Monday 26th February 2024

(2 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:46
Asked by
Lord Londesborough Portrait Lord Londesborough
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the NHS’s resourcing and capacity to provide specialist care, in line with that provided to cancer and cardiac patients, for those living with neurological conditions.

Lord Markham Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Markham) (Con)
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My Lords, integrated care boards are responsible for commissioning most services for people with neurological conditions. NHS England has established the neuroscience transformation programme, a multi-year clinically led programme aimed at improving specialised adult neuroscience services in England. The programme has developed a new model of integrated care for neuroscience services to support ICBs to deliver the right service at the right time for all neurology patients, including providing care closer to home. A toolkit is being developed to support ICBs to understand and implement this new model.

Lord Londesborough Portrait Lord Londesborough (CB)
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My Lords, there are 11 million people in the UK living with neurological conditions—the cause of more deaths than cancer and heart disease combined and the greatest cause of lifetime disability. The NHS is clearly not set up to provide the specialist care needed. France and Germany have more than four full-time consultant neurologists per 100,000 people; here, it is just over one. Across the UK, there are no full neuro units to be found in the majority of our counties. The consequential wastage of healthcare resource by non-specialist care, plus the social and economic burdens, is put at £96 billion by the Economist in a findings report released today. Can the Minister tell us: what are the plans to address this critical imbalance?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord. I had the opportunity to join the Neurology Alliance forum today, which was quite timely. I think its approach is entirely right in looking at what we can do to help people get on with an active life and back into the workforce, understanding that the economic impact of that is key. We have set up the neuroscience transformation programme, which the Neurology Alliance is on board with, which we think will tackle many of the issues that the noble Lord mentions.

Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Portrait Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie (Con)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Scottish Government’s advisory committee on neurological conditions and as chief executive of Cerebral Palsy Scotland. People with neurological conditions are faced with navigating a very complicated maze of services straddling primary care, secondary care and social care. Some conditions have well-defined pathways; many other conditions, such as cerebral palsy, do not. If the Government are not going to look at an overall neurological strategy such as the one that we have in Scotland, what practical steps will they take to help people with neurological conditions navigate these confusing services, so that they get the right support at the right time?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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My noble friend is correct. The important step towards this was our appointment of the first national clinical director of neurology over the last year. The task force put out a progressive neurological conditions toolkit which sets out the pathways exactly as my noble friend mentions. It shows the treatments for over 600 conditions. This is a complex area so it is vital that the pathways are understood in each area and patients can understand how to navigate them.

Lord Allan of Hallam Portrait Lord Allan of Hallam (LD)
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My Lords, the Government have created a new occupational health task force, which is welcome, but it will not help somebody to stay in their job or get back to work if they face a wait of many months to see a neurologist because that is what their condition requires. Can the Minister confirm that he will be working with his colleagues in DWP to ensure that the neurology capacity is there to see referrals from occupational health services more quickly?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Yes, absolutely. Of course, this is what the CDCs are about as well in trying to get that diagnosis capacity. At the Neurological Alliance forum I was just at, the main thing was needing help with early diagnosis, because getting treatment is key to it all and, also, seeing whether we can sometimes refer people directly to the CDCs so that the GP is not always the bottleneck.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, as Lord Cormack was a fellow of Lincoln, as I am, I pay tribute today to his considerable contribution to the City of Lincoln, as well as to this House and to the other place. May his memory be for a blessing.

The Neurological Alliance has expressed concern about the lack of clarity over whether new therapies for those affected by neurological conditions and their changing needs have been factored into the workforce plan. Can the Minister set out how the workforce plan will respond to these changing circumstances both for those with neurological conditions and those with other conditions?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I echo the noble Baroness’s comments regarding Lord Cormack.

In terms of the long-term workforce plan, I was talking this morning to the national clinical lead in this area and to Professor Steve Powis. The next stage in terms of the detail is looking at the individual specialties and neuroscience experts are part of that. In the last five years, we have seen an increase of about 20% or so in this space but understanding that need going forward is the next stage in the long-term workforce plan.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Con)
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My Lords, I echo the comments about Lord Cormack—we are all going to miss him dreadfully in this Chamber.

There are about 600,000 people in the UK living with epilepsy. An epileptic seizure can cause significant disability and, in the worst instances, death. Only half of those living with epilepsy are seizure free, but this could rise to 70% if all those with epilepsy were targeted to the right treatments. Can the Minister say what plans the department has to improve epileptic treatment in the UK with improved specialist care?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I thank my noble friend, and I proudly wear the Epilepsy Action badge from the meeting I was just at. As my noble friend says, it is all about trying to get that early diagnosis. If you can get that and help people get the right treatments, that is exactly the right direction of travel because it can make a huge difference to outcomes. The progressive neurological condition toolkit I mentioned earlier sets out that pathway and the model of integrated care for all the ICBs, which they will all then be held to account on to make sure patients with all these conditions—and there are 600 of them including epilepsy—are getting the right treatment in their neighbourhood.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests in palliative care. Do the Government recognise that many of the patients with neurological disease are living with palliative care symptoms such as pain, breathlessness, worry and fatigue, which could be managed in the community with good integration between palliative care services and neurological services? Therefore, have the Government given specific commissioning guidance to integrated care boards to ensure that they look to see how the integration is developing in their own areas to enable these patients to improve their quality of life and their ability to live actively for as long as possible?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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Yes, that is precisely what I was referring to: the progressive neurological condition toolkit is all about the pathways for that integrated approach to it all. Again, there are 15 million people affected—I think this statistic was mentioned earlier—and one in five deaths come from related conditions, so making sure we have that integration with palliative care as well as the other services is key.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, neurological conditions require diagnosis by a specialist. Thereafter, the individuals need the input of people from all the different disciplines of the NHS. At the moment, the expectation to manage that falls upon GPs, and they cannot manage it. The key people who can are specialist nurses, and we have a severe deficit of specialist nurses for several neurological conditions. Can the Minister say how that deficit is to be addressed by the workforce plan?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness. Yes, the point about epilepsy nurses was made very clear to me just half an hour ago, and I quizzed both the national clinical director of neurology and Professor Stephen Powis on that subject this morning. I was assured that the next stage of the long-term workforce plan goes into that level of detail. I have made a commitment to the House to share some of that data, so we can make sure that it really is covered properly.

Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, as human beings we are one biological system. A disease in one system often impacts another: for instance, chronic cardiac failure often results in cognitive dysfunction and people with neurological conditions often have associated cancers. While this Question is about funding for neurological diseases—and in the last two weeks, we have had Questions about funding for cardiovascular disease, cancers and others—what the whole thing shows is that we have one system failure in the health service. The only way that might be addressed is to get some out-of-the-box thinking. Does the Minister agree?

Lord Markham Portrait Lord Markham (Con)
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I hope the noble Lord knows me well enough to know that I am always up for some out-of-the-box thinking. We are putting a lot of resources into this space. When we talk about dementia, which is captured in this, the commitment I gave last week was to bring in the expert panel, so that we can start to really understand this because early diagnosis is absolutely key. There is some out-of-the-box thinking there. Again, just now I was caught by the spinal muscular atrophy people; they were saying that if we could add that to the baby pinprick test, for instance, we could make sure that babies never suffer those symptoms later in their life, in many cases. I am absolutely up for that out-of-the-box thinking.