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I met with senior representatives from North Durham CCG in late August of last year, and discussed a number of issues with them. 

However at my meeting with the CCG they omitted to mention that they were about to implement a new scheme which would radically change the way GPs in North Durham could refer their patients to specialists. I was therefore extremely perplexed and surprised to find out from BBC Look North about the referral scheme which had been implemented in October.

The new scheme means that rather than make direct referrals to a hospital specialist, GPs would now have to use a screening process operated by a private company called “About Health” which would decide whether the referral should go ahead or not.   I assumed that such a radical change would have been discussed not only with me and Kevan Jones MP when we met with North Durham CCG but also with the wider public who will be affected by the changes. 

The piece by BBC Look North prompted a number of responses from constituents who were very worried by the new referral scheme. I did attempt to raise these concerns with the North Durham CCG but unfortunately meetings were cancelled and rearranged without any further information or rationale for such a change in process being outlined by them. I and my fellow MPs now hope to meet the CCG on 3rd Feb 2017.

In order to ascertain whether the government had any role In establishing the new referral scheme I asked for, and was granted a debate in Parliament. The debate also meant that detailed questions could be asked of the Minister about the way in which North Durham CCG set up the new scheme, the reasons for it, and the lack of consultation with key stakeholders before such a new system was put in place. Bodies such as the North Durham Patients Reference Group are there for the very purpose of providing consultation and feedback to the CCG on patients’ experiences, but they were completely in the dark about the implementation of the scheme until just a week before it was introduced, where they were presented with the plans as a fait accompli.

During the debate I also made the point that having a private company deciding whether referrals should go ahead or not fundamentally altered the GP/patient relationship as we have come to understand it in the UK. Furthermore I raised the fact that protocols did not seem to be in place to get a patient’s consent before information about their medical condition was passed to a private company.

I have to say I was not impressed by the Government’s response to the points I made in this debate, especially as David Mowat, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, did not respond to any of the points raised preferring to indulge instead in a party political rant which had no place in a debate of this kind.

If the CCG are determined to have a referral scheme in place, at the very least it should be public, open and transparent, and should have been introduced after extensive public consultation and information, rather than having been introduced under the radar. Even so, I am still not convinced that a referral scheme is necessary in the first place and as yet of course no information on the medium to longer term impacts of this referral scheme on health outcomes for patients has been made available. A 12-month trial of this scheme carried out by North Tyneside CCG showed that there was financial savings for the CCG, but we do not have any details about whether it was also advantageous for the health of the patients involved.

Since the debate in November, I have made an FOI request of every CCG in England to find out whether they are implementing a similar referral process to the one put in place by North Durham CCG, and if so, when they introduced it and what consultation was carried out before the scheme was implemented. I also asked those CCGs which are not currently using a referral scheme if they have any plans to introduce one in the future. I have now received responses from the vast majority of CCGs, and my results show that:

  • 5 CCGs are considering implementing a system (2.7%)
  • 12 CCGs currently use a private company to manage referrals (6.5%)
  • 49 CCGs currently have a system to manage referrals, but this is an ‘in house’ service provided by the NHS (26.5%)
  • 119 CCGs have no clinical triage of referrals and no plans to introduce them (64.3%)

The vast majority of CCGs do not use a system to clinically triage referrals from GPs to specialists. Some use a system of peer support or internal referral, and a very small number of CCGs use a private company to review referrals.  Based on my findings, I am intending to ask for a new debate in Parliament on this issue, and I will be discussing this issue further with North Durham CCG when I meet them in February.  

  

Update on Clinical Commissioning Groups

I met with senior representatives from North Durham CCG in late August of last year, and discussed a number of issues with them. 

This week, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Government cannot trigger Article 50 without seeking Parliamentary approval.

I am pleased that the Supreme Court upheld the judgement of the High Court as I believe that it is necessary for Parliamentarians to scrutinise the Government’s actions and have their say on one of the most significant political changes in recent times. The Supreme Court has upheld the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty, and confirmed that the views of our Parliamentarians, who are in turn representing the views of their constituents, cannot be ignored during this period of uncertainty and change.

For months, I have received many emails from constituents asking what I would do if Parliament were to vote on Article 50. I have also received many more from constituents pleading for me to vote in a particular way. Now that we can be certain that Parliament will vote on this issue, and because it is an issue of national importance, I think it is vital that I clarify my current position to my constituents.

This will not be an easy decision for me to make as the vote has been so divisive that however I choose to vote on Article 50 will be disappointing for some of my constituents.

I want to make it clear that I respect the result of the referendum in which more than 17 million people nationwide voted to leave the European Union and the Labour Party have agreed that we will not frustrate the process, therefore I will not vote against triggering Article 50.

However, as I have said before on this blog, I believe that leaving the EU will be damaging to our country in a variety of ways, unless certain conditions are met. If I were to vote in favour of triggering Article 50, I would need to know that it would be in the best interests of my constituents and the North East. Therefore, I cannot actively vote to trigger it unless the Government prove that they are committed to protecting and prioritising jobs, workers’ rights and the economy and that they can ensure that we will continue to have a strong, amicable relationship with the EU in the future.

Furthermore, although County Durham voted to leave the EU, my experience at the count, as well as discussions and correspondence that I have had with my constituents since June, have all indicated that the City of Durham constituency voted strongly to remain a member of the EU.

Therefore, I have not yet decided how I will vote but it is likely that I will abstain from voting to trigger Article 50. Do be aware that my stance on this may change, depending on the Bill itself, the debate that takes place and any amendments that are made to the Bill by Labour, or another other Party, during the Parliamentary process. I am planning to hold some constituency meetings to take soundings from my constituents on their concerns surrounding Brexit and will inform you when these have been arranged.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, I hope that there will be more transparency and accountability of the Government’s actions regarding Brexit. We need greater clarity from the Government on what their plans are for the future of our country and for the new relationship with the EU, and we need reassurances that Parliament will be consulted and able to scrutinise the Government’s actions during the period of negotiations.  

However, for now, there continues to be ambiguity surrounding the whole exit process. The Government still seem to be attempting to avoid full Parliamentary scrutiny by refusing calls to publish a White Paper ahead of the Bill. We will have to wait and see if the forthcoming Bill on Article 50 sheds any more light on the Government’s plans for Brexit, and if the Labour Party is able to make amendments to the Bill to ensure that we get the best outcome for the UK.

Throughout the whole exit process, I can assure you that I will do what is best for my constituents in the City of Durham, the North East and the UK as a whole, but please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further comments or questions regarding this issue.

 

Triggering Article 50

This week, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Government cannot trigger Article 50 without seeking Parliamentary approval. I am pleased that the Supreme Court upheld the judgement of the...

The Government's Housing team and the Labour Housing team pictured together to show their joint backing of the Bill. 

I was pleased to be in Parliament today to support the Second Reading of the Homelessness Reduction Bill. It was good that it got cross party support and the backing of both the Government’s Housing team and the Labour Housing team pictured together and thus passed its Second Reading.

I think this Bill is a really positive step forward to reducing homelessness, but there is so much more that the Government needs to do to tackle homelessness and the housing crisis. As Shadow Minister for Housing and Local Government, I will keep up pressure on the Government to ensure they take the measures necessary not only to build the homes we so desperately need but to provide the range of services that we need to tackle homelessness. 

Supporting the Homelessness Reduction Bill

The Government's Housing team and the Labour Housing team pictured together to show their joint backing of the Bill. 


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Press Releases

Roberta Blackman- Woods MP, Shadow Minster for Local Government and Housing, has welcomed the news that the Government have decided to scrap the “Pay to Stay” measures in the Housing and Planning Act.

Roberta said: “Pay to Stay was one of the most pernicious parts of the Housing and Planning Act. It was nothing more than a tax on tenants and a tax on aspiration and so I am extremely pleased to see that the Government has finally listened to reason and decided not to implement it

During the passage of the Act, I met with a group of tenants from Hackney who were very concerned about the impact of the measures and that stress and worry is something that council tenants from across the entire country have been subjected to for months.

I hope this is the first of many elements of the Housing and Planning Act that the Government come to realise will not help alleviate the housing crisis and I look forward to more statements winding back similar such measures in the future”.

Roberta welcomes the scrapping of Pay to Stay

Roberta Blackman- Woods MP, Shadow Minster for Local Government and Housing, has welcomed the news that the Government have decided to scrap the “Pay to Stay” measures in the Housing...

Cathy_Come_Home_5.JPGTo mark the 50th anniversary of the film “Cathy Come Home”, Roberta Blackman- Woods MP, Shadow Minister for Local Government and Housing took part in an event to discuss the film’s impact with director Ken Loach and key stakeholders in the homelessness sector.

Of the event Roberta said:

“It was fantastic to be able to discuss Ken Loach’s seminal film on homelessness with the director himself, and to hear how much it influenced so many people who work with homeless people today.

The parallels between the film and the situation today were not lost on anybody and it shows how despite several pieces of legislation being passed regarding homelessness, more needs to be done to get to grips with the issue.

We need to be building more public sector housing so that families are not trapped on waiting lists or stuck in temporary accommodation for months on end. There needs to be more good quality, genuinely affordable housing available of all types and enabling local authorities to build is the best way to deliver that”.  

Roberta celebrates 50th anniversary of "Cathy Come Home"

To mark the 50th anniversary of the film “Cathy Come Home”, Roberta Blackman- Woods MP, Shadow Minister for Local Government and Housing took part in an event to discuss the...

Roberta has today heard from Durham County Council that DASH have withdrawn their application for conversion of the Last Orders pub in Gilesgate to offices and flats for young people.

Responding to this news, Roberta said “I hope that the fact that the application has been withdrawn means that time will be available to allow discussion to take place locally to identify a more suitable site for the DASH development.

I would also like to have the opportunity to work with DASH, residents and relevant partners to secure a more suitable development for the former Last Orders pub and look at where accommodation for young people which is very much needed in Durham could be more appropriately located.” 

Application for development of Last Orders pub in Gilesgate withdrawn

Roberta has today heard from Durham County Council that DASH have withdrawn their application for conversion of the Last Orders pub in Gilesgate to offices and flats for young people....


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