Since being elected the MP for Taunton Deane back in 2015, I have been working hard on a wide range of projects to help ensure that local people get the high-quality healthcare they deserve. As usual, my local political opponents are only interested in talking, in some instances calling for things that are already in progress, whilst what I’m entirely focused on is actually delivering for my constituents.
The reality is that the Government has committed to delivering an extra £45.6 billion in funding for health and social care over the next 3 years, investing more in facilities and resources to help cut waiting lists. In practice, this means more money for upgrades to Musgrove Park Hospital and I’m delighted to say that over recent years we have seen real progress in this respect. This includes the new £4.4 million eye care unit (completed in December 2021) & the £11.5 million surgical decision unit (completed in November 2022). The latter is already saving bed space within the hospital every week thanks to targeted decision making with follow up actions. And in an even bigger step - last summer, work began on the new £87 million surgical centre at the hospital, which will include new endoscopy rooms, more critical care beds and new operating theatres. To be there to officially cut the turf was a very exciting moment and this new state of the art centre will be of enormous benefit for the people not just of Taunton Deane but also the whole of Somerset. Importantly too, it will provide a fitting workplace for the hard working, dedicated and professional NHS staff.
I’ve been delighted to work closely with the Musgrove team on this range of projects over many years whilst playing my role furthering these schemes in Westminster too. In 2018, I secured a debate in Parliament calling for new hospital theatres to replace the outdated surgery facilities; I followed this with a petition which attracted a phenomenal 6,000 signatures which I duly presented in Parliament. Further work with the NHS Foundation Trust and close engagement with the Department of Health and Social Care secured the funding needed to get these new projects built with more underway. I am now continuing to work with the Musgrove team on the upgrade of the whole site which, I'm really pleased to say has been secured in the Government’s hospitals programme and remains on track for completion by 2030. First off in the complete upgrade will be a much-needed new maternity and paediatric centre that are confirmed as part of the government’s new hospital programme. I had all three of my children in the maternity unit, and whilst the care is superb the buildings are sadly outdated and in dire need of replacement.
On top of this, the Government have committed an additional £7.5 billion nationally to adult social care over three years. Here in Somerset, the Adult Social Care Discharge Fund gives the Council an additional £2 million to help discharge patients from hospitals into an appropriate social care setting. Nationally, the government has also committed to delivering 9 million additional medical tests by 2025 and has increased support for Community Diagnostic Centres (CDCs) like the Somerset Community CDC, which has already delivered over 86,000 more tests since going live in 2021. Importantly too, by the end of this parliament we will have delivered on our manifesto promise to end unpredictable social care costs faced by thousands of people including many here in Somerset. Proposals cover all care costs under the value of £20,000, quadrupling the means-tested support limit and ending uncertainty by introducing a lifetime care costs cap of £86,000.
In less positive news, I know that the lack of access to NHS dentistry remains a significant problem for many of my constituents. I continue to highlight this in no uncertain to Health Ministers and also brought the situation to the attention of the Chancellor in advance of the Autumn Budget last year. Health Ministers have assured me that the Government will be publishing a plan which will aim to increase access to NHS dentistry in the near future. I know that discussions continue to take place between NHS England, the British Dental Association and other stakeholders with a view to reforming the NHS dental contract so that dentists are better incentivised to take on more NHS work. I’m told that these reforms will allow the best-performing dental practices to see more patients and ensure better use of other dental professionals such as therapists, hygienists and nurses. Be assured, I will keep up the pressure and will be meeting the Dental Minister again shortly.
Another issue I know is of concern to people locally is getting access to see their GP in a timely manner. While substantial progress has been made in restoring access to GP appointments over the past few years, I fully recognise that many patients here continue to have trouble in accessing an appointment. I’ve been assured that it remains a government priority that every patient should be able to see their GP within two weeks and those who have urgent needs should be able to see their GP on the same day. To help deliver this, the Government has committed £1.5 billion to create an additional 50 million GP appointments by 2024 and patients across England will soon benefit from new digital phonelines designed to make booking much easier and put an end to the 8am rush.
In summary, while there of course remains much more work to do relating to healthcare for my constituents, there can be no doubt that in partnership with local stakeholders we have achieved a number of significant steps forward in recent years, particularly relating to the range of upgrades and new units now open at Musgrove Park Hospital. Excitingly too, plans are already underway to upgrade the rest of the hospital site and I will continue to be the strong link between stakeholders here and Ministers in Westminster to ensure my constituents benefit from better facilities into the future.