18 AUG 2016

Stem cell transplants

In response to second stem cell transplants for blood cancer patients who have relapsed, there are clear concerns over the decision not to consider second bone marrow transplants for routine commissioning this year.

Although the overall budget for specialised services in England is considerable, at around £14 billion per year, NHS England has to make difficult decisions on behalf of tax-payers about how to prioritise the funding that is available. To ensure that investment decisions are affordable and offer value for money NHS England has established an annual prioritisation process led by clinical experts.

This year's annual prioritisation process by the Specialised Commissioning Oversight Group, out of twenty two proposals considered, second bone marrow transplants for patients with relapsed disease was one of four treatments with the lowest cost/benefit priority. This means that it will not be considered for routine commissioning this year. Decisions by Specialised Commissioning Oversight Group are based on expert recommendations made by Clinical Priorities Advisory Group which uses a defined process to prioritise treatments.

All of the policies will be considered again next year in the prioritisation process for 2017/18 and this review will consider any additional new peer-reviewed publications.

The Department of Health continues to invest to improve the provision of stem cells for patients requiring a transplant. This year, the Department of Health is investing over £2.5 million to enable our delivery partners NHS Blood and Transplant and the charity Anthony Nolan to collect umbilical cord stem cells and recruit adult donors from communities currently under-represented in the donor register. Since 2011 the Department has invested over £19 million to improve the provision of stem cells for patients requiring a transplant. This investment has significantly increased the chances of patients finding a suitable matching donor and established a single UK register of donors.

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18 AUG 2016

Stand as one with refugees

The Government is taking action to combat any hatred or intolerance towards any section of our society. It has published a new hate crime action plan, developed in partnership with communities and government departments. This action plan will increase the reporting of hate crimes, prevent hate crimes on transport and provide stronger support for victims.

On the issue of the refugee summits, it is expected that the Government is represented at a senior level. Making sure that the UK continues to be a welcoming and tolerant society for those fleeing persecution is of the upmost priority, as well as the Government's efforts in pledging £2.3 billion in aid in response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria, and relocating up to 20,000 refugees over the course of this Parliament.

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18 AUG 2016

Prescription charges

The prescription charge has recently increased by 20 pence, from £8.20 to £8.40 for each medicine or appliance dispensed. However, there is also an extensive system of prescription charge exemptions in England. This includes provision for people on low incomes who can apply for free prescriptions through the NHS Low Income Scheme, or who get free prescriptions due to the receipt of certain benefits. The system of exemptions taken as a whole means that 90 per cent of prescription items are dispensed without charge.

It is also the case that prescription charges generate a valuable income to the NHS budget of several hundred million pounds per year – money contributing to patient care that would have to be found elsewhere if these charges were abolished.

There is already a provision in place for people who require multiple prescriptions, such as those with long-term conditions who have to pay charges. The Prescription Prepayment Certificate allows holders to pay no further charge at the point of dispensing, with no limit of the number of items which can be obtained under the certificate. The Government has supported this scheme by freezing the cost of the PPC for another year.

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18 AUG 2016

Democracy and social progress in Brazil

The ongoing impeachment process in Brazil is a domestic issue for the people of Brazil and their elected representatives. The Government believes that the Brazilian people and their institutions will resolve the matter in a democratic way and in accordance with their Constitution.

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28 JUL 2016

Protect supported housing

The changes to Housing Benefit announced in the 2015 Autumn Statement involve aligning the rules for claimants in the social sector with those for claimants renting privately. The Government says it recognises the importance of ensuring those who are providing supported accommodation to some of the most vulnerable members of our society receive appropriate protections. The Government says its departments will be working closely together and listening carefully to the concerns raised, to make sure that the right protections are in place.

The Government has commissioned an extensive review into supported housing to get an accurate picture of the sector's needs, and says it will report back in due course. This will help to determine how best to make sure the appropriate protections are in place, and the Government needs to provide workable and sustainable solutions for the supported housing sector. The details on this policy are still being considered. Reductions will not apply until April 2018 and the change will only apply to new or renewed tenancies from April 2016. It was confirmed in the 2016 Budget that for supported accommodation this will be delayed until April 2017 to allow time for the review to be considered.

The aim of these reforms is to make the system fairer and address the rising social sector Housing Benefit bill.

Around £50 billion is spent every year on benefits to support people with disabilities or health conditions, and that spending will be higher in every year until 2020 than it was in 2010. Funding for the Disabled Facilities Grant, which helps disabled people make adaptations to their home, is due to increase by nearly 80 per cent next year. The Government is also spending £400 million on delivering 8,000 specialist homes for the vulnerable, elderly or those with disabilities.

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27 MAY 2016

Let them fly update

The Prime Minister announced last week that the UK will resettle unaccompanied asylum seeking children from Europe. The situation in the Middle East and particularly Syria remains a serious concern. Therefore, the Government's focus remains on supporting countries most affected by the continuing migration crisis in the Middle East and North Africa where aid can make the biggest difference and provide resettlement to those most in need of support in the region.

In any response, the UK needs to be very careful not to inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children ahead, putting their lives at risk. The new announcement builds on this by helping the most vulnerable while not encouraging new perilous journeys into Europe. Only children who were already registered in Europe before the EU-Turkey deal on 20th March will be eligible for resettlement where it is in their best interests. This makes sure that the UK can focus on the most vulnerable children already in Europe without encouraging more to make the journey.

The Government have taken the decision to not put a fixed number on arrivals, but to work with local authorities across the UK to determine how many children will be resettled and to ensure that this new initiative is fully aligned with existing schemes for resettling refugees and unaccompanied asylum seeking children, including the new national transfer scheme which will be rolled out over the summer.

This compliments the significant steps that the UK is already taking, as we continue to be at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The UK is the second biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid, doubling the aid available to £2.3 billion. Moreover, the Government continues to meet its commitment to spend 0.7% of our economy on aid; is focussing on resettling up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years; providing a DFID fund of £10 million to UNCHR and Save the Children to care and assist unaccompanied children; as well as the new Children at Risk Resettlement Scheme designed to resettle children at risk direct from the Middle East and North Africa.

The refugee family reunion policy allows immediate family members of a person in the UK with refugee leave or humanitarian protection status - that is a spouse or partner and children under the age of 18, who formed part of the family unit before the sponsor fled their country of origin - to reunite with them in the UK. The scheme shows the progress made to ensure that family members that have been divided can once again be reunited.

The migration crisis is not something that will just sort itself out any time soon. We know deep down that we cannot sort it out alone. We need to take action in co-operation with our fellow European nations. To help the people who are most in need in conflict zones while ensuring that people do not continue to take the dangerous crossings across Europe which often end in disaster. We must press on European nations to adopt a similar approach, and collectively focus our support on those who are most in need.

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27 MAY 2016

Junior doctor settlement

Following ten days of intensive talks to seek to resolve the long running junior doctors' dispute, an independent employment council, ACAS, has presented an agreement to the Government, NHS employers and to the BMA.

This has now been agreed by all parties to resolve the current dispute. The next step is to secure the support of BMA junior doctor members by presenting a ballot.

Saturday and Sunday pay rates will be reformed. Unsocial hours payments will be made on a sliding scale. This will rise as doctors work more weekends. This will increase to a maximum of 10% on top of basic pay for those working every other weekend. Doctors are required to work 1 weekend day a month. The more weekend work doctors do, the more they will be paid. This fundamental shift in the way doctors are paid for weekend work will mean it is a third less expensive for hospitals to roster doctors over the weekend, while still enabling high standards of care, achieved at affordable rates.

Dr Johann Malawana, the BMA junior doctor committee chair, said:

"I believe that what has been agreed today delivers on these principles, is a good deal for junior doctors and will ensure that they can continue to deliver high-quality care for patients. This represents the best and final way of resolving the dispute and this is what I will be saying to junior doctors in the weeks leading up to the referendum on the new contract."

This agreement delivers important changes to the junior doctors' contract necessary to deliver a safer seven day NHS. To see a copy of the ACAS statement that has been agreed between all parties, visit this website:

http://www.acas.org.uk/media/pdf/l/p/ACAS_FINAL_AGREED_NHS_Emp_BMA_DoH_Package_180516.pdf

This is a historic agreement between the Government, NHS Employers and the BMA that will make our NHS better for both doctors and patients. The new contract meets the Government's commitments for delivering a seven-day NHS, and remains within the existing pay envelope.

This is a win for doctors, patients and the NHS.

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23 MAY 2016

TTIP & the NHS

The Government is committed to an NHS that is there for everyone who needs it, funded from general taxation and free at the point of use. TTIP will not affect how the NHS decides who is best to provide its services.

The EU's chief negotiator on TTIP has stated that EU countries will continue to be free to decide how they run their public health systems.

Negotiators from the United States and the European Union have confirmed that it will continue to be for EU member states to make decisions about whether and to what extent they involve the private sector in the provision of public services.

There is no reason to fear either for the NHS as it stands today or for changes to the NHS in future as a result of TTIP.

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23 MAY 2016

Animals in research

The Government has outlined how it will work to reduce, replace and refine the use of animals in research – known as 'the 3Rs'. The UK's National Centre for the 3Rs has been leading the way in this area, and has already invested over £35 million to support this work. As a result, trials into cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, as well as toxicity testing, have all seen reductions in animal use.

Animal research still plays a small but important role in providing vital safety information for potential new medicines. As a result of findings from animal studies, a large number of potential new drugs never get as far as being tested in humans. Some aspects of the toxicological assessment of new medicines cannot be adequately assessed in humans, and animal data will be the only kind available.

Without animal testing it is highly likely that a large number of potentially dangerous new medicines would be tested in healthy volunteers and patients in clinical trials. This would be unacceptable. Animals are only used when there are no suitable alternatives, and by encouraging new cutting-edge approaches to science we will ensure that standards of animal welfare are improved.

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11 MAY 2016

Let them fly campaign

The Prime Minister announced last week that the UK will resettle unaccompanied asylum seeking children from Europe. The situation in the Middle East and particularly Syria remains a serious concern. Therefore, the Government's focus remains on supporting countries most affected by the continuing migration crisis in the Middle East and North Africa where aid can make the biggest difference and provide resettlement to those most in need of support in the region.

In any response, the UK needs to be very careful not to inadvertently create a situation in which families see an advantage in sending children ahead, putting their lives at risk. The new announcement builds on this by helping the most vulnerable while not encouraging new perilous journeys into Europe. Only children who were already registered in Europe before the EU-Turkey deal on 20th March will be eligible for resettlement where it is in their best interests. This makes sure that the UK can focus on the most vulnerable children already in Europe without encouraging more to make the journey.

The Government have taken the decision to not put a fixed number on arrivals, but to work with local authorities across the UK to determine how many children will be resettled and to ensure that this new initiative is fully aligned with existing schemes for resettling refugees and unaccompanied asylum seeking children, including the new national transfer scheme which will be rolled out over the summer.

This compliments the significant steps that the UK is already taking, as we continue to be at the forefront of the international response to the humanitarian crisis in Syria. The UK is the second biggest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid, doubling the aid available to £2.3 billion. Moreover, the Government continues to meet its commitment to spend 0.7% of our economy on aid; is focussing on resettling up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next five years; providing a DFID fund of £10 million to UNCHR and Save the Children to care and assist unaccompanied children; as well as the new Children at Risk Resettlement Scheme designed to resettle children at risk direct from the Middle East and North Africa.

The migration crisis is not something that will just sort itself out any time soon. We know deep down that we cannot sort it out alone. We need to take action in co-operation with our fellow European nations. To help the people who are most in need in conflict zones while ensuring that people do not continue to take the dangerous crossings across Europe which often end in disaster. We must press on European nations to adopt a similar approach, and collectively focus our support on those who are most in need.

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