covered by coronial law, giving due consideration to the impact on the devolved Administration in Wales. I would like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) for his campaigning on this issue.

Next, we will to do more to improve the training of maternity staff in best practice. Today, we are launching the Atain e-learning programme for healthcare professionals involved in the care of newborns to improve care for babies, mothers and families. The Atain programme works to reduce avoidable causes of harm that can lead to infants born at term being admitted to a neonatal unit. We will also increase training for consultants on the care of pregnant women with significant health conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

We know that smoking during pregnancy is closely correlated with neonatal harm. Our tobacco control plan commits the Government to reducing the prevalence of smoking in pregnancy from 10.7% to 6% or less by 2022. Today, we will provide new funding to train health practitioners, such as maternity support workers, to deliver evidence-based smoking cessation according to appropriate national standards.

The 1,000 new investigations into “Each Baby Counts” cases will help us to transform what can be a blame culture into the learning culture that is required, but one of the current barriers to learning is litigation. Earlier this year, I consulted on the rapid resolution and redress scheme, which offers families with brain-damaged children better access to support and compensation as an alternative to the court system. My intention is that in incidents of possibly avoidable serious brain injury at birth, successfully establishing the new independent HSIB investigations will be an important step on the road to introducing a full rapid resolution and redress scheme in order to reduce delays in delivering support and compensation for families. Today, I am publishing a summary of responses to the consultation, which reflect strong support for the key aims of the scheme: to improve safety, to improve patients’ experience, and to improve cost-effectiveness. I will look to launch the scheme, ideally, from 2019.

Finally, a word about the costs involved. NHS Resolution spent almost £500 million settling obstetric claims in 2016-17. For every £1 the NHS spends on delivering a baby, another 60p is spent by another part of the NHS on settling claims related to previous births. Trusts that improve their maternity safety are also saving the NHS money, allowing more funding to be made available for frontline care. In order to create a strong financial incentive to improve maternity safety, we will increase by 10% the maternity premium paid by every trust under the clinical negligence scheme for trusts, but we will refund the increase, possibly with an even greater discount, if a trust can demonstrate compliance with 10 criteria identified as best practice on maternity safety.

Taken together, these measures give me confidence that we can bring forward the date by which we achieve a halving of neonatal deaths, maternal deaths, injuries and stillbirths from 2030—the original planned date—to 2025. I am today setting that as the new target date for the “halve it” ambition. Our commitment to reduce the rate by 20% by 2020 remains and, following powerful representations made by voluntary sector organisations, I will also include in that ambition a reduction in the national rate of pre-term births from 8% to 6%. In particular, we need to build on the good evidence that women who have “continuity of carer” throughout their pregnancy are less likely to experience a pre-term delivery, with safer outcomes for themselves and their babies.

I would not be standing here today making this statement were it not for the campaigning of numerous parents who have been through the agony of losing a treasured child. Instead of moving on and trying to draw a line under their tragedy, they have chosen to relive it over and over again. I have often mentioned members of the public such as James Titcombe and Carl Hendrickson, to whom I again pay tribute. But I also want to mention members of this House who have bravely spoken out about their own experiences, including my hon. Friends the Members for Colchester (Will Quince), for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), as well as the hon. Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft), for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). Their passionate hope—and ours, as we stand shoulder to shoulder with them—is that drawing attention to what may have gone wrong in their own case will help to ensure that mistakes are not repeated and others are spared the terrible heartache that they and their families endured. We owe it to each and every one of them to make this new strategy work. I commend this statement to the House.

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): As a bereaved parent, but also as a lawyer who has conducted many inquests, I ask the Secretary of State to consider two points. The first is the fact that not many families will need an inquest to determine what went wrong during the birth of their child. Secondly, will he commit to the training of special coroners, just as we have in military inquests, to ensure that those who deal with these very sad cases are the best equipped people to do so? Finally, on behalf of the all-party group on baby loss, may I thank him for today’s announcement and encourage him in his work to make maternity care kinder, safer and closer to home—and may I encourage him to save Horton General Hospital?

Mr Hunt: First, may I apologise to my hon. Friend, because I should have mentioned her in my statement as someone who has spoken very passionately and movingly on this topic in the House? I will take away her point about specialist coroners, because we are now going to have specialist investigators, which we have never had before. I would make one other point. I hope she does not think I am doing down her former profession, but really when people go to the law, we have failed. If we get this right—if we can be more open, honest and transparent with families earlier on—it will, I hope, mean many fewer legal cases, although I am sure that the lawyers will always find work elsewhere.

 

Victoria Prentis MP contributes to Budget debate

On Tuesday 28 November, Victoria Prentis MP spoke in a debate on the Autumn Budget. The focus of her speech was on house building, and the infrastructure that needs to be in place for people living on new developments.

The following account is taken from the Official Record from Tuesday 28 November 2017.

Victoria Prentis (Con) (Banbury): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Manchester Central (Lucy Powell) when she speaks so passionately about education. I must confess that her remarks about the Prime Minister have encouraged me to focus my speech on house building, which the Prime Minister and her Chancellor quite rightly view as the most important issue facing us.

For my constituency, the biggest excitement from the Budget is, of course, the funding to support Oxfordshire’s statutory spatial plan, which commits to 100,000 new homes by 2031. Cherwell District Council is the national leader in house building—an achievement only made possible by strong local leadership and the sheer hard work of the many volunteers who got our local plan adopted. I see a new finished house almost every day when I return home from Bicester North station, and three houses a day are currently finished locally. I built my own house; it is what we do in our area.

I hope that £30 million a year for five years will help to alleviate the pressure on our infrastructure by enabling us to move forward with larger projects such as the London Road crossing. When we talk about infrastructure, we so often mean roads and railways, but locally we are learning on the job that infrastructure means so much more than that. Those on the Treasury Bench will be pleased to learn that vast products and expenditure are not the only way forward when we look to build new communities. It is noticeable that the residents of well-built houses are happy, and more effort needs to be put into ensuring high standards in building across the board. This is a no-cost measure that the Government are working on.

Where we do need to invest for growth, it does not need to be in enormous, prestige products, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) outlined. House builders need to deliver on time. Even when they do, councils must be prepared to spend relatively small sums to alleviate the difficulties caused by enormous growth—for example, for around five years of stretched budgets while new schools are created. Children do not arrive in neatly packaged classes of 30 four or 11-year-olds, and existing schools also suffer while numbers are in flux.

I share the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) that GP services in high-growth areas need small amounts of additional funding to tide them over in times of enormous growth. My hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee), who is on the Front Bench, will appreciate that people seem to need their GP more when they move to a new area in order to sort out their existing medication and to deal with difficulties in changing specialists. We need to ensure that the infrastructure spending on such issues is readily available.

Mapping needs to be done before the build. Post boxes and street lamps should be provided without the intervention of an MP. Development can only be a positive experience if we bring hearts and minds along with us. I am afraid that closing maternity services at our local Horton General hospital at the same time as building 23,000 new houses does not sit well with us locally. Many new houses in our area have three or more bedrooms, and it would not come as a surprise to learn that some couples want to have babies to fill those new rooms.

Finally, and quite separately, a high point of the Budget for me was the announcement of a consultation into the horror of single use plastics. I encourage everybody in the Chamber to get out their phone, look at the App Store and add the Refill app; it tells users what to do and helps to get rid of single use plastics.

MP HOLDS THIRD ANNUAL DEMOCRACY CHALLENGE

171117 Winners Warriner and Runner Up Sibford

On 17 November, Victoria Prentis, MP for North Oxfordshire, held her third annual Democracy Challenge, a debating competition for local secondary school pupils. Kindly hosted by Cherwell District Council at their offices in Bodicote, teams participated in two initial rounds debating social media abuse and the role of private providers in the NHS. The two highest scoring teams then battled it out in a final debate on tuition fees.  

The winners for the second year running were the impressive team from The Warriner School of Emily Thompson, Lucy Dunlop, Alfie Bullus and Daniel O’Toole, although they faced stiff competition from Sibford School in the final.

Victoria was joined on the judging panel by other local elected officials and members of the community, including councillors, journalists and a Thames Valley Police inspector. While the finalists were preparing for their debate, other students participated in a Q&A session with the judges, which involved a lively discussion about student loans.

Speaking after the event, Victoria commented: ‘The Democracy Challenge is fast becoming one of the highlights of my calendar. I continue to be impressed by the high standard of debating, which improves year on year. The Warriner were a formidable team, but everyone who participated made some really excellent and thought-provoking contributions. Cherwell District Council  are always so supportive in hosting us; it makes such a difference for the students to experience the atmosphere in the Chamber. Democracy has a bright future in North Oxfordshire.”

MP BUZZING FOLLOWING PESTICIDES BREAKTHROUGH

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Victoria Prentis, Member of Parliament for North Oxfordshire, has welcomed plans for further restrictions on the use of pesticides harmful to bees and other pollinators.

Following advice from the UK’s pesticides advisory body, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Rt Hon Michael Gove, has announced restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides as part of his commitment to maintain environmental standards across the UK.

Victoria commented: “Bees have been a big issue since I was first elected. Nearly 200 constituents have taken the time to contact me to express concerns about the impact of pesticides on bees. As the proud owner of three hives, I understand the importance of ensuring the safety of pollinators across the UK and the positive environmental impact that they have. I know many of my constituents will join me in welcoming this announcement.”

MP’S CAT NAMED ‘PURR MINISTER’ 2017

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On 7 November, Victoria Prentis’ cat, Midnight, was named the winner of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home’s annual ‘Purr Minister’ competition. Each candidate submitted a ‘Manifursto’, and the final winner was decided by public vote. Midnight’s pledges included a compulsory cat-related Purr Minister’s Question every Wednesday, a new Feline Select Committee, and a promise to monitor Buttons the office mouse.

Victoria said: “I am thrilled that Midnight’s dedication to the campaign has paid off. I know that he will be getting to work on implementing his manifursto commitments straightaway. Finding good homes for all the rescue cats currently living in temporary accommodation is a top priority. No doubt Midnight’s first Purr Minister’s Question Time will be a lively affair.”

MP PRAISES LOCAL MENTAL HEALTH CHARITIES DURING COMMONS DEBATE

On Friday 3 November, Victoria Prentis MP supported the Second Reading of Steve Reed’s Mental Health Units (Use of Force) Bill, also known as Seni’s Law.

During the course of her speech, Victoria praised a number of local groups who provide vital support to members of the community. She spoke about the comprehensive range of services provided by the Heyford and Bicester Veterans Group in partnership with both local and national organisations, including drop-in advice sessions with Help for Heroes, the Royal British Legion and others.  Victoria also mentioned Restore, a mental health charity she visited recently in Banbury, and the local branch of Mind, who encouraged her to speak in the debate when they met in September.

Speaking afterwards, Victoria said: “Having visited a number of local mental health charities in recent months, I was keen to speak in the debate to emphasise the good work they are all doing. It is clear that we are very fortunate to have such a broad range of groups and charities run by dedicated volunteers. The Government is committed to improving mental health provision and launched a review into the outdated Mental Health Act last month. It is an extremely important area of reform, and I welcomed the opportunity to support this Bill, particularly after so many constituents had contacted me about it.”

ROYAL MAIL FINALLY DELIVERS KINGSMERE POST BOX, FIVE YEARS ON

171102 Kingsmere Postbox with Viki Cropped

Over five years since the first residents moved into the Kingsmere estate in Bicester, a post box has finally been installed following pressure from Bicester’s Member of Parliament, Victoria Prentis, and the Residents’ Association.

The Post Box, situated outside newly built St. Edburg’s Primary School, will serve locals and those using the community facilities expected to open in March 2018, including the Community Centre and shops.

Victoria Prentis has been petitioning Royal Mail for post boxes on all new estates across her constituency, including Elmsbrook and Graven Hill in Bicester, and areas such as Longford Park in Banbury, raising it during a recent exchange with the Prime Minister during questions in October. With North Oxfordshire experiencing some of the highest levels of growth in the country, it is important that community facilities such as post boxes are provided in conjunction with house building.

Yesterday (2 November 2017) marked the opening of the post box in Kingsmere, and Victoria along with Viki, Co-Chair of the Residents’ Association went along to mark the occasion. Victoria commented: “While some people may think that the issue of post boxes is a trivial matter, they really are vital for residents’ continuing their normal day to day lives after moving to a new area. I understand that a lot of correspondence is dealt with online, but my constituents still regularly send letters, particularly the elderly.

North Oxfordshire is experiencing unprecedented levels of growth and I will continue to push for services such as post boxes, adequate health care and sustainable road infrastructure. I look forward to meeting Royal Mail later this month to discuss this further with them.”

VICTORIA SPEAKS IN PARENTAL BEREAVEMENT DEBATE

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Following the launch of Petals (Pregnancy Expectations Trauma and Loss Society) in Banbury, Victoria Prentis took part in the Parental Bereavement (leave and pay) debate on Friday 20 October. The Parental Bereavement Bill, introduced by Kevin Hollinrake MP, aims to allow bereaved employed parents a day-one right to take time off work if they lose a child under the age of 18. Employees with 26 weeks of continuous service will be eligible to receive parental bereavement pay.

Currently, there are no legal requirements for employers to provide paid leave for grieving parents. In the debate, Victoria discussed the nature of the bill including the responsibility of employers to support grieving parents. She commented: “It is so important that politicians and the Government put in place the legal mechanisms to ensure that this is possible. We must work hard to allow for conversations to be had”.

Please see below a full transcript of Victoria’s speech, taken from Hansard. Having passed Second Reading it will now go to Committee. You can follow the Bill’s progress here.

The debate took place the week after Baby Loss Awareness Week. More details of Victoria’s involvement in BLAW can be found here.

 

We are an example of employees, as it were. You are not our employer, Madam Deputy Speaker, but you are somebody with authority over us making adjustments to cope with grieving parents. We have very kindly been called at the beginning of this debate, because that really does help.

It is an enormous pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). I am very pleased to have worked with my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for Colchester (Will Quince), and the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), over the past couple of years on coping with the loss of a child and on how we can change the law, as well as change the conversation in society as a whole. It is therefore an enormous pleasure to speak as a co-sponsor of this Bill. I will not detain the House any more than I absolutely have to because we want to get on with it and get it passed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester did a lot of the spadework last year with his ten-minute rule Bill. I am sorry that that did not progress, but very pleased that the Government have had the opportunity to make a manifesto commitment to bring about this area of change. To me, as a former Government lawyer, the most exciting word in the Bill is “pay”. It is great that the Government is going to put its money where its mouth is and really support bereaved parents and their employers to cope when something very tragic happens. This Bill is long overdue. Historically, it has been down to the employer to decide how bereaved parents are treated. Although I have had excellent and supportive care from my employer, I know that that is not the case for everyone. I was sorry to hear of the examples that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton raised.

Grief can, to a certain extent, be managed. That is something that I was told by my consultant soon after I gave birth, and at the time I thought it was a ridiculous idea that anyone could ever put grief into a box and raise the lid only when it suited them. However, the similarity of experience among those who are bereaved is quite astounding. Grief is something that can be managed, and life can go on after something dreadful. It is so important that politicians and the Government put in place the legal mechanisms to enable that to happen as easily as possible.

In the early days, bereaved parents may well, depending on the circumstances, be suffering from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder—they will certainly be suffering from shock—and they might need to tell and retell their story. They will have to deal with funerals and administration. They might have to deal with the police, inquests and all sorts of ghastly and unpleasant registration that no one thinks about before it happens to them.

It is particularly good that the grief of fathers is recognised in the Bill, because they have traditionally been overlooked. We know the very sad statistics about the high incidence of marital breakdown following a tragedy. Anything we can do to assist families to stay together must be done.

In the all-party group on baby loss we have worked very hard on the bereavement care pathway, and I am thrilled that we have brought the Government along with us. I think that counselling is a very valuable part of the recovery from a tragedy such as this, and anything we can do to build that into employment practice is worth doing. I was very lucky; I had a very supportive employer in the civil service. I had a job I loved, and I had sympathetic and imaginative colleagues. My own experience of grief certainly made me a better manager when the time came for me to help the people I worked with to manage their own tragic situations.

I do think that there is a role for good bereavement practice at work. I found it very helpful to know who knew what had happened, so one thing I introduced as a manager was to get everybody to sign a card that was given to the bereaved person as they returned to work, so that it was obvious that everybody knew what had happened and everybody acknowledged the extent of the tragedy. That enabled us all to move on and to have conversations, if appropriate—or not, if appropriate.

There are many things that employers can do to ease the burden, and I think the ACAS policies are a great place to start. It is important to recognise that members of staff will need extra support, possibly for many years. Anniversaries are difficult, although I think we often build them up in advance to be worse than they are on the day; they do not turn out to be quite as bad as we think they will be. We can all imagine scenarios that may be particularly difficult for those who have lost a child, including future pregnancies and the illness of other children in the family. A hospital visit of any kind can be very stressful for somebody who has been traumatised in hospital. I call on employers to do everything they can to try to imagine what it is like.

This is, however, a happy day for us. I offer many congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton, and to all of us who are supporting this Bill, I say, “Thank you.”

VICTORIA PRENTIS SPEAKS IN PRIME MINISTER’S QUESTION TIME

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On Wednesday 25 October, Victoria Prentis MP was successful in the shuffle to ask a Prime Minster’s Question. She chose to ask about housebuilding and local infrastructure, including schools, roads, healthcare and post boxes.

 

The below account is taken from the Official Report (Hansard) from Wednesday 25 October 2017:

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): Cherwell tops the leader board for new housing. Will the Prime Minister assure me that the right roads, school places, post boxes and especially healthcare provision will be in place to support both my new constituents and the ones I have at the moment?

The Prime Minister: First, may I congratulate my hon. Friend and say how pleased I am that Cherwell District Council is doing what we want to do and what we recognise we need to do to tackle our dysfunctional housing market, which is to build more homes? She is right, however, that infrastructure is also an important part of that, which is why we have committed £15 billion for our road investment strategy, why over half a trillion pounds will be spent on the NHS during this Parliament, and why a record £41 billion will be spent on core funding for schools this year. That, I am pleased to say, is the record of Conservatives in government.

 

VICTORIA PRENTIS MP SUPPORTS ANAEMIA MANIFESTO CAMPAIGN

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Last week, Victoria Prentis attended an event in Parliament to raise awareness of anaemia, a highly treatable but often undetected condition which affects around four million people in the UK.

The Anaemia Manifesto Steering Committee, which hosted the event, estimates that the number of patients admitted to hospital with iron deficiency anaemia has increased by 46% since 2011. The frail and elderly, who commonly suffer from micronutrient deficiencies, as well as vulnerable patients who suffer from other conditions affecting their gut, heart, or kidneys often also find themselves to be anaemic.

Speaking after the event, Victoria commented: “It was really interesting to discuss anaemia and its effects, particularly as I know of a number of friends and constituents who have struggled with symptoms before getting a diagnosis. While I knew that it is a common syndrome, I did not realise the extent to which it is a ‘hidden condition’. I would encourage any concerned constituents to consult their GP as soon as possible.”

Commenting, Michael Sobanja, Chair of the Anaemia Manifesto Committee, said:  “I am delighted that Victoria has come out to support our initiative. Her attendance on the day has significantly helped move our critical issue up the political agenda, and we hope will improve care in Oxfordshire.”

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