Tag Archives: featured

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.”

ROYAL MAIL FINALLY DELIVERS KINGSMERE POST BOX, FIVE YEARS ON

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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 OXFORDSHIRE HEALTHCARE DEBATE

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On Tuesday 17 October, Victoria Prentis and a number of other Oxfordshire MPs joined together in a Westminster Hall debate called by Witney MP, Robert Courts, to discuss the future of healthcare in Oxfordshire.

Opening the session, Robert Courts raised concerns about GP and maternity services, stroke care and the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group’s recent consultation. His points were echoed by neighbouring MPs, including Ed Vaizey (Wantage), Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon), John Howell (Henley) and Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford on Avon) . Victoria highlighted issues relating to population growth, safety and communication. Within this, she emphasised problems with the processes followed by health chiefs in the County, particularly in relation to the split nature of the consultation and a lack of real engagement with local people. Towards the end of her speech, Victoria outlined the need for “reasoned and evidence based conversations about the future”, expressing the determination felt locally to protect vital acute services in North Oxfordshire.

After the debate, Victoria commented: “I am very pleased that my neighbour and fellow local MP, Rob Courts, secured such an important debate in Westminster this morning. It is clear that we are united in our frustration with local health providers.The Clinical Commissioning Group must engage and consult local people properly, and across county boundaries, to enable us to move forward safely. The fight for acute services and local health care continues.”

 

The below account is taken from the Official Report from Tuesday 17 October 2017

 

Victoria Prentis (Banbury, Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I made my first speech about the Horton General Hospital when I was seven. I apologise that many people in this Chamber will have heard it before, but I do not know that you have had that pleasure, so with your permission, I will carry on.

Let us remember what we are talking about. The Horton is not a community hospital. It has been a pleasure to listen to colleagues talk about their community hospitals; we have heard about Wantage and Abingdon, and one rarely meets my hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) without hearing him mention the Townlands, of which he is very proud. I love community hospitals too; my mother helped run Brackley Cottage Hospital for most of my childhood and until recently, and I think that the marvellous hospital in Bicester still has untapped potential. However, the Horton General Hospital, which I will talk about, is quite different.

The Horton has hundreds of beds and treats about 39,000 people in accident and emergency every year—nearly one third of Oxfordshire’s A&E attendances. What happens at the Horton affects all my colleagues, due to the knock-on effects of closure. Our surgeons are among the top five in the UK for neck and femur operations. It is not a community hospital; it is a fully functioning, very busy district general.

We feel beleaguered. For more than 40 years, the John Radcliffe Hospital has viewed us as a smaller and less academic sibling that can be treated with contempt when staffing is short. In 2008—this is not ancient history; it is nine years ago—the Independent Reconfiguration Panel was asked to consider the last proposed downgrade of paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology and the special care baby unit. It conducted, as I hope it will again, a full five-month review and made five excellent recommendations, which I will read once more.

The first recommendation was:

“The IRP considers that the Horton Hospital has an important role for the future in providing local hospital-based care to people in the north of Oxfordshire and surrounding areas. However, it will need to change to ensure its services remain appropriate, safe and sustainable.”

On the proposed downgrades, it said:

“The IRP does not consider that they will provide an accessible or improved service to the people of north Oxfordshire and surrounding areas.”

Other recommendations were:

“The PCT should carry out further work with the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust to set out the arrangements and investment necessary to retain and develop services at the Horton Hospital. Patients, the public and other stakeholders should be fully involved in this work… The PCT must develop a clear vision for children’s and maternity services within an explicit strategy for services for north Oxfordshire as a whole… The ORH must do more to develop clinically integrated practice across the Horton, John Radcliffe and Churchill sites as well as developing wider clinical networks with other hospitals, primary care and the independent sector.”

I am afraid that none of that happened. The recommendations were made nine years ago, but none of them were followed. The only things that changed were that the traffic got worse and the population of the area grew. Our district council, I am proud to say, tops the leader board for house building.

Less than 10 years later, we now have no obstetrics or SCBU. They went in the blink of an eye, without any real attempt to address recruitment issues or work with us to do so, although we offered and offered. Locally, we remain deeply unhappy and frightened. Patients in the later stages of labour are travelling for up to two hours, and emergency gynaecological operations take place in a portakabin in the Radcliffe car park. We have heard stories locally—in fact, they are all people talk about—of babies born in lay-bys and in the back of ambulances. The data that show statistics of complete births—defined by when the placenta has been delivered—tell a different story; they do not register the reality of people’s experience.

I pay tribute to what my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) said about Google Maps. Locally, the impression is that the CCG and the trust massage the figures and use them when it suits their argument. I conducted a travel survey of nearly 400 people on their real-life experiences of how long it takes to get from our area to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford. Sadly, those data were not taken on board in any of the CCG’s reports, although the data set was bigger and better than the CCG’s. The CCG provided real data only when we had harangued, pestered and begged it to do so.

I will not go on about how worried I am; I will focus on what we can do to put the situation right. It is true, as all hon. Members have said, that local health providers do not talk to one another. Health Education England’s decision to remove training accreditation for middle-grade obstetricians was the straw that broke the camel’s back for recruitment, yet it remains aloof and makes decisions in a vacuum. Its recent decision to remove accreditation from certain grades of anaesthetists puts all the acute services provided by the Horton at risk. The dean did not communicate that decision to decision makers at the trust or the CCG; I had to tell them at a meeting in August. I do not think that that is an acceptable way to run a healthcare system.

The trust usually tells the CCG what to do. When it does not agree, there is stalemate. The trust, the clinicians and everyone else locally know that the A&E at the Horton cannot possibly be shut, because the knock-on effects on the rest of Oxfordshire and the surrounding counties would be catastrophic. The CCG, however, is determined to press ahead with its consultation that suggests otherwise. Owing to this impasse, we have ended up with a split consultation that means nothing to any of us. Patients’ needs appear to be an afterthought. South Central Ambulance Service, which bears the brunt of the transfers, is carried along as a consultee with no voice at the table when decisions are taken.

One of the main complaints is that local health decision makers do not listen to us. Our latest consultation report described the “universal concerns” of more than 10,000 people from my area who responded to our consultation. I cannot overemphasise the strength of local feeling. We all feel the same: all the elected representatives, of whatever party; a great campaigning group, Keep the Horton General; and even the local churches, which are praying for sense in the clinical commissioning group’s decision making. [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) laughs, but I am afraid it is impossible to overstate how essential our local hospital is to people in our area. He may think it is funny, but we do not.

Mr Vaizey (Wantage, Con): For the record, I am laughing because I have never heard of a church praying for sense from a clinical commissioning group. That highlights the parlous state that we find ourselves in.

Victoria Prentis (Banbury, Con): Quite.

At our last meeting, the trust’s chief executive told me that my fears about the Horton were “irrational”, but those fears are shared by the IRP—at least they were nine years ago, and I hope they still are—and by about 170,000 people who are served by the Horton. Rather than try to answer my questions, the chief executive simply dismissed them. I do not think that that is an acceptable way to behave.

We still do not know whether a father can transfer with a labouring mother from the midwife-led unit at the Horton. If not, how on earth is he supposed to get to north Oxford while she gives birth? We still do not know—although I have asked more often than I care to remember—whether the static ambulance will be stationed permanently at the Horton while all this is sorted out. As we have heard from all hon. Members, the CCG and the trust do not communicate with us elected representatives or with the general public, and often not even with each other. It has been left to me to organise public meetings locally. NHS Improvement was absolutely appalled when I showed it the pile of unanswered letters that I had written to the CCG and the trust. Hon. Members beyond the county boundary whose constituents use the Horton are completely overlooked.

Local health services may well be devolved to commissioners and providers, but if this is devolution, Minister, it is not working. The chief executive and the clinical lead of the CCG are leaving before the end of the year. I cannot pretend that I am unhappy about that—I have hardly been uncritical of how the CCG runs its affairs—but I have to say that I am not optimistic that the necessary changes will be made. The new clinical lead, whose appointment was announced yesterday, will be the former maternity lead. Although I will work with her, and I hope very much that she will engage with the issues we face, I am not optimistic. The CCG is hellbent on continuing the split consultation, despite various judicial reviews—I can tell it that there will be more to come, if necessary—and three referrals to the IRP, which presumably will not have changed its mind since nine years ago, particularly given the unprecedented growth in the town. Whoever takes on the CCG job is inheriting a poisoned chalice.

I am not going to give up, and nor are the constituents I represent. After all, I do not think that Banbury elected a bereaved mother with a passion for maternal safety, 20 years’ experience of judicial review and a 15-year background of voluntary work for the trust by accident. In 2008, local GPs were pivotal in the fight to save the Horton, but this time, poor leadership and an ever increasing workload—particularly given the town’s growth—have prevented them from being the vocal force that they once were. However, I have found allies in NHS Improvement, which has been investigating the trust, and in the Care Quality Commission, which can prosecute. I look forward to working further with those allies.

If help with recruitment is the answer, we need the Department to step in. Salary supplements for trainee GPs are really welcome, not just for rural or coastal areas but for market towns that face unprecedented growth. The catchment is predicted to increase from 170,000 to 207,000. We really need obstetricians. The district council has made sensible suggestions for developing and improving the Horton site; I just wish the CCG and the trust would look at them. They were included in the response to the consultation—I also made a very extensive response—but when I mentioned them at the last meeting in August, none of this had registered with the decision makers. I do wonder about the depth and quality of the work they do.

I know that the Horton has a future as a provider of acute services. I am sorry to use the language of war, but I welcome the sight of my hon. Friend the Member for Witney defending my right flank, as he so often does. Ever since he was elected, he has been a real ally and friend in this fight. We in Banbury are most grateful to him for all his work and for securing this debate. I also welcome the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kenilworth and Southam (Jeremy Wright), who are both in Cabinet this morning but will be interested in this debate. They both feel as we do about our hospital in Banbury. My hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) was present earlier; his district council has been a great ally, has brought one of the judicial reviews, and continues to support us—even though, as far as I can tell, it is not consulted about anything by the Oxfordshire CCG. I really feel that we are beleaguered, so it is lovely to see hon. Members appearing like battalions, with patients and GPs in their wake, to support all of us who use the Horton General Hospital.

We are not irrational, but we are passionate. We want a reasoned and evidence-based conversation about the future. We are very, very determined, so I am afraid everyone in this Chamber will have to listen to this speech many, many more times.

LOCAL SCHOOLCHILDREN ENJOY ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY WORKSHOP AT BROUGHTON CASTLE

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On Friday 13 October, Victoria Prentis MP was joined by ninety schoolchildren from across North Oxfordshire for a Shakespeare Workshop led by actors and directors from the Royal Shakespeare Company. The workshop, funded by Cherwell District Council, was hosted at Broughton Castle, an historic and atmospheric venue that helped scenes from this year’s featured play, Julius Caesar, come to life.

The children were taken through a number of extracts from the play, with the RSC explaining the choices they made when interpreting the text. There was the opportunity to get stuck in to some acting in smaller breakout groups, before all coming back together at the end to go through what they had learnt.

Speaking after the event, Victoria said: ‘This is the second year I have worked with the RSC to bring Shakespeare to the children of North Oxfordshire, and it is fast becoming an annual fixture. The actors and directors are so brilliant at bringing the characters and storylines to life, and it was fantastic to see every child fully immersed in the work of Shakespeare.

I am very grateful to the Fiennes family for hosting us at Broughton Castle again. It is an amazing venue, and I can’t think of a better place to hold an event like this. The generous support from Cherwell District Council is also very much appreciated.’

NEIGHBOURING MPS SHOW SUPPORT FOR BABY LOSS AWARENESS

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With Baby Loss Awareness Week underway, MPs showed their support for the campaign during the second annual Baby Loss Awareness debate in the House of Commons.  

Throughout the week, bereaved parents, their families and friends unite to commemorate their babies’ lives. The movement also provides a chance to raise awareness about the issues surrounding pregnancy and baby loss in the UK. This year the focus has been on improving bereavement support for affected families.

Following on from the recent launch of a new bereavement counselling service at the Horton General Hospital in Banbury, Victoria Prentis, MP for North Oxfordshire and West Oxfordshire MP, Robert Courts, joined together to raise concerns about the safety of mothers and babies in Oxfordshire; a particularly poignant issue given the downgrade of the Banbury’s maternity services and concerns about the future of Chipping Norton’s midwife-led unit.

Alongside this, both highlighted the need to provide support for affected parents, welcoming the Government’s bereavement care pathway and work of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Baby Loss.

Victoria commented: “It was an honour to speak in the debate alongside my colleagues. It was particularly encouraging to be joined by my neighbour, Robert Courts to highlight the concerns we have locally. Baby loss is heart breaking and we must do all we can to support parents and their families, focusing on prevention, restorative solutions and bereavement pathways.”

Robert Courts also said: “I was proud to speak in this debate on this all-important topic. As the issue of maternity services has been the source of much controversy in Oxfordshire, I want to draw attention to the issue of baby loss to highlight how essential it is to support parents at this devastating time.  It is a sad fact that many of the these deaths are avoidable and the UK’s rate of still births is behind many European countries, and much more can be done to prevent baby loss and to help bereaving parents.”

CCG RETHINKING SPLIT HEALTHCARE CONSULTATION

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On Tuesday 26 September, Victoria Prentis, Member of Parliament for North Oxfordshire, attended a Community Partnership Network (CPN) meeting at Bodicote House in Banbury.

CPN is a Better Health Care programme for Banbury and its surrounding area, and draws together key stakeholders from the Cherwell region to discuss matters relating to health provision, ranging from GP services to the closure of beds.

In January 2017, the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) put forward their proposals for the future of health in Oxfordshire in their Big Health and Care consultation. A decision was taken to split the consultation into two phases, with Phase One being delivered this year and Phase Two following in 2018. It was argued by many that the issues across both phases were interconnected and members of the public could not make an informed decision without knowing the whole picture.

Banbury’s MP has continually pushed for the consultation to be halted until both phases can be delivered together, particularly with a referral to the Secretary of State and Judicial Review of the process on the table. In today’s meeting, Victoria asked whether the CCG would consider stopping the implementation of Phase 1 and rolling it into Phase 2 of the Transformation Programme. In response, Dr Walsh, the Clinical Development Lead for the Oxfordshire Transformation Programme, replied stating that he would take it back to the CCG board for consideration and understands the strength of feeling in North Oxfordshire.

Following the meeting, Victoria commented: “It is certainly a glimmer of hope that the CCG are finally listening to my requests and will be rethinking their plans for the consultation process. Without a clear vision of the future of health services and proper thought-out proposals, it is impossible for my constituents to put forward their views about the plans. The CCG are facing a referral to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP) regarding permanent changes to maternity services in Banbury, and the Council have put forward a judicial review against the consultation process. I really hope that the CCG listen to our concerns, take a step back and re-evaluate the split nature of the consultation.”

MP HOLDS SURGERY IN BARCLAYS BANK

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On Friday 15 September, North Oxfordshire MP decided to try out a new location for her constituency surgeries – Barclays Bank in Banbury.

While she usually organises ‘Supermarket Surgeries’ in Sainsbury’s cafés, Victoria was kindly invited to hold one of her regular constituent drop-ins in Barclay’s Banbury Branch. With friendly staff and a private room, it was a success with a number of local people popping in to have a chat to Victoria about issues ranging from help with visas to mental health support.

Surgeries are an important part of an MP’s job, giving constituents valuable face to face time with their elected representative. Talking to an MP is quite often people’s last resort and they come with a wide range of issues and concerns.

After the surgery, Victoria commented: “The setting in Barclays Banbury was ideal for meeting my constituents, particularly those with quite complex cases. The staff were very helpful, providing a private room to conduct each appointment in. I am keen to ensure that my surgeries are accessible, so holding them in places such as banks on the high street and supermarket cafes works well. While my diary is very busy, I thoroughly enjoy holding surgeries and meeting constituents, alongside my more rural ‘pub tours’.”

For more information on Victoria’s upcoming surgeries, please visit www.victoriaprentis.com/contact/surgery-appointments/.

Victoria Launches ‘Virtual Water Fountain’ Scheme in Banbury and Bicester

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Banbury and Bicester have this week joined the campaign to protect the marine environment and cut litter levels by reducing the reliance on disposable plastic water bottles, following the launch of the Refill scheme in the area.

Some 20 local businesses have already signed up to the initiative, which seeks to connect thirsty people with cafes, shops and offices willing to offer free tap water refills. Participating businesses register with an app and also place a sticker in their window alerting passers-by that they are a Refill site, regardless of whether they are customers or not.

The local scheme, which is sponsored by Bicester-based business BRITA UK and has the backing of Victoria Prentis MP, aims to make refilling a reusable water bottle on the go and staying hydrated as easy, convenient and cheap as possible. Research conducted by BRITA UK and Keep Britain Tidy  earlier this year revealed that 59% of us would be more likely to use a reusable water bottle if refills were more freely available in places such as shops, airports and parks.

Research has shown a reduction in the number of water fountains around the country, but English law currently only requires licensed premises to offer free refills, not all establishments that are open to the public. And BRITA’s research found that embarrassment is holding people back; with 71% of people uncomfortable asking for free tap water without buying something else and 37% awkward even if they are making a purchase. The Refill app aims to remove any obstacles to drinking on the go in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way.

Britons use 7.7bn single-use plastic bottles every year  despite the fact that these are expensive to produce, use up valuable natural resources to make and transport, and create mountains of waste.  An estimated 800 plastic bottles a minute are either ending up in landfill or as litter, which will too often make its way into our waterways and out to sea, causing severe damage to marine life such as whales, dolphins and turtles.

Banbury and Bicester are the tenth and eleventh towns in England to sign up to Refill, which was first launched by anti-plastic pollution charity City to Sea in Bristol in September 2015 and is now live in cities including Bath and Norwich. The Banbury and Bicester refill scheme was officially launched by Victoria Prentis at a bottle filling ceremony at FLTR Coffee cafe today.

Sarah Taylor, Managing Director of BRITA UK, said: ‘BRITA UK is delighted to be supporting the launch of Refill in Bicester and Banbury. We all know how important it is to stay hydrated on the go, but it can be really difficult to find somewhere to fill up for free or get a glass of water. Unfortunately that often means people purchase plastic bottles that will then be thrown away, causing long-term damage to the marine environment and increasing the amount of litter in our public spaces. The Refill scheme is a practical solution to this problem and I would encourage all businesses in Bicester and Banbury to sign up.

Victoria Prentis, MP for Banbury, said: ‘I am thrilled to launch the Refill scheme in Banbury and Bicester. Disposable bottles can be so damaging to the environment, but they are often hard to avoid, especially when out and about. The simplest solutions are usually the most effective; Refill enables people to do their bit while going about their everyday lives. We can see a similar arrangement in action with London’s Borough Market introducing free water fountains as part of a pledge to phase out single-use plastic bottles over the next six months.  There is definitely scope for this to be a national model. I am really looking forward to seeing how the scheme develops locally and am very grateful to Brita for their generous support.

Natalie Fee, founder of City to Sea, said: ‘Thanks to our partnership with BRITA UK, shoppers and commuters in Banbury and Bicester will never have to buy expensive, environmentally catastrophic bottled water again! Our free Refill rewards app means you’ll be able to find free refills in your local area and earn points as you go – helping you to remember to take your reusable bottle out with you when you leave the house!

Victoria refilling her water bottle to mark the launch of the Banbury and Bicester Refill scheme.

Victoria refilling her water bottle to mark the launch of the Banbury and Bicester Refill scheme.

The Refill team with supporters from Brita and local business owners.

The Refill team with supporters from Brita and local business owners.

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