Thursday, 28 February 2019

Improving access to Dental care

The NHS is a great British institution. All of us will rely on it at some point in our lives. Last year, the independent Commonwealth Fund looked at health services around the world and considered that what we have in the UK is the best in the world. The many hard-working nurses and doctors who contribute to this success have a lot of be proud of. Locally we have great work done at St Michael's Hospital, which is a national leader in breast surgery, and Camborne and Redruth Hospital which has a number of specialisms including stroke and prosthetics. 
The NHS also provides access to local dental practices across the country. We all know the importance of looking after our teeth and ensuring good dental hygiene with regular check-ups. It can be an important way of identifying other conditions early such as mouth cancers. Unfortunately for many across Cornwall, gaining access to an NHS dentist is not as easy as it should be. I have had a growing number of constituents reporting problems getting access to a local dentist and part of the problem is the fact that we are on a peninsula and staff retention is harder. 
Ironically, we have a dental school in Truro and train many dentists every year but getting them stay in Cornwall is proving more difficult. Waiting lists for dental treatment are not uncommon in Cornwall, with 52% of adults in Devon and Cornwall recorded as not seeing an NHS dentist in the past two years. This means that when patients do visit their dentists, it is often for more complex treatments that take longer to solve. 
NHS England, who are largely responsible for administering dental services across the country are working hard to commission new services and reduce waiting lists, but the problem is exacerbated in the way that dentists are paid. Previously, dentists used to gain money based on a set payment tariff for “units of work” that they complete. Under the previous Labour government, these tariffs were simplified about twelve years ago to one basic tariff for most work. Although there were good intentions behind that change to simplify things, it does mean that dentists now do not receive a higher payment that would cover complex cases and parts of the country are more prone to having patients presenting with complex problems than others. 
If we want to reduce the numbers of patients on waiting lists, then we must pursue a range of options that will start to improve local services. From working with local providers to ensure that existing contacts are delivering to their maximum potential to commissioning additional NHS work from practices that have capacity available across Cornwall. In recent weeks I have also met with the Minister for Public Health and Primary Care to discuss the issue in greater detail and have also spoken to the Director of Commissioning Operations at NHS England in the South West. 
Despite the difficulties that many are experiencing, there are arrangements in place to ensure that those without a dentist requiring treatment, can access an urgent dental appointment as a priority. Patients who are waiting for a place at an NHS dentist can access emergency treatment by contacting Westcountry Dental in Truro on 03334050290. 

Thursday, 21 February 2019

The legacy of mining works

This part of Cornwall has a unique mining heritage. Redruth was once one of the wealthiest towns in the country and we exported mining expertise across the globe. Today that legacy means that we have World Heritage Site status and the many old engine houses around our towns are iconic. 
However, there is another legacy which periodically causes major problems to some residents. The ground beneath the whole Camborne, Pool and Redruth area is like a Swiss cheese with mine workings going back centuries. Many of the more recent features were mapped and are known about but others that go back further are sometimes not mapped.
The unexpected nature of some of these mining features can cause setbacks for major projects. There is an old local saying "deeper than Dolcoath" which is a reference to the depth of the old Dolcoath mine. When the new link road was being constructed, I visited civil engineers to see a problem they had discovered. There was a disused mine shaft that had been covered over with a thick metal plate, when it was removed they threw a large rock down the shaft, but no sound came back. The rock disappeared into the abyss. Fixing that and other similar problems was a costly exercise and caused delays. 
Over time, I have had a steady stream of constituents contact me with problems of unexpected subsidence that leaves them with huge personal costs. Sometimes people have had a mining survey completed with their mortgage application but then find unknown features which present problems that were not foreseen. There are two main survey companies locally and each has their own intellectual property in the form of old maps. There is not a perfect overlap of intelligence. In addition, many insurers will not include mining subsidence in their cover unless it actually threatens the house itself.  
I have been working to identify a possible solution to this problem. In older coal mining areas, there has always been a government backed scheme to help residents remedy such problems. This is because the coal industry was nationalised and when it was privatised, no one would take on historic liabilities. Therefore, there is a different approach for people who live in former coal mining areas than those living in tin mining areas. I recently wrote to the Chief Executive of Coal Authority and met the chief scientist at the Business Department to discuss the issue in greater depth and see if the law could be reformed so that there was equal treatment for people dealing with old tin mines. After all, the challenge is the same whether the mines were once publicly or privately owned. 
An alternative idea that I am exploring is whether there could be some sort of regulatory change to make it more likely that insurers will provide full cover for such projects within the curtilage of any property. In areas where there is a high flood risk and where homeowners are unable to access flood insurance due to the high risk, the government introduced a new mutualised risk scheme that meant a very small increase in all insurance bills in order to provide a mutual fund that could be accessed by all insurers to deal with high risk properties. It could be one way to address the issue. There is further to go to bring a solution through legislation, but I do feel there is an injustice here that has a particular local relevance and I am keen to try to find an answer.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Finn’s Law

One of the refreshing features about the way our British parliamentary system works is that the government of the day does not have complete control of the parliamentary agenda. On many so called "sitting Fridays" in parliament, time is set aside for individual Bills, brought by individual MPs, usually to deliver small changes in legislation. Many fall by the wayside but some make to onto the statute book. 
Any MP from any party can apply for the opportunity to introduce a Private Members Bill. Sometimes they will cooperate with government to help get their legislation across the line, sometimes they will try their luck and face down opposition from the government. When I was first elected I introduced a Bill to try to reform the law to help strengthen protections for small businesses and entrepreneurs against bank repossessions. It didn't make it that time but it enabled me to design what the clauses for the legislation would look like and I have been promoting it ever since.
Last Friday, in my role as a Defra Minister, I was responsible for helping to support one of these Private Members Bills. The Bill has been introduced by the Hertfordshire MP, Oliver Heald and has been dubbed "Finn’s Law". It has the support of the government and last Friday gained the support of the House of Commons and now moves to the next stages in the House of Lords. The aim of the new legislation is to make it easier to bring prosecutions when police dogs and other service animals are attacked in the course of their duties. 
Finn’s law is named after Finn an Alsatian police dog who saved the life of his handler when a robbery suspect they were pursuing turned on them with a knife in 2016. Finn was stabbed in the chest and head but bravely did not let go until reinforcements arrived and was initially thought unlikely to survive. Unfortunately, whilst the suspect was charged with actual bodily harm in relation to wounds to PC Wardell’s hand, he faced only criminal damage charges over the injuries to Finn. I met Finn on Friday and could see that he was a dedicated service dog who would do anything to protect his handler. 
The aim of Finn’s law is to amend the Animal Welfare Act 2006 so that the statutory defence of acting through fear does not apply to any service animal that has is under the control of its handler. This includes Police Dogs and Horses, Prison Dogs and Fire and Rescue Dogs. This will mean that were a service animal such as a police fog or horse be harmed whilst carrying out their duties, then the offender would be able to be charged with an offence under this new law. 
Supported by the Government, the Mayor of London, The Mayor of Greater Manchester, all Police and Crime Commissioners in England and Wales, the RSPCA, IFAW and many more, it is clear that there is a lot of support for this change in law. Whilst there is still a little way to go, there is also a fair wind behind this idea and cross party support for what it seeks to achieve.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Constituency catchup

It is good to get out of Westminster at the end of each week and get back home to visit some of the many amazing charities, local schools and innovative businesses that make Camborne and Redruth such a creative and resilient place to live. I am a regular user of the sleeper train and the refurbishment of the rolling stock is now fully complete. Since I now have a 16-month-old daughter, the Thursday night journey on the sleeper is probably the best night's sleep I get all week!
On Friday morning I visited St Day and Carharrack Community School. Under the current head teacher, Susannah Storey, the school has been putting a focus on building aspiration and self confidence in its pupils. During my visit, I talked about the role of an MP as part of a programme of events they have on careers and heard about some of the work and priorities from the school and their Student Council. I try to visit all 35 of our primary schools every few years and never cease to be impressed by the commitment of staff and pupils alike.
Next on the agenda was a visit to the new council offices and library in Camborne. The Town Council have done a brilliant job restoring the building to its former glory. Inside the building the new offices are spacious, and the library has had a complete overhaul. There have been one or two teething problems with damp following the treatment which is being rectified. The library is performing well supported by volunteers and there’s even a Cornish reference section helping to preserve our unique Cornish heritage. I was also informed that the Rhyme Time club which is run for parents with younger children has also grown in size. The library is an iconic Camborne business.
In the afternoon I met the new principle of Cornwall College along with the Chairman to discuss the challenges which the college is facing, and more positively about some of the work that is taking place. The college has had some challenges over the last few years but, despite some tough decisions, the dedication and loyalty of the team to the college remains incredibly strong. I was a student at Cornwall College in the late 80's and it is an incredibly important asset locally in supporting young people on apprenticeships and providing them with the skills that they need to take well paid employment.
Later in the evening I also took part in a question time panel hosted by a group of students at Penryn College. Rather as you might expect, many of the questions focused on Brexit and the effect that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU would have on the country and Cornwall. It was a robust discussion and I was impressed that, among the students, there was actually a lot of confidence in the ability of our country to do well and take on new opportunities after we leave the EU.
Finally, on Saturday morning I held my regular advice surgery. I hold advice surgeries most weeks and have a dedicated team who are here to help unblock problems. If you have a problem that you need help solving, why not email us or drop into our Camborne office to arrange to meet one of our team. I can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk, by telephone on 0207 219 7032 or by appointment in our Camborne Office at 13 Commercial Street, Camborne, TR14 8JZ.