National Health Service

Part of Ways and Means – in the House of Commons at 6:56 pm on 14th May 1987.

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Photo of Mrs Edwina Currie Mrs Edwina Currie , South Derbyshire 6:56 pm, 14th May 1987

My hon. Friend makes a serious point. We have 6 million satisfied customers who come out of hospitals and surgeries saying "Thank God", and quite right too. I wish, as he does, that occasionally they would say thanks also to the staff concerned. It has become fashionable to knock the Health Service. I would wish to see it become fashionable to praise the magnificent work done by the staff of the Health Service. I say that quite deliberately, because it is easy to provide the money, but difficult to translate that money into the top quality patient care that gives a Health Service that is the envy of the world. It would be wonderful if everyone could recognise that and recognise the excellent professional work that goes into making that so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) reminded me of the excellent meeting that I had with the chairman, general manager and others from his local health authority. They had asked for help as a result of what appeared to be a financial crisis at the end of last year. We demurred a little and encouraged them to look at their figures again. We suggested that the regional health authority might discuss some of their difficulties with them.

As a former district health authority chairman, I am reluctant to tell district health authorities how to run their services. By the time we got the meeting organised, they had sorted it out. The result was a magnificient litany of how problems had been faced and tackled with vigour and force, so the Basildon health service has improved and will continue to improve as a result of the learning process those people went through. I congratulate—I am sure my hon. Friend will join me—all concerned; I am sure that they serve his constituents with great distinction.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) and my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon mentioned the Southend radiotherapy unit. In the past year we have heard about the strength of feeling over the Southend radiotherapy unit. Were there any doubt in the mind of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the strength of feeling, that was dispelled the other night when my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) went to him with a petition with over 100,000 names on it. My hon. Friend asked me some direct questions; for example, is the centralisation of radiotherapy still policy? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is taking a close interest in that. Such policies are always kept under constant review. My hon. Friend is quite right to demand that we look at the policy, which was drawn up in the days when equipment was rather different and it was necessary to serve a large catchment area with large and expensive equipment. I assure him that the Secretary of State will note his remarks and take them on board.

My hon. Friend asked about a visit. I thank him, on behalf of my colleagues, for the invitation. The thought of spending a day in Southend later this summer rather appeals. I know not whether the invitation will be accepted by me or another incumbent of this post, but I will ensure that the officials know about the invitation so that it can be passed on. I am sure that at least one of the officials would be delighted to accompany whoever goes to meet the very pleasant people of Southend and that they would have an interesting day finding out what is going on down there.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton lives in my constituency and has a habit of saying that I am his Member, which occasionally produces some ribald comments, as one can imagine. He drew attention to one of the main products—not the sole one—of Burton-upon-Trent's strength, which is the beer. I have a confession to make. The beer is the reason for my being the Member for Derbyshire, South. When my husband and I were attending various interviews around the country some four years ago, we found ourselves sitting in south Derbyshire supping a little of the local brew. My husband is a Yorkshireman and something of a connoisseur of beer. He smacked his lips, looked at me, and said, "You are going to get this one, aren't you?". I tried that much harder, and I am delighted that the good people of south Derbyshire decided that I was what they were looking for, at least on that occasion. I hope that on 11 June they will again decide that I am what they want.

The hospitals at Burton-upon-Trent look after my constituents, and the staff are numbered among my constituents. I share my hon. and learned Friend's admiration for the quality of work in a place which has never claimed to be one of the great cities of our nation and which perhaps in the past lagged behind places such as Birmingham and Sheffield, which have taken the lead in health care.

Burton is showing us how to do it. It has a special quality and I am grateful for the opportunity of putting that on the record. Burton has the most friendly and good natured people in the Health Service. They create a caring atmosphere that is second to none. They deal with their patients with a sweet countenance and I am certain that that helps people to recover more quickly. They seek help, with confidence, earlier so that they can be properly treated. Patients are treated with great skill. I was at dinner the other night with Mr. Glick, a senior consultant. He told me that he now deals with about 40 per cent. of his work on a day basis, and so leads the country. He is showing other parts of the country, including areas that we discussed earlier, how it can be done.

We shall encourage the health authority to take note of what has been said about the new Burton hospital development. I take the point made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton about creative financing. The difficulty is that by whatever means it is done, and by whatever name it is called, it means an increase in the public sector borrowing requirement, which must be avoided. I am grateful for the opportunity to put on the record my thanks for the way in which my constituents are cared for. The Prime Minister has said that the National Health Service is safe in our hands. I know that my constituents are safe in the hands of the Burton hospitals and their staff.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes will not mind that he has had to wait until last for a reply. His constituency is covered by the Grimsby district health authority and by the Scunthorpe district health authority. I am glad to say that a careful examination of statistics shows that health is safe with us in that neighbourhood. The picture there is remarkable.

Between 1982 and 1985 the number of front-line staff—doctors, nurses and others who deal directly with patients—in the Grimsby district health authority area increased from 1,461 to 1,665. That is a substantial increase. Finance increased from about £20 million in 1982–83 to £31·6 million this year. That is the cash allocation that we have made to the health authority. We could add to that savings, growth and development and sales. The authority is, therefore, likely to spend even more than the £31·6 million. In addition, it has received £10 million in capital money over the past five years. My hon. Friend described precisely what it has done with that money. We are pleased at the progress.

More important than input is patient care. In Grimsby between 1982 and 1985 the number of in-patient cases increased from just under 20,000 to nearly 24,000. Day cases increased from 3,300 to 4,800. The number of out-patient attendances also rose substantially. They are statistics, numbers on a page, but they refer to real Grimsby people, who will be real voters on 11 June, when we hope that my hon. Friend's majority will be increased in the same way.

It is particularly pleasing that the main improvements have been across the board. In general medicine there has been a 55 per cent. increase in in-patient cases since 1982. In general surgery there has been a 27 per cent. increase and a 62 per cent. increase in the number of ear, nose and throat cases treated as in-patients.

It is not surprising that between 31 March 1983 and 30 September 1986 the in-patient waiting list in Grimsby dropped from 2,500 to 1,300. That figure is still too high, but it is pleasing that no urgent cases are now on the list for more than a month, and so urgent cases are being seen much faster. The number of non-urgent cases waiting has also dropped substantially, and the number waiting for more than a year dropped between 1983 and 1986 from 850 to just over 100. That is still too high, and I shall not be satisfied until the figure is nil, but that shows the improvement in the neighbourhood and it is a tribute to the hard work of the staff.

The same picture is to be found in the Scunthorpe district health authority area. It cannot be entirely a coincidence. Such figures apply all over the country. In Scunthorpe the number of front-line staff rose from 1,287 in 1982 to 1,401 in 1985. More staff are now available to look after patients. Spending rose from just a shade under £20 million in 1982–83 to £27·6 million this year. That is a substantial increase. Added to that are savings and land sales.

In-patient activity also increased from 20,000 in-patient cases a year in the early 1980s to the current 25,000. Day cases have also increased, as have out-patient attendances. I am pleased that in the Scunthorpe district no urgent cases—none at all—have to wait for more than a month. It seems that there are no urgent cases on the waiting list. The staff simply deal with them. That has been so since 1985. It is a considerable improvement. Similarly, the number of non-urgent cases has dropped sharply from over 5,000 to 2,900. The number on the list for more than a year has also diminished to 801. That is still not good enough. Perhaps that health authority will take the opportunity to look at what it is doing and ensure that people do not have to wait any longer in Scunthorpe than they do in Grimsby.

It is pleasing to note that in Scunthorpe the waiting list for trauma and orthopaedic patients has decreased. A total of 739 people were waiting for non-urgent trauma and orthopaedic treatment, such as hip operations, but that number has dropped to about 400. That has improved the lives of hundreds of people who are now mobile as a result of hip operations.

This has been an extremely useful debate. We have been talking about health for about two hours. I note with interest the empty Opposition Benches. Not a single Opposition Front-Bench spokesman has bothered to turn up. Despite all the trumpeting about health care and what the Labour party intends to do, the Labour spokesmen on health are elsewhere. The House of Commons is still the most important place in the country to discuss health. The voting that allows us to spend all the extra money on the Health Service—to improve nurses' pay, to allocate more staff and to put up all those lovely new buildings—is done in this Chamber. Where are the Opposition?

What about the alliance Members? They are probably allied right now, because all of them are not here. We wonder how seriously they care about the basic work of running a good, modern Health Service and to improving health services for all.

There is one Labour Member here, the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), who intends to raise an Adjournment debate in his own right. I look forward to answering that debate. I believe that the Health Service is not only safe with the Conservatives, but that under no other Government could the record that has been described be achieved.