Health and Education
Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire, Labour)
I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I compliment and congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs. James and Mr. Wallace, who also made their maiden speeches this afternoon. It is with trepidation and humility that I begin mine.
I choose to speak in this debate because of my direct experience of our fantastic national health service and my desire to see it flourish in the 21st century, and also to allow me to do what my constituents expect of me—to be an active and effective advocate and representative for them in the House. Today, I begin that in earnest.
My first act will be to inform hon. Members of the heritage and history of my constituency. Geographically, Lancashire West—or, as it is now known West Lancashire—borders the Liverpool conurbation to the south and Preston to the north. To the west lies the coastal town of Southport and to the east Wigan and Greater Manchester. That places us right at the heart of a thriving north-west.
The constituency is made up of several small villages, including Burscough, Parbold and Newburgh, which can be traced back to medieval England and the Domesday book, while the bulk of the population is concentrated in the towns of Ormskirk and Skelmersdale. West Lancashire is a mix of opposites: history and modernity, urban and rural, agriculture and industry, which are reflected in the type of issues that will exercise me over the course of this Parliament. They include rural transport, supporting farmers and agricultural producers, the long-awaited Burscough bypass, continued regeneration of the more deprived urban communities and the improvement and development of public services locally.
In the post-war era, a list of illustrious and infamous male predecessors have represented my constituency, including Harold Wilson, Douglas Glover, Harold Soref, Robert Kilroy-Silk, Kenneth Hind and Colin Pickthall. When I reflected on that list, the significance of my election to this place struck me. I am the first woman to hold the seat—a vindication of Labour's commitment to make the House more representative of wider society.
The recent election was the fourth successive election at which West Lancashire returned a Labour MP, making Labour the natural party of Lancashire, West. That is indeed a testament to the hard work and commitment of the local Labour party and of my immediate predecessor, Colin Pickthall—a fitting legacy. Having wrested control of the seat from the Conservatives in 1992, Colin went on to be a great champion of the people and places of West Lancashire. His approach to his responsibilities reflected a deep affection for the area even though, like me, he was not born in the constituency.
Colin dedicated his life to the advancement of Labour party values and to representing the people of Lancashire, West, both as an MP and, before that, as a county councillor. During 13 years as the MP, Colin presided over an upturn in the constituency's fortunes. Many improvements are a direct result of the Labour Government's commitment to equality of opportunity and social justice. Unemployment now stands at just 2.2 per cent. Colin has been instrumental in the regeneration effort, which has improved the quality of life for many people.
Colin played an important role not just in the constituency but in the House, where he served as a Parliamentary Private Secretary at both the Home Office and the Foreign Office for the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my right hon. Friend Mr. Straw. In his retirement from the House, I wish Colin and his family good health, and I hope that he enjoys having time to pursue his interest in fell walking and poetry—it is well deserved.
On health, I have many years' experience of working in the national health service, culminating in being the chair of Liverpool women's hospital—a three-star hospital, although we believe that it has five: three awarded annually by the Department of Health, another for being one of only three hospitals in the country with CNST—clinical negligence scheme for trusts—level 2 for general and maternity services, and the fifth for the foundation status awarded last April. And for the record, it has the lowest rate of MRSA for a special hospital in the country.
Health service provision is a major issue in West Lancashire. The people of Skelmersdale, for example, were promised a new hospital more than 40 years ago, but it was never delivered. However, thanks to a Labour Government investing in the health service, the area now has a magnificent walk-in centre. I can personally vouch for the excellent quality of the service, after receiving a dog bite—the scars of campaigning.
West Lancashire wants the best and safest health service that it can possibly get, and as its MP, I will take a lead in working to realise those aspirations. To put that another way, delivery must be at the heart of the Government's every thought, decision and action. We must not let this once-in-a-generation opportunity to embed modern progressive values into our health service pass us by. The cornerstones of that new settlement are being put in place—foundation hospitals, payment by results and wider public involvement. I commend the Government on introducing such potentially radical reforms. We are witnessing a fundamental shift in the culture of the NHS.
Frustration is evident among my constituents: for many years, they have felt marginalised and powerless to get their voices heard in the health service. Many of the reforms now offered give them some redress and will enable them to effect change and influence priorities. Foundation hospitals return the health services to the hearts of the communities that they serve. With greater local freedom, local choice and local accountability, hospitals are better able to meet local needs. The people who live the day-to-day experiences of the health service, either as staff or users, will now have the ability to shape the future of the health service in their locality.
We are saying boldly that we must trust the people to make decisions in the best interests of the entire community and for individuals. We must back the judgment of health professionals to use the investment in health to deliver a more effective and responsive health service. Nowhere is that better captured than in the membership councils of foundation hospitals. The values of local control, local accountability, empowerment and choice are enshrined by bringing together health professionals, local people and lay members as the strategic decision-making body for foundation hospitals.
Payment by results, which represents the most far-reaching reform in the NHS in recent memory, ensures a direct relationship between what hospitals deliver and funding. However, for all my support of those reforms, I must raise a note of caution: we must implement the reforms with care and attention to detail. We must not leave people behind in our eagerness to reform. There is a responsibility to encourage people to engage with the new governance arrangements.
What I am talking about is education. The underlying threat is that information inequality can serve to entrench health inequality. As a daughter of deaf parents, I fully understand the need for inclusivity and for information that enables people to make the right choices for themselves. At the same time vigilance is needed because certain aberrations and anomalies remain inherent in the payment-by-results system.
I thank previous Health Ministers for helping me to resolve issues that I encountered during my time at Liverpool women's hospital. I hope to be a voice from the front line on the Back Benches and to bring my experience to bear constructively. A successful national health service for the 21st century depends on getting the reforms right because we will otherwise have wasted a once-in-a-lifetime, or generational, opportunity.
Foundation trusts offer the opportunity for partnership between the professionalism and expertise of health care providers and the knowledge, first-hand experience and enthusiasm of our communities. That partnership can provide creative solutions to problems that we face and ensure that we have clinical excellence and a 21st-century, patient-centred health service, which is what we all need.