National Health Service Hospitals

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:24 pm on 26th November 1987.

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Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe , Wakefield 8:24 pm, 26th November 1987

The treatment of Professor Lacey by the Wakefield district health authority and the Yorkshire regional health authority has been disgraceful. I shall cite one or two instances of what has happened to this gentleman who raised reasonable criticisms about the system. As a member of Wakefield district health authority, I personally witnessed the tremendous pressure that was placed upon Professor Lacey to withdraw his comments on cook-chill by certain members and officers of the Wakefield district health authority on several occasions. I also personally witnessed on several occasions some highly dubious tactics being employed to discredit Professor Lacey and his views. A private letter that was received from an outside body criticising Professor Lacey's manners was included on the DHA agenda papers by the general manager of Wakefield district health authority, without the knowledge of the district health authority chairman. Surprise surprise, it was included as an item immediately before the subject of cook-chill.

I should mention two other points that are relevant to the situation in Wakefield and to the general situation regarding cook-chill and the current catering pressures. First, during the late summer, Leeds university's nomination for membership of the Wakefield district health authority, Dr. E. G. V. Evans, was rejected by the Yorkshire regional health authority. That was an unprecedented situation. Apparantly, the regional health authority found him unacceptable because he works in Professor Lacey's department.

Secondly and more recently, it has become apparent that Yorkshire regional health authority has excluded Professor Lacey and members of his department from membership of the appointing committee for a new-time post of consultant microbiologist in the Wakefield district health authority, despite the fact that he and his colleagues would normally be involved.

In a letter to me dated 21 October, Professor Lacey states — I hope that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) is listening: This is a unique precedent and it does seem the two health authorities are deliberately structuring the Appointing Committee and the membership of Wakefield health authority in order to defend their previous actions. In particular, it is completely unacceptable to engineer an Appointing Committee so that the opinions and attitudes of potential candidates will be consistent with a specific policy … I have heard from an authoritative source that any applicant who might be appointed to the Wakefield post must be sympathetic towards the cook/chill proposals. The Yorkshire regional health authority so-called "expert committee"—it has been referred to nationally—the expert body on cook/chill, was set up during the summer to consider the matter and clear up the difficulties. Without doubt, that committee was designed to smooth the way for the wholesale introduction of that process into NHS hospitals. In common with the appointments committee, that committee did not have anyone on it who was known to be opposed to cook-chill.

The district health authority in Wakefield is pressing ahead with the introduction of a slightly modified cook-chill process which, from the outset, is likely to be in breach of DHSS guidelines. In the light of the Stanley Royd outbreak, the situation that I have outlined gives cause for great concern, especially as Wakefield is likely to privatise its catering services at the same time as it moves to cook-chill.

I smell various rats regarding this matter. I suspect other hon. Members do as well. I have previously raised this issue through parliamentary questions and an early-day motion, but I have had no response from the Minister. I want to know what the Government will do about what the Association of Community Health Councils of England and Wales described as the possibility of cook-chill becoming "cook-kill."

So far I have concentrated on catering. However, there are wider issues of concern about what is happening as the result of health policies within my district. Wakefield, in common with every other area of the country, has a history of constant cuts and closures. I shall quote one or two, but there are many. Sandal Grange geriatric hospital was closed because it was unsuitable for the care of elderly patients, but, surprise, surprise, it was reopened immediately afterwards for the private care of the elderly. Since then the standard of treatment at the hospital has been a cause of concern to the local authority on several occasions.

Carr Gate hospital, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), served my constituents, and it was closed because it was considered an isolated institution and unsuitable for the care of patients. However, subsequently it reopened as a private institution. Snapethorpe hospital, the subject of an early-day motion, which is my constituency's most modern hospital, was "temporarily" closed in 1984. One of the reasons given for the closure was that the consultant at the district general hospital, two miles away, found it too far to travel to that hospital. However, I have noticed that quite a number of consultants have been falling over themselves to travel at least three times further to a private hospital within Wakefield to practise outside the NHS.

It is proposed to sell off Snapethorpe hospital, no doubt to the private sector. In my area 100,000 people petitioned to save that hospital. It was totally ignored by the DHA, which I believe is totally unrepresentative of local opinion. It is worth mentioning that one third of the members of Wakefield DHA live in one electoral ward, the only ward in the entire 63 in the Wakefield metropolitan district that continues to elect Conservative councillors. Is it any surprise that only yesterday the chairman of the Yorkshire regional health authority refused to tell me who nominates the people to that DHA?

Wakefield health authority is currently staggering from one financial crisis to another because of Government underfunding. In April 1987 £1,400,000 was cut, including ward closures and various other reductions in services. On 17 August there was a crisis meeting, and a further package of cuts, bed reductions and ward closures was proposed totalling much more than £1 million.

It is interesting to note that the proposals to make such cuts and closures were seconded by Mr. Graham Bird, a consultant surgeon who operates within Wakefield and who has a large private practice. He also has interests in Methley Park private hospital that has been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford. It could be argued — I certainly argue it— that that consultant stands to gain from bed reductions and longer waiting lists because more people will be forced into the hands of the private sector. Such a situation would never be tolerated within local authorities. It is disgraceful that it is accepted within the NHS.

The minutes of the August meeting report the comments of Mr. John Settle, a consultant representative on the Wakefield DHA. He said that the consultant opinion was that the revenue allocation to the acute unit was inadequate, and that any significant reduction in the service provided would affect morbidity and mortality in Wakefield.

The August package was put on ice after the Yorkshire RHA was embarrassed and intervened. However, in October that package was reintroduced and broadly agreed — the fears of Dr. Settle were realised at the October meeting. I appreciate that we are tight on time, but I wish to go through the package. I have heard the Prime Minister say that RAWP has pushed money into the north, but as a northern Member of Parliament I should like to know where it has gone. Let us consider the package.