Primary care in critical condition

Difficulties in getting an appointment with south Bristol GPs have been highlighted by MP Karin Smyth, following the publication of a report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC), of which she is a member.

Published on 27 April, the report highlights continuing difficulties nationwide in people getting access to a GP.

Karin Smyth said: “Our report explains that the Department of Health and NHS England are rolling out extended GP hours without really understanding what’s currently available or how to maximise existing resources.

“In south Bristol GP access is a particular problem. For example we recently had the closure of the St Martin’s Surgery, Knowle, with some 5,000 patients having to register at another practice.

“I know from my frequent discussions with constituents that getting an appointment can be a real challenge in south Bristol. Thousands of local people find themselves facing uncertainties about what they rightly see as one of the most fundamental healthcare rights: access to a local, trusted GP practice.

“Primary Care in south Bristol remains in a critical condition. I currently have little confidence the situation will be resolved, but fully expect health managers and Ministers to sort it out for people who pay their taxes and rightly expect the NHS to be there for them when they need it.”

Highlighting the role of other local healthcare resources she added: “Community pharmacies provide a vital first-port-of-call for many people with health concerns, reducing pressures on GP appointments. But instead of recognising this important role, the Tory government has actually cut funding for pharmacies.”

Amongst the PAC report findings are:
• Despite the government’s target to recruit 5,000 more GPs, the overall number of GPs has reduced in the last year
• Problems with staff retention have continued
• Health Education England has increased the number of trainee GPs recruited, but still did not manage to meet its recruitment target last year
• NHS England and Health Education England are pursuing a number of discrete initiatives to boost recruitment further, to make better use of other staff groups, and to ease workload and encourage staff to stay – but without a credible plan for how to develop a cost-effective, sustainable workforce.

The report can be found here

Government dismisses MP calls for air rifle safety rethink after Hartcliffe shooting

A call has been made for Parliament to debate the future safety of air rifles following an incident in which a toddler was shot in the head in south Bristol.

During Business Questions in the House of Commons (20 April) Labour MP Karin Smyth asked Ministers for an opportunity to rethink current legislation by debating what measures the government can put in place to improve air rifle safety. She cited the possible introduction of compulsory trigger locks as one means of preventing further incidents.

“I recently met with the father of toddler Harry Studley, who Honourable members may recall reading about – he was the toddler shot in the head with an air rifle in south Bristol last July,” she said.

“Harry’s dad impressed me with his resilience in the face of adversity – he told me Harry is doing well – but also with his determination that as a nation we should learn from the incident.

“Can we have a debate about what measures the government can put in place to improve air rifle safety – for example the introduction of compulsory trigger locks on these lethal weapons?”

Responding for the government, David Lidington MP told Karin Smyth the current government has no plans to introduce further restrictions on “low-powered air weapons”, indicating this is because misuse only applies to a “small minority of people”.

Toddler Harry Studley was shot in the head with an air rifle in July 2016, with the incident and subsequent court cases receiving widespread news coverage.


General election announcement

Following Theresa May’s announcement of her plan to call a general election on 8 June, Karin Smyth MP said: “The timing may have taken some people by surprise, but having spent decades organising election campaigns, the prospect of a general election always inspires me.

“In Bristol South constituency the choice is between Labour and the Tories. A choice between a Bristol-focused Labour MP working hard for people in communities across south Bristol, or a Tory candidate pushing a hard Brexit.

“I trust that south Bristol residents will think very carefully about the choice they face, and I’m confident they will reflect on my track record of achievements for Bristol South people in just two years since being elected: working hard and campaigning on jobs and skills, housing, the South Bristol Community Hospital & healthcare in general, access to financial entitlements, improving trailer safety and lots more.”

Calls to save in-store pharmacy scheme from axe

Karin Smyth MP receives a petition from Hamed Amin and Peter Badham at Badhams Pharmacy, Filwood Broadway

Knowle West residents are calling on health chiefs to reinstate a pharmacy scheme that enabled patients to receive in-store minor ailments advice and assessments.

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth was handed an 80-strong petition by Badhams Pharmacy when she visited the Filwood Broadway store to discuss the impact of recent community pharmacy budget cuts.

“I know from talking with Knowle West residents they really value the free, local service provided by the Minor Ailments Scheme,” she said.

“When patients take advantage of the scheme by dropping in to see a pharmacist it inevitably reduces demand on GP appointments, and we know there are already significant pressures on surgeries across south Bristol.

“Early interventions of the type provided by the Minor Ailments Scheme help patients, and help the NHS too. Its withdrawal means patients taking up GP time on treatments that local pharmacists have been trained to provide.

“Given the ongoing and increasing pressures on local health services, withdrawing the scheme is illogical.”

Last month the Labour MP wrote to the Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), seeking clarity over its future after the CCG declared its intention to end the Scheme on 31 March 2017.

The Minor Ailment Scheme aims to help patients address common health problems like aches and pains, skin conditions and stomach upsets, with the pharmacist able to assess needs, give advice, suggest medicines if appropriate and, if necessary, then refer on to a GP.

Sainsbury’s food store staff shadowed by MP

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth shadowed food counter staff at Sainsbury’s Winterstoke Road store in Ashton.

The Labour MP worked alongside retail workers, talking with a number of her constituents at the fish and other food counters as they shopped in their local supermarket.

Karin Smyth MP said: “Sainsbury’s Winterstoke Road store is an important local employer, and it was good to meet a number of long-standing employees, all of whom live locally. Many had started working in the store when they had young children and are still there some 25 years on.

“I was shown how to fillet a fish for sale and learned a great deal about a wide range of local cheeses available in store.”

Apprenticeships Minister’s visit to South Bristol

Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills Robert Halfon MP and Karin Smyth MP meet Aerospace Engineer Degree Apprentices in composites at South Bristol Skills Academy

Minister of State for Apprenticeships and Skills Robert Halfon MP visited the South Bristol Skills Academy, Hengrove, having been invited by Karin Smyth MP to find out more about the unique skills challenges facing young people in her Bristol South constituency.

The Minister was shown around the £30 million post-16 campus, which opened in 2010, by City of Bristol College Principal Lee Probert and Karin Smyth, and met college apprentices and local employers to discuss their experiences.

“Having made opportunities for young people one of my top priorities as Bristol South MP, I’m delighted the Minister accepted my invitation to come to find out for himself some of the challenges people in my constituency face,” says Karin Smyth.

“It is important we work together to improve the number of apprentices employed in Bristol South, both by local small and medium-sized enterprises and by large firms located elsewhere in the west country.

“Fewer young people living in Bristol South go to university than from any other UK constituency, so other avenues are particularly important. The constituency is also home to some of the most deprived wards in the country, and Bristol South has hardly any large employers, the type of which offer apprenticeships on a large scale.”

Free money entitlement checks at MP community event

One of Karin Smyth MP’s previous financial entitlement events

Residents of south Bristol have another opportunity to talk with local money experts to check they are receiving all their financial entitlements, when MP Karin Smyth organises the latest of her free one-stop-shop community events at The Park, Daventry Road, Knowle, from 10.30 am – 12.30 pm on Friday 24 March.

The Labour MP’s research shows that around £16 million per year in Pension Credit, and upwards of £20 million in Income Support, goes unclaimed by Bristol residents each year.

It will be the fourth time so far that Karin Smyth has organised a one-stop shop event to help people she represents in Bristol South check they are not missing out.

Karin Smyth said: “Many people rightly claim what they are entitled to, but some miss out, so I am again bringing together a number of Bristol’s financial specialists to give first hand advice and information to local people. It’s only fair that if you work hard and contribute to society, through taxes and other means, the system is then there for you when you need it.”

Organisations including Bristol Citizens Advice, South Bristol Advice Services, the Department for Work and Pensions, Care and Repair and Bristol City Council’s Welfare Rights & Money Advice Service will be present. They will help guide people through the processes necessary to claim what’s theirs.

The charity Age UK calculates that nationally up to £3.7 billion goes unclaimed by older people each year and whilst the primary focus of the event will be older people, all will be welcome. Attending organisations will have separate tables in a market-style layout in the main hall.

“Sometimes people are not fully aware of what they should be able to receive, and when the rules and regulations change, as they often do, it can be really difficult to keep on top of things,” says Karin Smyth. “And when you are having a hard time financially it feels so much harder to navigate the paperwork.

“Similar previous events I’ve organised have highlighted the need so I’m pleased to give another free opportunity to the people I represent.

“Staggering amounts are involved, and what makes this even more striking is that it’s money that people are eligible to receive. If this was rightly claimed, just think what it could do to help the lives of those who are entitled to it. Think too of the positive impact on the local economy when people spend it.”

Ministers fail to address Bristol’s ‘mockery’ of widening university access

Education Ministers failed to address concerns raised in the Commons by Bristol South MP Karin Smyth about Bristol University’s ‘Bristol Scholars’ programme.

Earlier this month it emerged that around a third of places on the 2017 scheme, aimed at helping disadvantaged students into higher education, had been offered to private school pupils.

During Education Question Time in the House of Commons on Monday 20 March, Karin Smyth challenged Ministers: “My constituency sends the least children to university. Bristol University’s Bristol Scholars scheme, which is aimed at widening access, has taken a third of its pupils from private schools. Does the Minister agree that that makes an entire mockery of the scheme?

Responding for the government, Edward Timpson welcomed widening participation initiatives in general, but failed to address the specific issue about Bristol Scholars: “We of course welcome initiatives, such as the one the hon. Lady has described, to widen participation in higher education. In 2017-18, universities intend to spend more than £833 million on measures to improve access and student success through their access agreements for students from disadvantaged backgrounds—up significantly from £404 million in 2009.”

Karin Smyth said: “By overlooking the key issue, the government is indicating it has no problem with ‘widening participation’ schemes being used by private fee-paying schools.

“I have now written to the Secretary of State for Education, posing the same question I asked in Parliament, and I trust she will take the chance to clarify the government’s position on this specific issue.

“When Bristol Scholars was launched it was widely praised and as south Bristol’s MP I considered it an encouraging step forward for my constituents. Whilst university is not right for everyone, I know from my regular visits to schools in my constituency that there are huge numbers of students with the potential to do well in higher education. The ‘Bristol Scholars’ scheme was trumpeted at helping break down some of the barriers that prevent them doing so. Sadly it seems to have offered false hope.

“But I remain keen to help the University shape its scheme to better meet the needs of students across our city as a whole, and particularly those living in Bristol South.”

Transport Minister meeting to follow trailer summit

MP Karin Smyth has arranged to meet Transport Minister Andrew Jones following a summit of over a dozen organisations that share a role in improving the safety of towed trailers which she arranged in Bedminster, Bristol. (Friday 17 March).

The Bristol South MP organised the summit to co-ordinate improvements, as she continues her work on behalf of constituents Donna and Scott Hussey, following the tragic death of their three year-old son Freddie in 2014.

Having arranged the summit in the heart of the Bedminster community  devastated by Freddie’s death, Karin Smyth said: “There’s huge common desire amongst those who attended to improve the safety of towed trailers in Freddie’s memory, and to prevent other families suffering as the Husseys have.

“We learned about lots of initiatives that are already being undertaken, such as the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency’s #TowSafe4Freddie education campaign, and a number of others that are currently being considered.

“It’s clear that we need better coordination between the various schemes, which is why I was so keen to bring these organisations together to help plot the way forward.

“I will continue to work as a link between trade organisations and the government, and have arranged to meet Transport Minister Andrew Jones to feed back the outcomes of this industry summit.”

She said that if the focus is on changing driver behaviour rather than legislation, as the government wishes, a number of things need to be done:

“We must promote better guidance and education for drivers, and the TowSafe4Freddie campaign is an important part of this.

“We need to make it easier for drivers to get expert advice, and we are discussing possible schemes to enable drivers to get free trailer safety checks.

“And we need to identify drivers with the riskiest behaviours and target them to change their behaviour. Many drivers don’t understand the consequences of driving with an unsafe trailer. Although there are fines and bans, there is not much chance of someone being caught, and drivers know that. We need to make this as socially unacceptable as drink driving or using a phone whilst at the wheel.

“But I’m very clear that if these things are proven not to be working then we need to keep a change in legislation around the safety of trailers on the agenda.”

Donna and Scott Hussey attended the conference, opening proceedings with a speech outlining the family’s experiences and the importance they attach to the urgent work needed to avoid more families experiencing similar tragedies.

Attendance at the trade summit included:

Trade organisations
• The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Ltd
Supports and promotes the interests of the UK automotive industry at home and abroad
• National Trailer and Towing Association Ltd
‘The Voice of the UK Light Trailer and Towing Industry’
• British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association
The trade body for the vehicle rental and leasing sector
• The National Caravan Council
The UK trade body for the tourer, motorhome, caravan holiday home and park home industries

Organisations representing people who pull trailers
• The Camping and Caravanning Club
Member organisation providing benefits to campers / caravan users
• Caravan and MotorHome Club
Club for touring caravanners, motor caravanners and trailer tenters
• British Horse Society
The UK’s largest equestrian charity; members use trailers to transport horses
• National Farmers Union
Trade union representing farmers who trail farm machinery

• Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency
Government agency, reporting to Department for Transport, which ran the recent #towsafe4freddie online video and social media campaign
• Highways England
Government company with responsibility for managing England’s motorways and major roads
• Avon and Somerset Police

Local organisations
• Bailey’s Caravans
Constituency-based caravan manufacturer
• Baileys Balloons
Hot air balloon company based in North Somerset

Success of South Bristol Jobs & Apprenticeships Fair

More than 400 people took advantage of career and skills support provided by 30 employers and training providers at the first ever South Bristol Jobs and Apprenticeships Fair, hosted by Karin Smyth MP.

Karin Smyth MP, with City of Bristol College Principal Lee Probert and apprentices Casey Abrams and Craig Jenkins

The Bristol South MP teamed up with City of Bristol College and The Bristol Post to organise the event, at Hengrove’s South Bristol Skills Academy.

Those who attended had the opportunity to:
• Find out what local apprenticeship opportunities are available
• Learn what employers are looking for, how they recruit and what training they offer
• Find out about training, and what employers look for when they’re recruiting
• Strengthen their CV by showing it to employers for advice
• Talk to current apprentices about what life’s like for them.

Karin Smyth said: “It was good to see so many people coming through the doors of the excellent South Bristol Skills Academy, and there was a real buzz in the hall.

“Having talked to dozens of people on the day I know they were grateful for the good advice and support they received in a ‘one-stop shop’ environment, helping them better understand the career pathways that are available.

“I was delighted to use my role as local MP to bring together young people and adult job seekers together with a range of employers and training providers to open dialogues and discussions between them. This will be good not only for those considering future careers, but also for employers which are well-placed to open doors.

“I know many parents who brought young people along appreciated the chance to get a better understanding which will help them provide support in the months and years ahead.

“As we head for Brexit, south Bristol’s skills and apprenticeships priority becomes even more important because we need to make the most of the opportunities that Brexit might provide to improve local employment and training.

“For example, if restrictions on free movement lie ahead, leading to fewer foreign workers, it will be even more important to ensure good quality training opportunities – in construction, IT, engineering and the NHS, for example – so people living in communities across south Bristol can access these jobs.”

Lee Probert, Principal and Chief Executive of City of Bristol College said: “We were delighted to host this Jobs and Apprenticeships fair on behalf of Karin Smyth MP. Here at the City of Bristol College we work closely with employers to ensure we are developing highly employable students that are focussed on their progression into the workplace and which are meeting the needs of local businesses. The job fair was a great opportunity to showcase potential employers to the students and to demonstrate to employers what our students have to offer.”