From Paul Maynard MP <[email protected]>
Subject Paul Maynard MP's Letter from Westminster
Date January 11, 2022 1:22 PM
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Dear Resident,

May I start by wishing everyone a Happy New Year. I am a little nervous about saying I am sure the next year can only be an improvement on the last – I tried that last year, but normality has far from resumed, and any predictions are risky to say the least. Hope is often said to be the cruellest emotion, for good reason.

This week we have a decided health-focus – although I am working on other issues!

No one can disagree headline covid case numbers are very large indeed – but dipping slightly as I write. At the same time, we are seeing hospitals, including Blackpool, declaring critical incidents. The reason for that might not be what you think. The number of patients admitted due to covid is not increasing sharply (and don’t forget some are admitted with covid (i.e. not the main reason for admission) not because of covid). The reason for critical incidents at both Blackpool and elsewhere are staff absence rates due to self-isolation due to omicron.

The consequences have been strewn across my inbox over Christmas and New Year. £5 billion has been invested nationally to help the NHS through the winter – but there are still people waiting too long for ambulances, and too long in A&E waiting for a bed, too long on wards waiting to be discharged to suitable step-down care. Others fine not just routine but quite serious operations postponed, and out-patient appointments cancelled.

And that is before we even consider general practice – next time maybe.

At the same time, I see a further controversy brewing. A small number of NHS staff have contacted me deeply concerned at vaccination being made mandatory, and that they are currently unvaccinated. I have had many emails also from those who think it should be mandated now and that it is unthinkable to allow anyone to keep working on wards unvaccinated. It isn’t yet clear where public opinion will settle – but be in no doubt this will be a significant public debate in coming weeks.

My own instinct is that were I in hospital – and thus far weaker in health than I am now – I would not want to be treated by unvaccinated staff members. At the same time, the concerns expressed to me by some staff can be straightforwardly addressed by the trust and clinicians, so I have urged the Trust to focus on persuasion and explanation at this stage.

Another health issue which you may not be aware of is the decision to withdraw the mobile breast screening units at Fleetwood Medical Centre and the mobile unit often seen at Booth’s car park in Poulton.
This is a very concerning situation. It leaves constituents with no breast screening provision other than Palatine or Lytham. Some may be able to drive, I know, but for anyone reliant on public transport, it is no easy journey. Noone would say it was acceptable for the nearest GP to be that far. I have read many constituents explain that they have cancelled their appointments due to not possessing the adequate means of transport to these more distant test sites.

The Unit has suggested patient attendance at Fleetwood in particular has fallen. Yet we know that many diagnostic services have seen lower demand during the pandemic, and this should surely not be used as an excuse. Rather, if attendance is low, efforts to increase attendance should be redoubled, and removing the screening unit from Fleetwood will achieve the opposite of increasing uptake.

As the Government looks to make efforts to clear the backlog caused by the pandemic, services such as breast cancer screening require wider provision, not scaling back. Staffing is indeed a problem due to covid, and covid will also have affected demand for their services, but that is no reason to downgrade the health opportunities of some of the poorest communities in the country. If existing locations were problematic (as it is claimed for technical reasons), there are many, many more publicly-owned locations where the services could be sited.

This is not good enough. I have asked the unit to provide a better explanation, reverse their decision and/or look for alternative sites. Cancer survival rates are too low as they are and this is a wholly unacceptable state of affairs.

Lastly, but by no means least, I have been watching the carefully the debate over whether the BBC should or should not play the national anthem at the end of the day on TV. I have no strong view – they do it on Radio 4, and the world wouldn’t end if it happened on BBC1.

But why do we keep picking fights with an institution like the BBC? It is far from perfect. But if we want to pick a fight, we should be using our energies on bigger issues – why not pick a fight with the BMA to improve access to face-to-face GP consultations? When you’ve got a majority of 82, you do need to make use of it – and there is a long list of things that could and should be tackled.

Occasionally, I feel we can’t always see the wood for the trees.

Yours faithfully,

Paul Maynard MP
01253 473071

Thank you for raising the issue of storm sewage overspills due to recent heavy rain.

As your email indicates, this issue has been high on the agenda after the controversy over recent votes on the Environment Bill. It is perhaps worth nothing that no-one is advocating the dumping of raw sewage. There is a disagreement between the Government setting out a clear set of milestones for how to achieve this, versus a political campaign whose primary target is to achieve state ownership of water utilities, and a subsequent campaign by those unreconciled to Brexit who argue that sewage discharge is a consequence. Locally and nationally, that is simply not true. Indeed, the multi-million project at Anchorsholme Park was designed to significantly reduce such occurrences – and only having two sewage incidents in the last year is far fewer than we had before that pumping station was constructed.

It may help if I explain some of the background. In short, section 141a of amendment 45 of the Environment Bill sought to place a new duty on sewerage undertakers in England and Wales to demonstrate progressive reductions in the harm caused by discharges of untreated sewage. This would not have stopped – and will not stop - the immediate dumping of raw sewage, as some may have been led to believe it will.

The amendment sounds admirable, and indeed is something I support in principle. But the trouble is that the amendment came with no plan as to how this can be delivered and no impact assessment whatsoever.

Some might argue that a plan is not essential, that one can be formulated afterwards. I would be sympathetic to this point of view if we were talking about a simple, inexpensive endeavour - but in eliminating storm overflows, we are talking about transforming a system which has operated since the Victorian Era, the preliminary cost of which is estimated to be up to £60 billion. Before we embarked on something of that size – a HS2 scale project - we should at least understand how we would do so.

The Government’s view was that it would have been irresponsible to have inserted this section in the Bill given that it was not backed by a detailed plan and thorough impact assessment. It would have been the equivalent of signing a blank check on behalf of billpayers.

However, I was pleased to support of the other amendments to the Environment Bill relating to storm overflows (including the rest of Amendment 45).

One of these amendments places a legal duty on government to publish a plan by 1 September next year to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows. A separate amendment will also place a duty on government to publish a report on the ‘mechanics’ of eliminating overflows entirely (also due before 1 September next year).

This is absolutely essential, as it will provide Parliament and the public with up-front, clear and comprehensive information on the cost and impact of eliminating storm overflows. Between the Government plan on storm overflows and the new elimination report, we will fully understand precisely how we can best tackle storm overflows.

So while setting out lofty aspirations is all well and good, what we really need to do is the long, detailed, practical work required to understand how we can deliver on these ambitions. It is not glamorous or headline-grabbing. But it is the effective action we need to deliver for local residents.

Please do not think that the Environment Bill only legislates for the production of plans on tackling storm overflows, however vital these no doubt are. I was pleased to support amendments to the Bill which take firm and immediate action to tackle storm overflows in the short-term. This includes:

• A new duty on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis.

• A new duty on water companies to publish near real time information (within 1 hour) of the commencement of an overflow, its location and when it ceases.
• A new duty on water companies to continuously monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of a storm overflow and of sewage disposal works.

• A new duty on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans setting out how the company will manage and develop its networks, and how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans.

Outside of the Bill, Ministers have made their expectations crystal clear in DEFRA’s draft Strategic Policy Statement to Ofwat. For the first time, the Government will be telling the industry’s financial regulator that it expects water companies to take steps to “significantly reduce storm overflows”, and that it expects funding to be approved for them to do so.

Ministers will also undertake a review of legislation which would require Sustainable Drainage Systems to be constructed to ministerial standards on new developments, reducing the pressure on the sewage system.

All of these measures are informed by the work of the Storm Overflows Task Force, which Defra established in August 2020 to bring together key stakeholders from the water industry, environmental NGOs, regulators, and Government in order to drive progress in reducing sewage discharges. The Taskforce has agreed a goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows.

I hope this information is helpful and reassures you that any suggestion that MPs are not taking firm action on storm overflows is false. The Government has voted in favour of taking a range of immediate steps to address storm overflows, together with a legal duty on government to produce detailed and costed plans for reducing and eliminating storm overflows entirely.

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