We have heard much in recent weeks, and today in the House and in the country at large, about the crisis in the Health Service. We have heard continually from the Government that there is no crisis. Today has been no different.
There is nothing new and no hope or enlightenment for people on waiting lists. Statistical answers bring little comfort to people who do not know whether their children will live long enough to have vital operations.
I agree with some of the sentiments that have been expressed by Conservative Members. We must reconsider this problem and open a debate on the state of the Health Service, what it will provide and how we shall fund it.
The Government cannot continue to pretend that there is no crisis, when the country is screaming that there is. Short-term and panic-stricken cash injections and mindless repetition of statistics are not the answer. Equally, it is quite wrong to pretend that an infinite demand for health care can be instantly financed out of the public purse.
There is an important issue that we must face as a country. We should be looking for a consensus and we should put party politics behind us. We must acknowledge the changing circumstances in which the National Health Service makes its decisions. We must acknowledge the increase in the number of elderly people and the demands that they will put on the Health Service. We must acknowledge the fact that technical advances, in many respects, are making the Health Service a victim of its own success.
There is no point in developing new technology if ordinary people do not have access to it. We need longterm answers on which we can all agree. There is no greater sector of need for a national consensus than funding of the National Health Service. Yes, we need a debate, but not only on the expenditure involved or the limits of expenditure; society must make decisions on what level of health service will be provided and how it will be paid for.
What criterion of assessment should we use? It is simple: if it is available, I want it for my family. The rest of the community feels the same. There should be a guarantee of treatment, if it is available, within a reasonable period of time. Patients have rights. Desperate recourse to courts by distraught parents is an indictment of our society.