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On the substance of the debate, there were groups of subjects, and they included schools, which featured prominently. Some hon. Members paid tribute to schools
in their constituencies. They included the hon. Members for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry), for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and for Harrow West (Mr Thomas). Several hon. Members were concerned about school buildings and the fact that they had fallen foul of the cancellation of Building Schools for the Future. That point was raised by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner). Whenever he talks about the mining interests in his constituency, he reminds me of the coal mining area of my constituency, where the pits closed a little earlier than in his.
I appreciate the need to replace our crumbling schools, and I wish that we had had a programme that was capable of being delivered. However, in the case of those schools that deserve replacement, I hope that hon. Members will persevere, and that they will push, push and push again for those schools to be included in future programmes. I know that the Secretary of State for Education and the Minister with responsibility for schools, my hon. Friend the Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb) will listen to those propositions. I hope that Ministers will meet the hon. Member for Bolsover about Tibshelf school. I hope that they will also meet the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (John Cryer), my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Mr Hancock) and the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish).
I think that the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana R. Johnson) and for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) were talking about schools that were not part of the Building Schools for the Future programme. One of the criticisms of that programme was that it did not extend to primary schools, infant schools or nursery schools, and perhaps that is something that we need to do in the future.
Another sub-theme related to trains. The hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen talked about the need for a Rossendale to Manchester link. He was supported in that by the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). The hon. Member for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) talked about the deficiencies in provision in his constituency, and he mentioned National Express. The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) mentioned the famous station at Carnforth, and my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames) talked about the slightly less famous station at Melksham. I am nevertheless familiar with that station, and with the need for First Great Western to do a better job. I hope that we will be able to make progress on what is essentially the railway companies providing a better service. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), who is very much engaged with these issues, will take those matters forward.
Another sub-theme was health. I will forgive the hon. Member for Islington North for calling me "hapless"; I think I have quite a lot of hap, although he feels otherwise. He spoke about the Whittington hospital, and I know how important it is. He argued for local decisions on hospitals and against centralisation. The hon. Member for Bolton North East (Mr Crausby) said that he did not want local decisions on hospitals, but centralisation and a big supercentre. They cannot both be right, but the most important thing is that local provision is what is necessary to provide a good health service in the local area. The points raised will continue to be debated.
The hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) did a side advertisement for the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru, offered birthday wishes to his constituent, and also talked about alcohol pricing. How we reduce binge drinking is something that we will have to address as a public health issue. I think that the Department is very seized of the importance of that.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton spoke about the two hospitals in his constituency and wants to see a return to the provision of maternity services, while the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Gavin Williamson) raised the issue of his constituent who needed a cancer drug. I am sure he will be pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health has announced today that from October an extra £50 million will be available to help patients get access to innovative new cancer drugs. Doctors will be put in charge of deciding how the funding is spent for their patients locally, based on the advice of cancer specialists.
I thought there would be a sub-group based on courts when the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Gordon Henderson) talked about Sittingbourne court. I could join this group, as I am facing the proposed closure of Frome magistrates court. There is a consultation exercise and we will all put our views forcefully to the Ministry of Justice. Decisions will be based on access to justice criteria, which is very important. I hope that he will make his case on that basis.
We now come to a group that I have headed simply as "denial". This includes the hon. Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), for Bolton West, for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), for Leyton and Wanstead, for Hampstead and Kilburn (Glenda Jackson) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), who would simply not accept the mess that their Government-the Labour Government-had left. The key phrase came from the hon. Member for Bolton West who said that the choices that are being taken now are not the choices they would have made. Well, we would have loved to have known what choices they would have made, because they were committed to £40 billion-worth of cuts and 500,000 job losses in the public sector. Come on, let us hear what they were!
Let me try to deal with all the rest in the three minutes remaining. The hon. Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) ranged from fishing smacks under 10 metres in Leigh-on-Sea to myalgic encephalomyelitis and his constituents Julie Ditchburn and Tinashe Sahanga, Southend airport, clamping and policing. I will make sure that various Departments will get to hear what he had to say.
The hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Nadine Dorries) raised what sounds like a very important case of the Financial Services Authority failing in its regulatory function in respect of her constituents. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire mentioned Traveller sites and is presenting a petition. He will be pleased that the decentralisation Bill is coming forward in mid-November to give extra powers to local authorities.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mr Timpson) raised competitive sports and I absolutely agree with him, while my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham talked about his constituent in Avoncliff and the attitude of the Environment Agency. He and I share a lot of experience on this issue of micro-hydro power generation and the attitude of the Environment Agency. It is an issue that we must get to the bottom of.
The hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies) talked about the law-making powers for the National Assembly of Wales, while the hon. Member for Portsmouth South spoke about houses in multiple occupation and the difficulties of council tax and business rates. I hope that the Department will look at those issues.
The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) talked about the Mottram-to-Tintwistle bypass and wanted a meeting with a Minister. I think he threatened civil disobedience if he did not get it, so we had perhaps better arrange it. I hope that the relevant Minister will explain why the public inquiry was so mishandled under the last Government.
The hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale talked about the conservation of the conservation of the coastline, while the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) told us that all civil servants are not fat cats-and she is absolutely right; it is an important point that needs to be made. The hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) talked about Kashmir, while the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) talked about the Hope Cove lifeboat. She raised a crucial issue; she wants to know when a Minister will visit and asked about the freedom of information request. I will make sure that her specific questions are answered.
The Petition of the residents of Ilford North and others,
Declares that the petitioners deplore the continued captivity of Corporal Gilad Shalit and the violations of his basic human rights; notes that 25 June 2010 marked the 4th anniversary of Shalit's abduction by Hamas militants and that for over four years he has been denied visits from the Red Cross, adequate medical care and contact with the outside world; further declares that the petitioners believe these to be serious violations of his human rights under international law; and further notes that the petitioners believe that the inhumane prison conditions imposed on Shalit are criminal, immoral and unjust.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the British Government, and in particular the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, to do all in their power and use all avenues possible to secure the basic human rights and freedom of Corporal Shalit, and call upon the United Nations and International Red Cross to redouble its efforts to secure the basic human rights and freedom of Corporal Shalit.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Gavin Williamson (South Staffordshire) (Con): I wish to present a petition from residents wishing to stop Traveller sites from being built on green belt land, which has been signed by 2,181 people. It states:
The Petition of residents of the South Staffordshire constituency and others,
Declares that Traveller sites are being built on green belt land; and further declares that the petitioners believe that planning law should apply to these sites.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to bring forward proposals to change the law to prevent Traveller sites being imposed on green belt land.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
"storage of silt from the Paddling Pond and Moat Lake"
"large unsightly mounds over long periods."
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to call on Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council to take steps to prevent the storage of silt in Sunnyhurst Wood.
Mr John Leech (Manchester, Withington) (LD): I wish to present a petition on behalf of 730 students from Levenshulme high school, who arranged a special event at the school to raise awareness of the ongoing problem of human trafficking. The petition states:
The Petition of the constituents of Manchester Withington and others,
Declares that the petitioners believe that the continuing and increasing incidence of human trafficking into the UK and across the world is a disturbing situation that brings misery to many adults and children across the globe; notes that the petitioners believe human trafficking is a stain on the moral values of the UK; and notes that the petitioners support the "STOP THE TRAFFIK" campaign.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to take all possible steps to put an end to human trafficking.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): I am very pleased to have secured this debate, and I hope it might provide some comfort to many people across the UK who suffer from the condition of trigeminal neuralgia or TN. I should declare my interest: I have been a fellow sufferer. It is an interest I would gladly disown and, indeed, I fairly recently had neurosurgery to try to achieve just that-to disown it. I am grateful to the Minister for being in his place, and I am sure that he is as pleased as I would have been in his position to be closing the sitting for the Government before the recess.
If I may, I will outline some background to the condition, because part of the reason for securing this debate was to raise awareness of TN. Then I would like to express a little appreciation for those trying to deal with TN and help the sufferers. I will conclude with a few requests of the Minister, of which I have given him prior notice.
The Trigeminal Neuralgia Association UK-TNA UK-of which I am a member, is a support group for people suffering from an agonisingly painful neurological condition. Trigeminal neuralgia affects one or more of the three branches of the trigeminal nerve in the head and has been called "the worst pain known to man." It is characterised by sudden, excruciating spasms of electric shock-like pain, usually just on one side of the face. Thankfully, it is a relatively rare condition thought to affect less than 0.1% of the population, although the latest TNA indications are that there are 12.6 sufferers per 100,000 people in the UK. It is more common in women than men, and although it usually affects people aged 50 or over, the association is coming across many younger sufferers, even young children.
I remember my first referral to a maxillofacial consultant at the Royal London hospital. He asked me to describe my symptoms. I told him and the medical students who were with him, "It makes me cry". "There you are," he told his team, "a classic definition of the condition. You either have a London bus parked on your foot or you have trigeminal neuralgia."
Apparently there is nothing new about TN. It has been documented from the times of the Greeks and Romans in the 1st century, but because of its rarity research has been spasmodic and it is still a little-known condition often misdiagnosed due to lack of knowledge among some medical professionals.
The exact cause of the condition is unknown, but it is thought to be as a result of damage to the root of the nerve at the base of the skull where it emerges from the brain stem and often because the nerve is being compressed by a vein or artery. This damage causes the nerve to malfunction and send messages of intense pain to the brain in response to just a light touch on a "trigger" area of the face.
The pain can last from a few seconds to a few minutes, and there can be many bursts of pain in quick succession. Many patients suffer for months or years without correct treatment, and even undergo extensive, unnecessary dental work before the condition is correctly
diagnosed. There can be periods of complete pain remission, but these gradually become shorter and shorter, and patients therefore live in constant fear of a severe attack of debilitating pain.
Any facial movement, such as eating, talking, smiling or kissing, shaving, washing the face or brushing one's teeth can provoke an attack, and that can completely destroy any quality of life. There were several occasions in this place when I was preparing to speak and was fearful that I would be prevented from doing so because of the sense of an impending attack. That might have improved others' quality of life in not having to listen to me, but for some patients being unable to live normally leads to their becoming isolated and depressed, sometimes to the point of suicide.
Normal painkillers do not bring any relief and initially anticonvulsants used to treat epilepsy are prescribed. However, these often have unpleasant side effects and lose their efficacy with time so ever larger doses are required. When the medication is no longer effective, or if the side effects cannot be tolerated, various surgical procedures can be considered, although these carry a risk of complication and results are not always long lasting. The data on the success of surgical procedures are only now being assessed and will be more accurately evaluated in the future. The most effective operation is a micro-vascular decompression or MVD-major surgery that involves moving the offending blood vessel or vessels away from the nerve, close to the brain stem. Unfortunately, TN has a habit of recurring, and even this operation does not always deliver long-term relief.
I should at this point express my sincere thanks to the excellent Mr Neil Kitchen and his first-class team at the national hospital for neurology and neurosurgery in Queen's square, London. He operated on me last December, and I am happy to say that since then, when I was in considerable distress, my condition is much improved and my need for medication is now minimal. I should also say thank you to my wife, Dr Sheila Fitzpatrick, without whose care, love and attention a difficult experience would have been much more painful.
The Trigeminal Neuralgia Association was formed in 1999 by a patient and a doctor, Professor Joanna Zakrzewska. It specialises in treating TN, offers support and encouragement to sufferers, and became a registered charity in 2002. Professor Zak, as she is fondly known for obvious spelling and articulation reasons, is a beacon of hope to all TN sufferers. Worldly and wise, she is the essence of reassurance, and on her own or sometimes allied to Mr Kitchen and other surgeons, she offers sufferers real hope.
The aims of the association are to continue to provide information and offer support to members, and to raise awareness of TN among medical professionals and the general public. TNA UK receives no Government or corporate funding and is entirely dependent on membership fees and donations. All the association's officers give their time for free, and TNA UK is now in contact with more than 1,000 patients, receiving many new inquiries each week. The officers of the association-the tireless chairman Jillie Abbott, supported primarily by Mr George Cunningham, a former hon. Member and treasurer of TNA UK, and membership officer Mr Clive Clifton-and numerous other generous individuals volunteer to spread
the word, helping sufferers and raising awareness. They are all very much appreciated because of their efforts. The association can be reached by searching the web for TNA UK.
I mentioned earlier the misdiagnosis of TN as dental problems. I am pleased to report that the British Dental Association has acknowledged that its members can help in this regard. I am told that it plans to commission an article on facial pain for its British Dental Journal, and is considering a session on facial pain at next year's BDA conference. We in TNA UK will be happy to do all we can to assist with that, and we are grateful to the BDA for looking at the issue so seriously. I have also written today to the BDA to seek confirmation of the initiatives.
I would be very grateful if the Minister advised the House on the following matters. In his briefing for this debate, have his officials acknowledged that there is an awareness issue? Notwithstanding the rarity of the condition, greater familiarity among medical and dental practitioners would save money and, more importantly, reduce suffering. TNA UK is not asking for funding, although that would be welcome-if the Minister has his cheque book, we would like to see it.
As I have said, the association volunteers work very hard. However, can the Minister advise whether there is anything that TNA UK can do to help additionally promote awareness of trigeminal neuralgia within the NHS family? Is there anything that the NHS can do specifically to support Professor Zak in her research into the condition and surgical outcomes? Finally, TNA UK and individual sufferers would welcome any advice that the Minister might have in respect of their condition and how their overall situation might be improved.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Paul Burstow): I congratulate the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) on securing the opportunity to debate this important issue on the last day before the summer recess. To have the privilege to be the Minister replying to a debate at this Dispatch Box is not something I necessarily expected when we all departed from this House in April, so it is a double pleasure to be concluding business in the House before we leave for a busy summer recess.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on highlighting this important topic, on bringing it to the attention of the House and on raising it with me as the Minister and, through me, with officials. He is right to raise both his personal experience and, in doing so, the experiences of many others who suffer from this condition and who often live with long-term chronic pain. He has spoken movingly and powerfully about the misery and discomfort that the condition can bring. I have heard that in some cases a strong wind just brushing a person's cheek can be enough to trigger or ignite that intense pain through the nerve endings firing up. That is almost impossible to imagine unless one has personally experienced it, as he has described.
The hon. Gentleman asked about professional awareness. I have to confess that ministerial awareness of this condition was extremely low until quite recently. I had
not heard about it-I will be honest-and I have spent the past few days learning as much as possible about it. From what I have learned, I agree that the condition deserves to be much better understood by policy makers, the general public and front-line clinical staff. The hon. Gentleman gave an excellent account of what clinical experts believe causes trigeminal neuralgia and of how the condition can be managed, and he rightly talked about how understanding of its prevalence is developing.
As the hon. Gentleman has explained, there are various treatments available. I understand that in about three-quarters of cases, patients respond well to anti-convulsant drugs, which have the effect of settling the nerve endings. However, although those drugs can be effective in reducing the frequency of attacks, they might not remove the pain entirely. Pain management techniques are then important for helping patients to manage their condition when attacks occur. As he has described, some patients might find that drug treatments become less effective over time or that they cause undesirable side effects. That is when surgery might become necessary to interrupt or block electrical activity in the nerve. There are several options, as he has described, but in the most severe cases, surgery is often the option taken up; it can be invasive and delicate, and it might not always bring the long-term relief that is desired.
Radiosurgery is another option, which may successfully interrupt the nerve impulses. There is exciting work under way using Gamma Knife technology, which is less invasive and can be more effective. The hon. Gentleman might be interested to know that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recently issued updated guidance on treating trigeminal neuralgia using Gamma Knife.
I have been told by my policy officials that one of the big challenges in treating this condition is diagnosis, which involves a GP or dentist having to rule out a whole host of other possibilities, including tumours, dental problems, the after-effects of shingles and dysfunction of the jaw. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Royal College of General Practitioners has developed a curriculum statement for neurological problems, which includes the need to consider trigeminal neuralgia in patients with headaches and neuropathies-I think that last word will read better in Hansard than I pronounced it-so it should be something that GPs cover as part of their initial training.
I add that the condition is also referenced in undergraduate dentistry training. Of course, because of its rarity, many GPs and dentists will see it only very infrequently in their practice, so I join the hon. Gentleman in welcoming the work that the British Dental Association is doing to promote the condition and to keep these possibilities in the front of dentists' minds. By way of supporting these efforts, I have asked my officials to contact the dental deans to make sure that the condition also features in the continuing education and training of dentists.
The hon. Gentleman's description of trigeminal neuralgia shows the need to join up national and local approaches to pain management and long-term conditions. As an action arising from this debate, I have asked my officials to look carefully at pain management in the context of the framework for long-term neurological conditions. I want to help the NHS to make the right connections between local services and to align national and local
policies more closely to be helpful in that regard. We will have to make sure that all that feeds into commissioning and clinical practice at local level, and there are several areas in which we are looking to build knowledge and awareness at all levels of the NHS.
First, as the hon. Gentleman might be aware, NICE has recently issued new clinical guidelines on managing neuropathic pain. The guidelines specifically mention trigeminal neuralgia and describe the circumstances in which patients should be referred to a specialist pain service. On the back of that, NICE is working with the National Institute for Health Research to explore additional avenues of research that could help patients with the condition.
The NICE guidelines on neuropathic pain recommended four areas for future research, one of which is specific to trigeminal neuralgia and would give us evidence of the effectiveness of one of the most commonly used treatments. The other three topics cover the use of combination drug therapies, factors influencing quality of life, and the question of how much treatment should be influenced by the underlying cause of pain. They will be relevant to all forms of neuropathic pain, including trigeminal neuralgia. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the topics are being considered for research as part the health technology assessment programme, and that a decision will be made in due course.
A second area of interest concerns the future planning of local services. The Government have agreed to press ahead with a national pain audit, to which 200 pain clinics are already signed up. Data collection will begin later this year. The audit will assess not only the organisation of local services to ensure that they meet local needs, but quality of care through the measurement of patient outcomes. The audit will help us to build a picture of patient need, which will help the NHS to build local strategies to improve pain management services. Again, such information will enable us to ensure that the right services are available for people with trigeminal neuralgia.
Thirdly, as the hon. Gentleman might also be aware, a consultation will take place during the summer on the NHS transparency in outcomes framework set out in the recent NHS White Paper. We want to hear the views of health care professionals, patients, carers, hon. Members and the public on what measures we should seek with regard to best outcomes and ensuring that patients have the right experiences in the NHS. I would certainly like TNA UK to contribute its thoughts on that, because that would help the shaping of the kind of outcome agenda that we want to see.
Fourthly, I will meet the Neurological Alliance, an umbrella group representing more than 50 neurological charities and organisations, to discuss the way forward on long-term conditions more generally. I understand that TNA UK is part of this group, so I hope that it will make its views known in the alliance so that they can form part of our discussions.
I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking third sector organisations such as TNA UK, which he rightly praised, for their work in raising patient awareness. On average, someone with chronic pain will have direct contact with a health professional for only about three hours a year; they care for themselves for the rest of the time. It is therefore extremely important for patients to know about their condition and receive the support that they need to manage their pain. That will become ever more
important as we broaden control through personal health budgets and offer patients greater choice and say over their treatment. Good information for patients is the key to unlocking those benefits. I should add that there is also useful information on the NHS Choices website, which discusses the diagnosis and treatment of the condition and puts patients directly in touch with TNA UK.
The hon. Gentleman asked what else TNA UK could do to raise awareness of the condition or to improve the position of sufferers. I have already described a number of initiatives on which we would warmly welcome input from TNA UK. If I may make a final suggestion, the Chronic Pain Policy Coalition is doing excellent work nationally and regionally to inform and shape policy. TNA UK has common cause with such groups, so they could helpfully join forces to make the case for better pain management throughout the country.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate, and I am now aware of the pain and agony that the condition can bring. Although I am afraid that the Department of Health is not resourced to give equal attention to every individual condition, it is gratifying to know that organisations such as TNA UK are supporting patients and promoting greater awareness. I am keen for us to work with them, and with the hon. Gentleman, to continue improving the quality and effectiveness of treatment for those who suffer pain, and I believe that the White Paper provides useful impetus in that regard.
On a personal note, I wish the hon. Gentleman the very best. I am delighted to hear that his treatment was to his satisfaction, and I hope that it provides him with lasting relief from this distressing condition.