HEALTH AND CARE BILL
On Tuesday I spoke in the House of Commons debate on the Health and Care Bill. Many of my constituents have written to me about various section of the bill, so I was pleased to be able play a key role in the debate. While I was pleased with some aspects of the bill, I was disappointed with others, including the fact that it doesn't address NHS staffing issues. I supported an amendment to the bill that would have corrected this omission.
Access to healthcare services is an issue frequently raised with me by residents across Richmond Park, who are struggling to get a GP appointment, a vaccination at home, or mental health care for themselves or their children. Patients across the country are having to wait hours for an ambulance or months for necessary procedures. I have discussed this with local health service leaders, all of whom have told me about the lack of qualified staff available to fill the roles they are offering.
The problem is partially related to the pandemic, but Brexit is a contributing factor as well. Many young Europeans went to their home countries at the start of lockdown and have not returned. Brexit has stymied our ability to recruit from the EU, cutting off an extremely important supply for the labour market. The effect is being felt most markedly in health and social care.
These problems, however, are also the result of a long-term failure by the Government to predict or prepare for workforce demand.
The amendment I supported would have required the Government to assess workforce needs regularly and lay out how they plan to meet them.
Health visitors, for example, play a critical role in supporting babies and their families. The cost of poor parental mental health in the first year of life may be as much as £8 billion. Boosting our health visiting workforce would more than pay for itself in a very short time.
We also need to invest more in our care workforce. Carers' contracts often restrict them from working for more than one agency, which may itself only offer them a zero-hours contract. Care workers are expected to drive from resident to resident without being paid for their travel time, depressing their actual hourly wages to well below the minimum wage. We need to value our care staff more and improve their pay, terms and conditions.
You can see clips of my contributions to the debate on workforce challenges here, predicting workforce demand here, the vital importance of health visitors here, and the full Hansard transcripts here.
On Wednesday I had the opportunity to pose a question to Minister of State for Transport Andrew Stephenson during Transport Questions.
I asked the Minister explain how the new integrated rail plan, with its reduced ambitions for HS2, is going to increase capacity and connectivity and reduce fares, to encourage more people to travel by train.
COMMERCIAL RENT BILL
I also spoke on Wednesday in support of the Commercial Rent Bill. I hope to see this passed swiftly, to benefit the many businesses in Richmond Park that have struggled to pay their rent over the past twenty months. Some landlords and tenants have been able to make arrangements for how rent payments will be made, but many have not been able to do so. More arbitration will be needed, and arbitrators will need to be able to effectively assess whether a business would have been viable if it were not for the pandemic. This bill needs more detail on how they are to do so.
With so many different pressures on businesses at the moment, many of my retail businesses are experiencing difficulties. They are struggling to get stock because of the goods transport crisis and Brexit rules. They are also faced with increased energy costs, a skills shortage, and uncertainty about future pandemic measures.
I welcome this Bill, but I would like to see the Government do more to help our retail, hospitality, leisure and personal services sectors, and to support our vital high street communities. I am especially keen for the Government to ban the upward-only rent review clause often written into new leases. And I want to see the long-promised business rates review.
NEW BREAST CANCER DRUG
I joined many other MPs this week in calling for all eligible triple negative secondary breast cancer patients to be given access to a promising new drug called Trodelvy. The cross-party letter calls on pharmaceutical company Gilead to provide free-of-charge access to this new treatment until NICE reaches a decision on access next year.
Trodelvy could offer women living with triple negative secondary breast cancer the hope of extra months with loved ones. Unless Gilead takes action, hundreds of women in England may have to wait up to six months to access Trodelvy, until a NICE decision next year. You can see the full, signed letter here.
BARNES BUSINESS VISITS
Last Friday I joined Emma Robinson, the Barnes Town Centre manager, to visit some independent shops in Barnes. Ronnie at Michael's Newsagents, our first stop, was particularly keen to send his thanks to his customers for all their support as business picks up.
We also visited the Pizza Bar in Castelnau. They have been hit hard by the closure of Hammersmith Bridge and the resulting difficulties delivering to Hammersmith and Fulham. Then we visited Elderflower, new food store specialising in organic, vegan and specialist diet foods. They opened last summer and have been well received by local customers. I was happy to see their e-cargo bike in use!
VISIT TO SMALL STEPS
Last week I also had the opportunity to meet Anita and Andrea, the Headteacher and Chair at Small Steps.
Small Steps is a charity that assists children up to age five with physical disabilities, using the Conductive Education method. Teachers work to help the children gain physical skills, including mobility, but also social, communication and other skills. Small Steps is an independent charity dependent on individual donations. If you would like to learn more about what they do, or donate to them, you can do so here.
NEW POST OFFICE IN BARNES
I had the pleasure of opening the new Verdun Road Post Office at the Verdun Express shop in Barnes yesterday. I was delighted to see postal service returned to Barnes. I spoke to new Postmaster Dipen and his brother Pranav about taking over the business from their father and uncle. Their cousin will also be launching a pharmacy next door in January.
I would like to thank Rashmi and Jay and the whole Patel family for everything they have done for the local community for the past 35 years. The refurbished shop looks great and I know that both the post office and pharmacy will be invaluable amenities for local residents.
While I was at the new Post Office, I took the opportunity to speak with national Post Office staff in attendance about the Kew Post Office. They assured me that they are progressing plans to assure continuous post office service in Kew, which many local residents have expressed concerns to me about. We also discussed the Horizon scandal and their ongoing efforts to ensure that nothing like that ever happens to Post Office staff again.
Barnes residents will be pleased to hear that The London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham (LBHF) has completed further analysis on the bridge structure and potential repair plans. In response to the analysis, LBHF has assured the Taskforce that the bridge will not need to be closed again for any prolonged periods. This is very good news for my Barnes constituents, though it means the Taskforce has shelved the planned ferry service indefinitely.
Covid-19 rates are still high in Kingston borough and even higher in Richmond borough, where they are among the highest in London and still climbing. I strongly encourage all of my constituents to do everything they can to slow the spread of infection. Please consider wearing a mask in indoor public spaces, and continue testing yourself regularly.
The most important thing we can all do, though, is make sure to get our vaccinations on time. People in their forties and older are now eligible for boosters when six months have elapsed since their second dose. Data shows the third dose tops-up protection against symptomatic COVID-19 to above 90 per cent.
You can go online to book your appointment up to a month before your eligibility date.
Teenagers aged 16 and 17 can now book their second dose as soon as 12 weeks have elapsed since their first. Parents can book appointments for first doses for 12-15 year olds at the vaccination centres; there is no need to wait for the school vaccinations team to get to your child's school. And of course anyone over 18 who hasn't had their first or second dose yet is warmly invited to book those appointments.
Appointments for all of these groups can be booked via the NHS booking website, or by calling 119.
HOMESTART MATCHING DONATIONS
At the end of November, Kingston and Richmond HomeStart is launching their Christmas digital fundraising campaign #BringBackJoy as part of this year’s Big Give Christmas Challenge. HomeStart's match funder, The Childhood Trust, will double donations made to Homestart between 30 November and 7 December. This is an amazing opportunity for donations made to have twice the impact, and will help them to support more families across Richmond, Kingston and Hounslow. Families need HomeStart's services now more than ever; if you would like help them provide their services you can donate here.
ELIMINATING VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the Global 16 Days Campaign calling for the elimination of gender-based violence (GBV). The 16 days run annually from November 25, which is the UN's International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women to December 10, which is International Human Rights Day.
As part of this year’s 16 Days campaign, Richmond Council is hosting a 90-minute Community Conversation on Domestic Abuse, focusing on what people can do if they suspect someone is suffering from Domestic Abuse, and what residents think the Council should be doing to tackle the issue. Everyone in Richmond upon Thames is invited to register to attend.
If you are experiencing or have experienced male violence and need support, visit the Council's website.
RICHMOND SOUP KITCHEN
If you are struggling to feed yourself or your family, or you know someone who is, the Richmond Soup Kitchen at St John the Divine Church is open Wednesdays and Thursdays from 5:00pm - 6:00pm until at least 20 January.
You don't have to be homeless to come to the soup kitchen. Anyone struggling with food insecurity can come and take away soup, hot drinks and sandwiches.
Volunteers are also welcome; please contact them on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to help.
SEASONAL ADVICE FROM RICHMOND MIND
Richmond residents are invited to enjoy the beauty of winter by joining Richmond Mind for a guided Mindful Walk in Richmond Park. Peter Burrows-Smith, nature enthusiast and Friend of Richmond Park, will be your guide. Peter will lead you to make fascinating discoveries and feel better for getting out of the house. More information.
You can also identify the things that stress you out over the holiday season and learn to manage how you respond to them to really enjoy the special moments. Whether it is increased financial pressures, pressure to provide the 'perfect' Christmas, or an increased responsibility to meet others' needs, this workshop will give you practical tips for relaxing and letting go. Register here
NEW COMMUNITY LIBRARY PROJECT
The Kingston Community Library service was vital throughout the pandemic, delivering a range of books, talking books and DVDs to some of the most vulnerable community members, and to care homes. The service has now produced ‘Life Itself Is A Story’, a book of local peoples’ experiences that arose out of the Reading Friends, a project aimed to reduce social isolation and improve wellbeing by connecting people through sharing a poem or a short piece of prose together. The book is a testament to the hard work and passion the team and volunteers have for the service and for the community.
NEW SHARED WORKSPACE AND CREATIVE HUB
Kingston Council has signed an agreement with John Lewis in Kingston to lease the basement and some parts of their riverside ground floor to create a new affordable workspace for local businesses and a creative performance hub for young people. The council has appointed Town Square Spaces Ltd as managing operators of the new affordable workspace and Creative Youth to deliver cultural enterprise and events on the Kingston Riverside.
This innovative venture will include co-working spaces, workstations, a cafe and performance and event space for the public to enjoy. I was very pleased to hear about the creation of two new Kingston riverfront amenities in a space that has been closed to the public for decades.