Increasingly we are hearing about the damaging effects of plastic pollution in the oceans, which is why I am pleased that the Government’s ban on microbeads came into force on the 9th January 2018. This will stop billions of tiny beads washing down the drain every year and help to leave our planet in a better state than we found it.
The world’s seas and oceans are some of our most valuable natural assets. The Government is committed to combatting the devastation plastic is causing our marine life and we will continue to build on our world-leading ban and tackle other forms of plastic waste.
Following a smooth passage through parliament, this ban on the manufacture of products containing microbeads is an important milestone. It means manufacturers of cosmetics and personal care products will no longer be able to add tiny pieces of plastic known as ‘microbeads’ to rinse-off products such as face scrubs, toothpastes and shower gels. A ban on their sale will come into effect in July.
Alongside the success of the government’s 5p plastic bag charge – which has taken nine billion bags out of circulation – to Government will now also consider other measures to reduce single-use plastics including drinks bottles, straws etc. These measures put the UK at the forefront of international efforts to crack down on plastic pollution.
In other recent news, I agree with concerns over the number of challenges facing the health service this year. Winter is always a difficult time of year for health services across the world and the Government has worked closely with the NHS to prepare for this winter, putting in place a positive plan. It was unfortunate that demand this year was especially high requiring an additional response.
Winter preparations began earlier than ever before: in the Spring Budget, the Chancellor pledged £100 million investment to support A&E departments throughout the country; and in December, the Government invested a further £337 million to support the NHS throughout the winter. Locally Derby Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was granted an additional £2,227,000 funding to help cope with Winter pressures.
This money has, amongst other achievements, helped the NHS open over 1,000 more acute hospital beds since the end of November, and install GP streaming services in 91 per cent of A&E departments.
Further to these measures, the Secretary of State for Health outlined to me additional targeted steps taken to try and ease the anticipated pressure on the NHS this winter. The pressure arises out of a combination of very cold weather, increased levels of flu, sicker patients and staff illness. So the additional measures introduced before winter to support resilience were, an extension of the flu vaccination programme, extended access to GP appointments over the Christmas period and the establishment of a National Emergency Pressure panel to advise the NHS and Ministers on the level of system risk nationally, whether it should be escalated or de-escalated and potential actions that would be taken to mitigate such risks.
Despite these preparations it is incredibly unfortunate to see NHS England postpone non-urgent operations this January. I understand that this emergency action was taken by the NHS National Emergency Pressures Panel, following sustained pressure on the NHS over Christmas. No urgent, or cancer-related operations have been deferred, and I believe the panel was right to give patients significant notice of deferral, rather than cancelling operations with only a few hours’ notice, as happened in previous years.
Overall, despite very challenging circumstances, the preparations put in place this year have been of great help to the health service, whose staff have offered lifesaving, compassionate care at the hardest time of the year. I would like to echo Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS England’s National Medical Director, and say that this winter has seen some of the best, and most thorough preparations on record.