Selous on Levelling Up Fund - What about GPs for South Bedfordshire?

Levelling Up: East of England — [Esther McVey in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 18th January 2022.

Andrew Selous The Second Church Estates Commissioner  10:07 am, 18th January 2022
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms McVey. I congratulate my hon. Friend Peter Aldous on bringing this much-needed debate. Sometimes gratitude is in slightly short supply where the Government are concerned, so I start with a thanks before I come on to my shopping list, because the town of Houghton Regis in my constituency received £19.9 million for a new community wellbeing centre hub, which I am very pleased about. It is much needed. We have a new one in Dunstable, and the local authority just committed to a new one in Leighton Buzzard, so this completes the piece. I am extremely grateful.

An enormous number of new homes are being built in my area. Around 14,000 are going up—about 8,000 north of Houghton Regis and around 6,000 to the east of Leighton Buzzard. My particular concern, which I have raised repeatedly and will go on raising until we get a solution, is the need for infrastructure to come in at the same time as the new houses are built. I see a few nods—in fact, quite a lot—around the Chamber, because I think we all agree that that should be the case. I believe other European nations sometimes manage to do this a little bit better than we do. I think we all agree that that should happen, and I think every Government have been committed to its happening, but it has not happened under previous Governments and is not quite yet happening in the way it needs to.

I will just put a few figures from August 2021 on the record relating to the number of GPs per 10,000 registered patients in my area. In the three primary care networks in South Bedfordshire it is only 4.5. In the east of England it is 5.3, and in England as a whole it is 5.9. We are starting at a disadvantage and we have these 14,000 new houses coming on top. There is a serious amount of levelling up and catching up to do to make sure that all those residents can get to a doctor when they need to. The same is true for direct patient care roles. The full-time equivalent per 10,000 registered patients in the three primary care networks in my area, south Bedfordshire, is 1.6. For the east of England it is 2.9, and for England as a whole it is 2.3. South Bedfordshire is already at the bottom of the league in terms of the number of GPs and direct patient care roles per 10,000 patients, and all these new houses are coming. We really must do better.

If there is one thing that I want my hon. Friend the Minister to take back to his Department, it is that when the levelling-up White Paper comes out, if we do not have a solution to ensure that general practice capacity is installed at the same time as the new homes come up, I, for one, will not be happy. I will keep on raising this issue until we get a solution. We can do better as a country; we are a bright, capable country, it is within our power to do it and we need to do it.

In my last 40 seconds I will raise police funding, where we also need levelling up. Sometimes, I think that the Home Office views Bedfordshire as a sort of corn-chewing county out in the sticks somewhere. However, I am afraid that we are quite busy, in policing terms. We are the fourth-highest, nationally, for county lines. When Operation Venetic came out—the deciphering of the EncroChat criminal communications system—there were 26 packages for Bedfordshire, only 11 for Hertfordshire and none for Cambridgeshire. We are a busy police county, and we are surviving, I am afraid, on one-off grants. It all goes back to damping in 2004. We must amend the national funding formula to treat Bedfordshire police fairly.

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