Karin Smyth MP responds to announcement of new community health provider in Bristol South

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth has been speaking out against the ill-advised recommissioning of adult community health services by Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (BNSSG CCG). The CCG this week revealed that it has appointed a single new provider – Sirona – which will take over the delivery of services in Bristol South from current provider Bristol Community Health in April 2020.

Karin says: “I’ve repeatedly spoken out against the costly process which, I believe, should not have taken place. The £1bn contract, which starts in April 2020, will bind us to this provider for the next decade – yet we still do not know which services were included in their bid and, perhaps more importantly, which were not. It’s an uncertain time for staff and patients alike.

For us in Bristol, this change in provider is a high-risk strategy by the CCG. Delivering quality community health services relies on a huge amount of local knowledge and relationships built up over years between staff and patients.

We are inviting Sirona to deliver a huge range of services across Bristol South and beyond. The social enterprise has a huge amount of work to do over the next six months before they’re in a position to be able to deliver services – from staffing to IT and engaging with patients to partnering with charities.

We need to know what impact this will have on the services we rely heavily on in Bristol South – including respiratory, cardiac and diabetes services, particularly considering the CCG itself has recognised the greater need in Bristol South.

The CCG says it wants to see consistent, joined-up healthcare delivered closer to home. I look forward to learning more about how services in Bristol South will improve as a result of this very costly and bureaucratic re-commissioning process, and I will continue to work with all concerned to make sure that happens.

Karin Smyth MP responds to Joint Spatial Plan delay

The Joint Spatial Plan which lays out the proposals for house building across the region has been put on hold as central government officials demand more justification for the location of development. Bristol South MP Karin Smyth has written to the relevant Minister to seek assurances that this will not impact the application for funding from the Housing Infrastructure Fund. See full letter below.

OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on volunteering in Bristol South

(Newspaper column as seen in the July 2019 edition of The Pigeon)

We recently (June) celebrated Volunteers’ Week so I wanted to take this opportunity to recognise all the brilliant work that volunteers do in Bristol South.

I’m fortunate enough, in my role as MP, to meet with lots of volunteers who develop, run and work with organisations helping people across the constituency.

Bristol City Council’s Quality of Life Index 2018-19 found that, on average 68% of Bristolians volunteer or help out in their community at least three times a year. You don’t have to look far in Bristol South to find a volunteer. From Scout and Guide leaders to volunteers helping maintain the local parks and green-fingered folk creating berry mazes to British Legion poppy sellers. Volunteers are the lifeblood of community centres and help out at my Money Entitlement Events too.

A lot of these charities and community groups are developed and delivered by women who have been directly affected by the area they’re now making a difference in. Take the women who volunteer with Mothers for Mothers, supporting new mums through postnatal depression following their own challenging journeys.

As well as helping others, volunteering has been shown to improve volunteers’ wellbeing too. It’s a great way to meet new people or learn new skills and can lead on to employment.

Without volunteers, a lot of these organisations and projects would not exist and it’s important that we recognise those efforts. But we must strike the right balance. We should not be relying on the voluntary sector to deliver key services which should be provided by national and local government.

Charities and community projects cannot run on the goodwill of volunteers alone. It’s not sustainable when volunteers have other commitments – the need for paid work and caring duties. When I speak with those working in the voluntary sector, it’s clear that they – like local government, health providers and schools – have been hit by funding cuts and more competition for the money available as new initiatives emerge. It means that, as well as relying on support from volunteers to deliver services, they also rely on support from the community to donate money to cover running costs.

That said, I was very pleased to see Hartcliffe Health and Environment Action Group (HHEAG) secure funding to be able to carry on the good work it has been doing locally for over 25 years. They offer healthy eating advice and workshops, help people with stress reduction and run drop in coffee mornings among a whole host of other things.

I’d like to say a big thank everyone who volunteers to make Bristol South a better place. If you’re thinking of volunteering, the Vocsur website is a great starting point: www.voscur.org

OPINION: Karin Smyth MP on the Brexit impasse

(Newspaper column as seen in the July 2019 edition of the South Bristol Voice)

People regularly stop me to say what an interesting time it is to be in politics. As a Labour activist for over 30 years, I agree; but sometimes I wish it was a little less ‘interesting’!

The years of uncertainty since the referendum have been made much worse by the resignation of Theresa May and the next few months will undoubtedly be difficult. It is making people very anxious. The country is divided and people are worried about the future. We must find a way through this impasse.

The conversations I had with people ahead of May’s European election revealed a significant desire from many to remain in the European Union. But I’ve also been contacted by people in Bristol South who want Brexit delivered immediately – deal or no deal.

I’ve heard a lot of inaccurate figures shared. People have told me that 80+ per cent of Bristol South voted leave and I’m misrepresenting my constituency by not delivering Brexit; others have told me that over 70 per cent of Bristol South wants to remain and I should be representing those views and voting to revoke Article 50. Neither of these figures are correct. Like the country, Bristol South was divided in how it voted in the 2016 referendum – 53% voted to stay and 47% voted to leave the European Union. People continue to be divided on the best route forward.

Like many of you, this increasingly polarised nature of politics at the moment concerns me, in particular the threat from the far right. Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party believe that the answer is simple: we leave the EU with no deal. Some of the smaller parties believe it’s also simple: we revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU. It is not simple. The last few years have damaged the UK’s reputation both politically and as a destination for investment. We need the debate to be much more honest.

Back in 2017, the Labour Party said it could not accept a ‘no deal’ Brexit as an option as part of our commitment to protect jobs, rights and living standards and our position remains the same today. The government has presented a deal which does not protect this, which is why I voted against it

As it stands, there is no ‘good’ Brexit for people in Bristol South.

I believe that, in order to get through this and heal the division, any deal needs a confirmatory vote; and that any confirmatory vote must have the option to remain in the European Union.

Karin Smyth MP concerned that Bristol South could be left worse off in terms of healthcare

Ever since Bristol North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group (BNSSG CCG) announced its plans to go out to tender for a £1bn, 10 year contract to deliver community health services across the region last year, I’ve raised a number of concerns with the head of the CCG, NHS England and the government.

Throughout the process, unidentified bidders were competing against each other in secret without the full picture of what the local needs are and what services are currently on offer.

My main concern is that people in Bristol South could be left worse off in terms of healthcare compared to what they have now. I have seen no evidence to allay these fears.

This week’s news that the CCG plans to appoint a new provider of services for local people makes for a very uncertain time for patients and staff alike. We will obviously need to see the detail of what this will mean for people in Bristol South.

I will be following the due diligence process closely and will continue to push for more transparency throughout. I want to know more about how healthcare provision will improve for people living in Bristol South as a result of this change.

Karin Smyth MP’s response to Boris Johnson’s appointment as Prime Minister

The selection by fewer than 95,000 thousand Conservatives of Boris Johnson as leader and, by default, our new Prime Minister, is deeply concerning and will have huge ramifications for us all.

At a time when our country desperately needs bringing together, we are left with an extremely divisive Prime Minister, who has repeatedly insulted women, BAME groups and the LGBTQ+ community and has strained diplomatic relations. Where Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May failed to unite the country, it seems that her successor is proactively trying to broaden divisions.

The new Prime Minister’s approach to Brexit is equally concerning. His leave campaign was based on scaremongering and lies, including a false promise of extra NHS funding. He says he will leave the European Union by October 31 ‘whatever the circumstances’. This could be disastrous for Bristol South and the country as a whole and, as I’ve said many times before, I cannot support any course of action that leaves my constituents worse off.

The Labour Party is committed to creating a fairer society. We’ve felt the impact of the past nine years of Tory government cuts here in Bristol South – reduced services in education, healthcare and an ongoing housing crisis. The majority of people are worse off – working harder for less. The new Prime Minister has promised tax cuts for those individuals earning ovre £50,000pa – which will mean even less money to spend on vital services for lower income families.

It’s an anxious time for everybody and I will continue to work with my Labour colleagues to hold the government to account and be ready for a General Election.

Government releases report into trailer safety as result of campaign by Bristol South MP Karin Smyth and family of Freddie Hussey

The government has released an important report into trailer safety in the UK in response an ongoing campaign by Bristol South MP Karin Smyth and the parents of 3-year-old Freddie Hussey who died when he was hit by a runaway trailer in Bedminster in 2014.

Working closely with Donna and Scott Hussey, Karin has been pushing for action in Parliament to address the problem of ill-fitted and faulty trailers as well as raising awareness among motorists.  In April, Karin launched the new All Party Parliamentary Group on Trailer and Towing Safety, which will consider the report in its next meeting in September.

Both the Hussey family and Karin have welcomed the report as a key step forward in the campaign and the report’s author Michael Ellis MP, Minister of State for the Department of Transport, in turn thanked the Hussey family and Karin for their role in improving trailer safety.

“No family should have to go through what Freddie’s family has,” said Karin, “We’ve seen some significant progress this year with the launch of the new trailer and towing safety parliamentary group and I’m really pleased that the government now recognises the importance of improving trailer safety. This report marks another crucial step in protecting families in Bristol South and across the country from further harm by defective trailers.”

Until now, there was a lack of data to show the full extent of the problem but following Karin’s intervention to secure an amendment to the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Act 2018, the government pledged to gather this information. The report released today is the result of this.

Data gathered from 2017 showed that there were 20 collisions involving trailers which resulted in injury or death and which were a result of a vehicle defect; something which would’ve been identifiable if present at testing. It is recognised that this figure may be higher as it is based on current reporting methods, which may not capture every relevant incident.

The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) carried out hundreds of spot checks over a six month period to help inform the report – analysis of this revealed that half of the light trailers (between 750 and 3,500 kgs) stopped did not comply with basic safety standards.

Karin said: “As soon as we started looking into trailer safety, it became clear that the Hussey’s weren’t the only family to have lost a loved one due to faulty trailers. The latest figures have confirmed what we suspected. The report estimates 1.4 million trailers are in use in the UK – many of which are light trailers – if half of these are defective, that poses a huge risk to road users. We need action to address this before another family has to suffer.”

“It is clear, including from roadside checks by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) undertaken for this report, that many light trailers are used on public roads in a defective state,” said Mr Ellis. “A focus must be maintained on driving up the safety of these trailers.”

The report went on to look at the existing laws and guidelines around trailers and considers whether these are sufficient in light of a number of tragic incidents involving trailers, including the death of young Freddie.

The report explores ways to improve these standards – considering registration and testing requirements, but deems this not to be a cost-effective way of reducing the number of trailer related incidents, most of which it puts down to driver error.

It instead suggests that awareness raising and more spot checks could help – commending the #TowSafe4Freddie campaign launched in Freddie’s memory as a great example of this. The DVSA will continue to undertake checks, including more caravans over the summer months, to check compliance.

Karin said: “I very much welcome this report which outlines some of the main issues and offers us a valuable first step in gathering relevant data to gain insight into the extent of the problem of defective trailers. I thank the Minister for giving this the attention it deserves and his team for creating a comprehensive first look at the issue. However, it is clear that more data is needed. The report noted that more caravans use the roads in the summer months than in the winter when the DVSA carried out these checks.”

Donna and Scott Hussey said: “We were initially disappointed that, despite 50 per cent of light trailers being found to be defective, the government had no plans for registration or testing. The report clearly shows there is a problem with unsafe trailers and proved the need for safety checks. We are pleased that the government has collected the data and delighted that further checks will now take place to gather a truer figure, which we believe may be even higher. We don’t think the government should rule out registration and testing.

“When this first happened, and as the police investigation grew and after the court case, we had so many questions such as why was a trailer with a faulty hitch allowed to go out on the road in the first place. We couldn’t understand how, in a health and safety conscious country, there was no requirement on what was classed as a small trailer to be checked. We can only hope that, after collecting further data, change will come and this can be prevented from happening again, as sadly we know it has happened before and since.

“It’s heart-breaking that this could have been prevented and we would still have our beautiful son. He would be coming up his 9th birthday and we can’t imagine how different life would be. We have missed out on so much and seeing our son grow up over something that could have been prevented. The only positive is that we can prevent this happening to another family and save lives in Freddie’s name and memory. There is still a lot of work that can be done.”

Karin added: “I’m pleased that the report includes consideration of compulsory registration and testing and recognises that this is required in several other European countries, including Italy. I don’t think we should be ruling this out. I know that the Hussey family is keen to explore this further and it’s something we will discuss again at the next trailer and towing APPG in the autumn.”

Mr Ellis concluded the report, saying: “This report is an important milestone with data underpinning it and is not itself an endpoint in the consideration of how to improve public safety effectively in relation to light trailers. I look forward to working together with those involved in trailer safety to ensure that momentum is maintained in this area, and that trailer safety continues to improve.”

You can read the full report here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/trailer-safety-report

Bedminster pharmacist wins national NHS award after being nominated by Bristol South MP Karin Smyth

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth has welcomed national recognition for a local Ade Williams at Bedminster Pharmacy in the prestigious NHS Parliamentary Awards.

MPs in England were asked to nominate individuals and teams serving their constituents across ten categories. Regional champions were selected in June, with the national winners chosen by a panel of senior leaders representing staff and patients.

Ade scooped the national prize in the Primary Care category at the NHS Parliamentary Awards, held in Parliament on Wednesday 10 July, after being put forward by Karin earlier in the year.

He was nominated for, among other things, supporting a number of pioneering schemes to support the health of people in the local area including the annual men’s health campaign known as the ‘Bemmy challenge’ with pubs, barbers and tattoo parlours and ‘pulse in the pub’ blood pressure checks.

Karin said: “I was pleased to be able to nominate Ade and I am delighted that he has won the Excellence in Primary Care Award. Ade is a great example of a pharmacist who really cares about his community. He keeps in touch with GPs to improve services and is always publicising important health campaigns. Ade is very well known in the local community for giving top quality care and advice. He even finds time to contribute to academic research and to write for both health professionals and the public. He provides a valued service to many of my constituents, so I know that everyone in Bristol South will join me in welcoming this richly-deserved national accolade.”

She added: “The success of the National Health Service is built on its wonderful staff, so it is right that MPs champion the outstanding work happening in their local area.”

The NHS Parliamentary Awards, supported by FUJI FILM, were launched to recognise the massive contribution made by the individuals who work in and alongside the NHS.

Ade was one of twelve winners – selected from more than 600 nominations submitted by over 230 MPs – to receive their awards at a ceremony on the Palace of Westminster’s Terrace Pavilion, hosted by Dr Sara Kayat, NHS GP & TV Doctor. Health Select Committee Chair Dr Sarah Wollaston MP, Health Secretary Matt Hancock MP, and the panel of judges collectively representing millions of NHS staff and patients were also on hand to pay tribute to the winners and all those shortlisted.

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth raises concerns in Parliament that vital NHS services could be lost due to secretive tendering process

Bristol South MP Karin Smyth took the campaign for more transparency in the NHS to parliament when she led a Westminster Hall debate on the future of local community health services.

She was joined in Parliament on Wednesday 26 Jun by Minister for Care Caroline Dinenage and other MPs to discuss Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire Clinical Commissioning Group’s (BNSSG CCG) procurement and what it will mean for community health services in Bristol South.

“As it stands, we do not know who is bidding and what they are offering,” said Karin, “And crucially, because there was no baseline or business case for change presented, we cannot be sure that service provision will remain in place, let alone improve. That is what I’m really concerned about and it’s why I’ll continue pushing for more transparency during this ill-advised process.”

She added: “People across Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire simply want to know what is happening to their local health services. This competitive and secretive process goes against the NHS plan and experts’ desire for more collaborative ways of working.”

Karin, who worked as an NHS manager for many years before she was elected to parliament, first raised concerns late last year (2018) when BNSSG CCG put a £1 billion, 10-year contract for adult community health out to tender. She has spoken with the Chief Executive of the CCG, NHS England and NHS Improvement seeking assurances that vital NHS services in Bristol South – including those at South Bristol Community Hospital – won’t be lost.

She said: “This debate is the latest important step in ensuring that my constituents aren’t left worse off in terms of the community health services they rely on. I’ve spoken with NHS staff – managers, consultants and nurses – as well as other service providers and residents; like me, they are worried that this change could lead to poorer provision.

“Our health services are public services. They are paid for by the taxpayer – our constituents. If we keep asking people to pay more for our health services, people need to have a much greater say in how those services are run; particularly when they are being changed.

“With the CCG seemingly intent on carrying out this process behind closed doors, we cannot know whether we’re getting value for money when we don’t even know what we’ve got at the moment and what is being proposed. How much is this process costing us? People in Bristol South deserve to know that what they’re getting is as good as, if not better than, what they have now.”

Following the parliamentary debate, Karin has written to the minister asking for her support in getting sight of the proposals before any contracts are signed. Ms Dinenage thanked Karin for raising the important issue and said the government would continue to monitor this process closely.

Karin added: “I’m pleased that the minister has recognised my concerns as valid but there’s still some work to do to ensure my constituents can access the healthcare they need.”

Karin Smyth MP helps inform UN Special Rapporteur into extreme poverty and human rights in the UK

You may have seen earlier this year that I wrote a letter to help inform the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in the UK. The full report, compiled by Professor Philip Alston, was released this week and it makes for some very difficult but important reading. (You can read the full report here).

I was the only individual MP to make a submission to the report, with Prof. Alston speaking to a broad range of frontline organisations and experts, as well as individuals living in or affected by poverty.

As MP for Bristol South, I’ve seen first-hand just how damaging government cuts and ill-advised decisions are for people living in poverty.

Like the country, Bristol is divided. There are areas of great wealth in some parts of the city, and there are areas where people are struggling to get by with stagnant wages and rising living costs.

As I wrote in my letter to Prof. Alston, Bristol South has the highest number of social security claimants in the city, the poorest health outcomes – including lower life expectancy – and the lowest educational attainment. The southern part of the constituency has poor transport links and higher crime rates. All of this has a direct and unmistakable link with poverty.

My role as MP is to be a strong voice for Bristol South and I felt I should share the impact government cuts were having on my constituents as part of this report.

The comprehensive report goes as far as to suggest that the government is in violation of its human rights obligations due to its ideological and systematic dismantling of the social safety net.

“Given the significant resources available in the country, the sustained and widespread cuts to social support, which have caused so much pain and misery, amount to retrogressive measures in clear violation of the United Kingdom’s human rights obligations,” writes Prof. Alston. “It is hard to imagine a recipe better designed to exacerbate inequality and poverty and to undermine the life prospects of many millions.”

The government has tried to dismiss this report as ‘barely believable’. This response shows just how out of touch they are. The report, while certainly very damning for the government, paints an accurate picture of what a lot of my constituents are dealing with.

It looks at the impact of government cuts and changes to benefits on particular groups, including women, single parents and disabled people. It’s clear, as it has been to me since Universal Credit was first rolled out in Bristol South, that these groups – which already face ongoing challenges – are being hit particularly hard.

The report reads: “Given the structural disadvantages faced by women, it is particularly disturbing that so many policy changes since 2010 have taken a greater toll on them.”

It goes on to say that benefits changes have had a ‘stark impact’ on single parents, who are twice as likely to experience persistent poverty, with half of all children living in single parent families living in poverty. One in four children now live in poverty in Bristol and figures suggest that is set to rise significantly over the next few years, with Brexit making things worse for the most vulnerable people.

Prof. Alston recognised that the tired old ‘record levels of employment’ response from the government is particularly unhelpful. Besides, poverty is not confined to unemployed families. I’ve spoken before about underemployment – where people are working but are still struggling to afford the basics. The report suggests that families where two adults earn the minimum wage are still falling 11% short of the adequate income needed to raise a child.

The report flags another worrying statistic: “Nearly half of those in poverty – 6.9 million people – are from families in which someone has a disability – they have also been some of the hardest hit by austerity measures.”

Crucially, this report doesn’t just outline the current situation – but it has some clear recommendations for the government to take steps to address this. Some of these echo things I’ve been pressing the government to do, such as delaying the rollout of Universal Credit and restoring funding to local government.

Prof. Alston concludes: “The situation demands a new vision that embodies British compassion and places social rights and economic security front and centre.” I couldn’t agree more.