Monday 28 February 2011

The Politics Show - BBC North West

Yesterday, the BBC NW edition of the Politics Show featured two interviews with me. You can view the programme via the BBC iplayer here.

Scroll to approx 37mins 30secs to view the interview on the threat to local Citizens Advice Bureau followed by the cuts to local councils in the North West.

Please note that the programme is available for 7 days only.

The interview took place at the Three Sisters in Ashton in Makerfield with BBC Political Journalist Annabel Tiffin.

Monday 21 February 2011

2011 Census

Next month will mark Census Day (27th March) and from this week an advertising campaign will be launched in England & Wales to raise awareness amongst the local community.

Census questionnaires will be posted out to households from 7th March onwards. For the first time, questionnaires can be completed online and assistance can be obtained by calling 0300 0201 101.

To learn more about the census click here.

Friday 18 February 2011

Rock The House

I am proud to invite nominations from within the Makerfield constituency, to be considered for the best live band and best live music venue awards of the first ever parliamentary Rock the House competition.

Rock the House is an accessible vehicle through which to capture the imagination of the public and legislators in recognition of the need to support and promote the live music sector. It aims to promote the intellectual property rights of unsigned and up and coming musicians; and highlight the importance of live music venues to local communities.

Under the competition rules, I will nominate one band and one live music venue from Makerfield on 31 March 2011. Any band or live music venue can enter the competition by downloading and completing an application form and send fully completed submissions to my office at Elizabeth House, The Pier, Pottery Rd, Wigan WN3 4EX by 31st March.

Finalists and winners will be determined by an independent judging panel, which includes Chris Ingham, Group Publisher of Future Publishing, musicians and music professionals, Mike Weatherley MP and John Robertson MP (Chair of the APPG on Music).

The Panel will determine the five finalists in each category, and the shortlist will be announced by the end of May 2011. Each of the finalists will be invited to a star studded reception on the Terrace of the House of Commons, on 30th June 2011, where the winners will be announced.

The sponsors and supporters have pulled together an unbelievable array of prizes, many of which money can’t buy, including: the chance to perform live on the terrace at the House of Commons and at a top music venue or a music festival; a photo shoot with an internationally published music photographer; Yamaha gear and instruments; the chance to network and have consultancy sessions with top industry professionals; master classes from top sound and lighting engineers; the opportunity to record music; the chance to make a music video; invaluable PR exposure through coverage in Future Publishing’s catalogue of specialist music titles; and many more runners up prizes.

Rock the House is supported by a myriad of big names within the international and British music sector: Yamaha music; UK Music; Future Publishing; BPI; Live Nation; Consumer Focus; Music Managers Forum (MMF); Incorporated Society of Musicians; MVPA; the All Party Parliamentary Group on Music (APPG on Music); and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Pubs & Clubs (APPG on Pubs & Clubs).

Music is hugely important to this country. My hope in supporting ‘Rock The House’ is to put the spotlight on some very important issues within the music industry and increase political support to ensure that the UK’s composers, artists and musicians can continue to dominate the world stage."

Certainly, I believe it is vital that we recognise role of intellectual property in enabling artists to generate an income, the significant contribution that music sales make to the British economy, and our continued development of new talent.

The future of music is in the hands of the up and coming artists, and the live music venues which support them, that are finding it increasingly hard to break through in a sector where many consumers think it is their right to access content for free.

For further information click here.      

Thursday 17 February 2011

More than just a Pharmacy

I recently Rowlands Pharmacy in Ashton Medical Centre and was impressed to see all the services pharmacy teams provide and the big difference staff were making to people’s lives.

Pharmacists play a vital role for local communities. As a member of the Health Select Committee, I was particularly keen to see how the pharmacy provides help and advice to customers. Today I saw for myself the day-to-day work that takes place in the pharmacy and the facilities and services it provides for the public across Ashton. I'm keen to see their role maintained and enhanced in the government's plans for NHS reform.

I was joined by Ashton Ward Cllr Nigel Ash, who is Chair of the Wigan Health and Well Being Board – a new part of Wigan Council that will co-ordinate the development of local health and well being services.

The visit finished with a discussion with three regular customers who shared their stories of pharmacy care and how Rowlands helps them cope with all the medicines they take. Eileen Eccles and her husband Joseph and Frank Rigby, another regular who cares for his elderly father told me how they appreciate the help and advice they receive from the staff at the pharmacy.

I also met with Bruce Prentice who is the current secretary of the local pharmacy group covering the borough and pharmacist, Josie Walsh based at Rowlands.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Green Light for Ashton Clinic

A campaign to bring a new primary care health facility to Ashton received a boost today as details emerged of the Board of Ashton, Leigh & Wigan Primary Care Trust (PCT) approving the development of a LIFT scheme for Ashton at its last meeting.

Ashton as long been identified as an area of the Borough requiring new health facilities and I pledged to continue the campaign started by my predecessor Sir Ian McCartney to bring new ‘state of the art’ medical facilities to the area.

I had been in dialogue with PCT Chief Peter Rowe since my election last May and this continued with the appointment of Joyce Redfearn as his successor.

The  PCT have instructed Foundation for Life, its LIFT company, to move to the formal Business case process with a view to final approval by the end of this year. The PCT hope to have the new facility open in early 2013.

I very much welcome this decision – it’s a huge step forward for healthcare provision in Ashton.

This is exciting news for Ashton and marks a long campaign to bring a high quality health facility to the town.  Ashton is the third largest town in the Borough and a new health facility would assist in improving the health and wellbeing of residents as well as acting as a catalyst for the further regeneration of the town.

As always with projects of this magnitude, there continues to be a huge amount of work to get right and it is important that the local community have an input – but this decision by the PCT is a great new year’s present for the people of Ashton.

Ashton Ward Councillor, Nigel Ash said, "We have waited a long time for this decision and it is great news that the campaign started by Ian (McCartney) and continued by Yvonne has moved one big step closer today."

"I am looking forward to learning more about the services that will be available and working with our dedicated health professionals to create a facility that Ashton can be proud of.”

Tuesday 15 February 2011

My visit to the Royal Albert Edward Hospital

I visited the the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary site on Friday 11 February 2011. I was given a guided tour of South Ward, housed in one of the Victorian parts of the hospital, and in contrast was shown the newer builds such as Radiology, Rainbow Ward, the Trust’s Children’s Ward and various departments on the Emergency Floor.

I was also shown around the Cardiology Department including the state-of-the-art Cardiac Catheter Laboratory and was given a special tour of the soon to be opened Coronary Care Department which is being partly funded by Dr Naqvi’s Heart Beat Appeal. The money raised through the appeal, in conjunction with a £1.5million investment by the Trust, aims to further improve and enhance cardiology services for the public of Wigan and beyond.

Dr Nayar Naqvi, Consultant Cardiologist, said, “It was a great pleasure and an honour for me to meet Yvonne. We are grateful to her for having taken the trouble to visit our Cardiology Department and the new Coronary Care Unit. All members of the Cardiology Department are absolutely delighted that she too is supporting our Heartbeat Appeal”.

Carolyn Deresckiewicz, Matron of Cardiology Services, said: “Today was a fantastic opportunity to meet Yvonne and introduce her to the current services that the Cardiology team provides to the patients of Wigan and Leigh, and also provide an opportunity to showcase the new CCU. And explaining how our Heart Beat Appeal has raised funds to equip the new building”.

The new facilities are really impressive and I was particularly struck by the very careful thought which has been given to the layout of the new ‘state of the art’ unit providing patient-centred, high quality care. Wigan is fortunate to have such a dedicated team of health professionals, headed by Dr Naqvi and I look forward to working with them in the future.

I was accompanied by Andrew Foster, Chief Executive and Gill Harris, Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Nursing and Performance, and Les Higgins, Chairman.

Pictured from Left to Right: Rashid Sohail, (Consultant and Clinical Director of Emergency Medicine), Gill Harris, (Deputy Chief Executive, Director of Nursing and Performance), Carolyn Deresckiewicz (Matron of Cardiology Services), Yvonne Fovargue, MP, Dr Nayar Naqvi (Consultant Cardiologist), Margaret Elmer (Cardiology Manager), Les Higgins, (WWL Chairman) and Sheraz Valli, (Estates Officer).

Monday 14 February 2011

Face to Face Debt Advice u-turn is welcome

The Financial Inclusion Fund (FIF) introduced by the previous Labour Government supports over 500 specialist debt advice workers across the country.

The Government confirmed in January that it would end on 31st March 2011, even though a recent National Audit Office report into the project gave it a unique, ‘delivering good value for money’ plaudit.

The Tory-led government decision to axe the fund led to a wave of protest from politicians and advice agencies across the country and during a Westminster Hall Debate (Tues, 8th Feb) initiated by myself, I led a cross-party attack on the proposals.

Research from Money Advice Trust suggests that at any given time up to 5 million people report being in arrears with consumer credit and mortgage payments or find that their credit commitments are an unsustainable burden. However, the planned cuts to funding would significantly reduce the capacity of independent advice agencies (CABs and Law Centres) to assist such people, which could result in potentially serious consequences both to the individual and the state.

The number of debt clients seen by the CAB has risen by 23% in the past year, and a significant increase is expected in the next few years as well, so the loss of skilled advisers would have had a devastating impact on the sector.

I warmly welcome the Government's climb down and committment to provide an extra £27 million for face-to-face debt advice. This is excellent news for those seeking advice on debt issues and safeguards 500 jobs, for specialist debt advisers, many of whom had already been given notice of redundancy.

I have long been a supporter of a statutory duty to fund advice services, and I still believe that it is the only way in which the absolute importance of advice can be highlighted to local government and other funders. The cut to debt advice funding and the proposed cuts to local authorities and legal aid will be felt most significantly in areas, like Wigan which have significant numbers of clients.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Westminster Hall Debate on future funding of Independent Debt Advice

Today I attacked cuts to the independent debt advice sector in a Westminster Hall Debate (Tues, 8th Feb).

Over 500 specialist advisers in independent local advice agencies are funded by the Financial Inclusion Fund (FIF) and since 2006 over 380,000 people have been helped to manage more than £6billion of debt in an extensive network of outreach settings; community centres, GP practices, Sure Starts to people who would not normally feel comfortable about seeking formal debt advice.

Monday 7 February 2011

Regulation will Improve patient safety

Clinical physiologists perform a range of procedures including pacemaker reprogramming and non-invasive ventilation. Despite the sensitive and potentially high risk nature of their work, they are currently not regulated. This means that incompetent practitioners who potentially put the lives of patients at risk are able to move from job to job escaping detection. 

Tabling an Early Day Motion in Parliament, I have called on the Government to introduce a statutory register at the earliest possible opportunity. The Early Day Motion also highlights the important role of clinical physiologists in diagnosis and argues that only a statutory register will provide the necessary protection for the patient. The Department of Health agreed to a statutory register for clinical physiologists in 2004, but are yet to deliver on their promise.

Clinical physiology is currently only covered by a voluntary register maintained by the Registration Council of Clinical Physiologists (RCCP).  The lack of statutory regulation means that, while the RCCP operates a disciplinary code, it cannot be enforced to protect patients from clinical physiologists unfit to practice.

Clinical Physiologists deliver a wide range of diagnostic and often invasive procedures directly to patients and work closely with medical staff and other healthcare professionals to diagnose, treat, monitor and manage the care of patients.

Despite the recognition by the Health Secretary accepting the need to statutorily regulate clinical physiologists back in 2004, the fact that six years later statutory regulation is still not in place, has potentially huge implications for patients' safety.

Anne Burge, Chair of the RCCP, said, “The current system of voluntary registration is wholly inadequate and urgently needs reform to ensure patient safety.  Many patients are horrified when they find out that clinical physiologists are currently not registered, despite their patient-facing role and the high-risk nature of the procedures they often undertake."

“We hope that this motion will encourage the Government to take statutory regulation forward as a priority.”

EDM 1352 
That this House welcomes the valuable contribution that clinical physiologists make to patient care in the NHS; notes their importance in developing and delivering a wide range of sensitive diagnostic and therapeutic procedures directly to patients in the disciplines of audiology, cardiology, gastro-intestinal physiology, neurophysiology and respiratory physiology; further notes with concern that, despite the Health Professions Council's recommendation in 2004 that clinical physiologists should be statutorily regulated and this advice being accepted by the Department of Health in 2005, statutory regulation has not yet been put in place; recognises the value of the current voluntary register which has been compiled and administered by the Registration Council for Clinical Physiologists; understands the Government's direction of travel that voluntary regulation is the preferred way forward for most new healthcare professions, but believes that, because of the potentially highly invasive nature of clinical physiologists' activities, voluntary registration does not provide patients with enough protection against those who are unfit to practice; regrets that some of the delay appears to have been caused by the Department's otherwise worthwhile plans to better integrate the wider healthcare science workforce through Modernising Scientific Careers; and calls on the Government to publish a clear timetable for a draft Section 60 Order which will take forward statutory regulation as soon as possible to minimise the ongoing risks to patient safety.

Friday 4 February 2011

Legal Aid debate

Yesterday, I secured a debate in parliament on the Tory-led Government's proposal to cut £350 million from the Legal Aid Budget.

MPs from across all parties debated for the first time on the floor of the House the controversial proposals set out by Justice Secretary Ken Clarke MP.

The Government is consulting on reforms to the Legal Aid system in England and Wales, set out in a Ministry of Justice consultation which is open until 14th February 2011.

Over half a million people will lose out on advice, according to the Government's own figures, as the legal aid budget is cut by £350 million.

The proposals will very seriously restrict:

• What advice legal aid funds, especially in social welfare, family and education law.
• Who can get legal aid, by asking people on low incomes to pay more towards their legal advice.

The changes will also make it harder for not-for-profit advice agencies, such as Citizens Advice Bureau or Law Centres, to make ends meet. The lowest fees for civil and family law advice will all be cut by 10%.

You can read the full debate here.

Thursday 3 February 2011

No place for animals in circuses - self regulation is not the way forward!

I joined Animal Defenders International (ADI) in stepping up the UK campaign to ban wild animals in circuses this week.

I pledged my support to secure a ban on the use of wild animals in UK circuses, and called on the Minister responsible Lord Henley to finally action what the UK is calling out for.

I am just one of over 160 MPs who have now signed a parliamentary Early Day Motion (EDM) 403 calling for the wild animal ban to be implemented.

I do not believe that it is appropriate for wild animals to be used to perform tricks in circuses and it is clear from the overwhelming public support for a ban that most people share that view. The only way we will see this welfare issue addressed is for the Government to implement a ban on the use of wild animals in this way. Self-regulation is not merely a poor substitute for a ban, but no substitute at all.

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of Animal Defenders International said, “We have been encouraged by the results of our recent political opinion poll and by the results of government’s own public consultation last year that found nearly 100 per cent of the public were behind a total ban."

“It is now abundantly clear to us that public and political support for a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses has never been stronger. This process has been trundling along for over five years, and it is now time that government listened to the will of the UK people and enacted a ban.”

A recent parliamentary poll conducted by ADI found that 63% of MPs would like to see a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses and only 14% disagreed.  The then Labour Government’s public consultation in March 2010 also found that 94.5% of respondents backed a ban on wild animal acts.

EDM 403 ‘Wild Animals In Circuses’, tabled by former Defra Minister Jim Fitzpatrick MP, states there is no obstacle to a ban on wild animals in circuses and a ban should be implemented. This shows strong cross-party support for a ban on animals in circuses in the UK Parliament, and demonstrates the depth of feeling as this is one of the top number of signatories to an animal welfare EDM.

All present on Wednesday agreed that the draconian use and abuse of animals in circuses is no longer acceptable, and that self regulation of the industry, which is being considered as a viable route by the Minister, is totally flawed, as effectively the abusers themselves are being asked to self regulate.

ADI has already provided government with a wealth of overwhelming evidence from undercover investigations that graphically shows that random violence and abuse is an unfortunate part of everyday life for animals currently languishing in circuses. Both evidence and opinion is now overwhelming, and government needs to act decisively and enact a total ban.

For more information on the work of ADI click here.