THE Finance Bill implementing the provisions set out in the Autumn Statement was the main business in the House this week, but there was plenty of news and debate as regards the union.

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill formally extended the period for a new government to be put in place in Northern Ireland and made provisions to address the governance gap during the current absence of Northern Ireland Ministers. This bill allows for further extensions until the NI protocol can be made to work in a way acceptable to all parties. It also empowers the government to reduce ministers’ salaries given they are not sitting and not in effect working. Further north, the Supreme Court ruled that Nicola Sturgeon did not have the power to call a further Scottish Referendum on independence. The right decision!

Closer to home The Counsellors of State Bill was introduced to add to the list of individuals who can deputise for the King. The Princess Royal and The Earl of Wessex will have their names added. They will join the Queen Consort, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Sussex, the Duke of York and Princess Beatrice of York. This addresses the current issue that the Duke of Sussex and Duke of York no longer have authority to conduct matters on behalf of the Crown. This means the acting royals who can deputise for the King increases from three members of the family to five.

This week the Public Accounts Committee on which I sit, grilled the chief executive of NHS England and the Department of Health on their progress with the backlog of elective (anything not urgent or acute) healthcare provision. This includes cancer appointments and surgery, orthopaedic surgery, ophthalmology and much more. National wait time targets have been missed for some time and Devon is one of the worst with 17% of patients waiting over 43 weeks. Sir James Mackey - the National Director of elective recovery for NHS England - has been working with our team in Devon and recognises that rural deprived areas like Devon have very particular issues that must be urgently addressed.

My plea to the NHS in committee was that they innovate! Doing more of the same will not solve the problem. Endeavouring to do more with fewer resources was most unlikely to succeed. There is so much that could be done that is not being done. Later that week in a meeting with the Secretary of State for Health and Care I asked: While our dental crisis is at breaking point, why can we not simply increase the quota of patients an NHS dentist can see? Given ophthalmology is the second most sought after elective provision why do we not make more use of the private sector – Boots and Specsavers offer secondary care! They don’t just do eye tests! Yet, we wait for an appointment in a traditional hospital – many months instead of a few weeks!  Why do 800 medical students whose training has been funded by taxpayers fail to progress to the vocational stage of their training - because the state has capped the number of vocational training places it will fund. There are some quick fixes – let’s make some of these things happen!

And on Friday I was delighted to visit Teignbridge’s Children’s Centre, which is Action for Children’s Early Help Hub for Newton Abbot. Frankly the work they have done with over 4,000 families this year is phenomenal, providing families with support while waiting for SEND diagnosis, safeguarding children from domestic abuse, and helping children ensure they are ready to make the most of their education. They expect an additional 500 referrals from December to March when their current contract ends. This contract is to be extended for a further year, during which the service is to be reviewed. This service is vital and I have made clear to Devon County Council my views! Retention is not optional!

As always, if you would like to book a surgery appointment (in-person or virtual) or raise a specific issue, please call my office on 01626 368277 or email [email protected] to arrange an appointment.