Whilst constituents may be given the impression that the forthcoming EU referendum dominates everything in Parliament, I can reassure you that I have been finding plenty of time to campaign on the domestic issues which impact our ability to enjoy good health and get from home to work or study.
Readers may be aware of the debacle with patient transport in Sussex. This used to be provided by the ambulance service but the local NHS commissioners have awarded the contract to a contractor called Coperforma. The transition has been terrible, with many patients having to wait hours for their transport and missing hospital appointments. This has also played havoc for those working in hospitals who have to stay beyond their shifts to catch-up. Last week, Amber Rudd and I wrote to the NHS commissioners seeking answers to 12 questions about the contract and what was being done to put matters right. This letter was signed by 11 MPs across Sussex. Having received a response, I chaired a cross-party meeting of MPs in Parliament with the NHS commissioners and Coperforma. We explained that we wanted to help but needed reassurances that targets were in place to turn the matter around quickly. We received sufficient comfort but patients should be reassured that we will continue to hold to account. To that end, I have put another meeting in the diary for the team at the beginning of July. If the targets are not reached by the end of June we will be calling for changes.
Staying on transport, this week has seen more dreadful difficulties with both Southern and Southeastern rail. On Southern, the conductor strike and the large increases in sickness days from conductors has led to delays and cancellations. I met with Southern in Parliament and pressed the many points which have been raised by constituents to me. On Southeastern, the 9pm engineering works from Network Rail on Monday and Tuesday were exacerbated when the engineering train demolished a points system and caused chaos the next day. I used both these examples, when challenging the rail regulator to intervene. I fail to see why Network Rail are starting engineering works on the line at 9pm. They are extending the work to the rest of the year so I do not see why they could not make it overnight only. I also fail to see Southeastern challenging Network Rail on this point. We pay Southeastern so surely they should be our champion and push back on Network Rail. In my view, the rail regulator needs more teeth and I hope that my Select Committee can be its dentist!
Back to the EU Referendum, I was pleased to kick-start the first of my eight debates. It has seen a long time coming and, four months on from the announcement and 45,000 constituent invites later, we are off and debating in the constituency. It was everything I would expect from our residents: passionate, intelligent and reasonable. It seemed to be that there were almost as many undecided as decided so I hope these events will help voters to make up their mind by listening to the arguments rather than being told, from those in a higher pay grade than me, how they should be voting