Health Services (Maidstone)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:17 pm on 14th January 1988.

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Photo of Ann Widdecombe Ann Widdecombe , Maidstone 10:17 pm, 14th January 1988

I do not wish to rehearse too much the background to the Health Service crisis which has so badly affected my constituency in the last six months, as that has already been done adequately through the diligence and eloquence of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), whom I see in his place and who raised the issue in the House a few weeks ago.

We have a brand new hospital in Maidstone. Last year there was an unprecedented rise in activity, so that we were treating about 30 per cent. more patients. That rise in activity was not predicted and could not reasonably have been so. That meant that the health authority was badly overrunning its budget.

The district health authority was already extremely efficient, because it had introduced privatisation measures, because it had cut waste and because it had already increased its throughput per patient bed; therefore, it had very little scope to find economies and savings to meet the additional strains upon the budget. It therefore reacted with ward closures. One major closure was in the brand new hospital. It also closed all physiotherapy facilities and threatened further ward closures.

I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Health for the immediate help which he made available and for giving us money enough to reopen those wards. I am also very grateful to him for the additional money which enabled Maidstone to appoint a third orthopaedic surgeon and a fourth gynaecologist to cut some of our severest waiting lists.

But those measures are addressed to the immediate crisis and are designed to cope with immediate problems. It is more to the future that I want to look tonight, because I have to cope in the constituency both with a very heavy legacy of the past six months, which in itself is bound to affect the future, and with the major question that I know to be in the minds of my constituents, which is not so much whether the present crisis is over as what guarantees we have that we shall not be in this situation again this time next year if we continue to be efficient and to increase our activity.

The legacy I am left with is one of badly increased waiting lists. A cardiac patient came to my surgery last Saturday who needs a test to establish whether he needs major heart surgery. The test, never mind the operation, will not be available until October 1988. He has been offered various appointments at various hospitals within the South East Thames area, but October 1988 seems at the moment to be the best that can be offered.

Cataract patients write to me in desperation and say that they are prepared to go to Inverness. They do not have quite to go to Inverness, but the nearest I found recently was Glasgow, which is not too far from there. My office has been turned into an agency for finding places for operations.

In the immediate term, this is something that can be addressed and can be tackled. It is about the future that I am particularly concerned — not only the future funding but the future adminstration of the South East Thames regional health authority. There has been very Z little in the past to inspire confidence on the part of the people of Maidstone in some of the decisions taken by the authority.

First of all, we were the only hospital in the entire region which, when it opened, was not given additional money for running costs. Secondly, a purely regional decision, not one that has been taken by other regions and not one that has been decreed by central Government, to change from RAWP to ACORN has removed £1·2 million from Maidstone's future expectations. When we are just recovering from a major crisis, to find that £1·2 million has been taken off our future expectations does very little to give us hope and confidence.