National Health Service (Bradford)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:08 pm on 14th April 1988.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Max Madden Mr Max Madden , Bradford West 10:08 pm, 14th April 1988

I am pleased to have this opportunity to introduce a brief debate on the National Health Service in Bradford. Last December., I was also most grateful to have the opportunity of introducing a debate on poverty in Bradford which showed clearly the direct links between poverty, especially unemployment, large-cale dependence on benefits, poor and over-crowded homes and ill health.

I am sad to say that Bradford has become known as a low pay city by reputation to a large number of people by virtue of the extensive low-pay of people in full-time employment. I am sad to say that Bradford is also a poor-health city. More babies die in Bradford than in most other cities. There is a high incidence of heart disease and illness associated with poverty, particularly tuberculosis and dysentery which, sadly, are commonplace.

There are 25,000 unemployed men and women, and one third of the population depend on benefit. There are so-called poverty zones in Bradford where men, women and children are caught in a vicious spiral of deprivation and decline, producing a sub-culture of alienated and apathetic people who have very little hope for themselves, their families, for others in the community or for the community itself. Above all, those people need worthwhile, well-paid work, job security and confidence to plan for a better future for themselves and their families.

Too many people are trapped in the despair of years of unemployment, desperate hardship and increasingly extensive debt. In many cases their confidence of ever getting a decent job and keeping a decent job with decent pay is shot through. Too many people are fed up with temporary job programmes and training programmes and go back on the dole or to part-time and low-paid work.

If private investment is to come to Bradford, it must be encouraged by public investment being pumped into that city by Government. Sadly I have to report to the House that if all the money available under the latest initiative—the so-called city action programme—were spent in Bradford, it would represent less than £1 per head for every person in the district. The best way to prevent illness in Bradford is to remove or substantially lessen the burden of poverty which grips our city. More work is the key, with more and better homes, better community services and a better community environment.

Earlier this year, Bradford suffered a major blow when Bradford health authority announced NHS cuts of more than £2 million. Last month, that package of cuts was revised downwards to £1·4 million after extensive protests throughout the district. Inevitably, it will affect the standard of patient care and patient services. We are confronted with the closure of a maternity ward at St. Luke's hospital, and the transfer of some family planning services from excellent NHS clinics to general practitioners. We are also confronted with cuts in cancer screening and community nursing and the cancellation of a rheumatology consultant appointment for young disabled people. Fewer people living outside Bradford will be able to receive treatment which traditionally has been available in the city.

All that is to bring the authority into balance next year. The bulk of the cuts are being introduced only for financial reasons, because DHSS Ministers say that the authority is not allowed to go into deficit.

Health authorities are subject to central control and the chairs of regional health authorities are widely perceived as reliable, safe political agents of the Government. Just how that has come about can be seen by the cavalier and the discourteous way in which Mr. Royston Moore, a senior Conservative politician, has been treated. He was the chair of the Bradford health authority for some time and I understand that he was telephoned only days before the March meeting of the health authority and told that he would not be reappointed. He was not even informed who his successor was to be. That is a disgraceful way for such a senior public servant to be treated by the DHSS. Sadly, it has become fashionable for the DHSS and the Government to treat senior public figures in that way.

The Prime Minister, a mother, tells us and the public that the National Health Service is safe in her hands. In that case, how can she stand back and allow a maternity ward in Bradford to close? How can she allow excellent family planning advice to be denied to large numbers of women of all ethnic origins who want that advice to be given by women and who are extremely reluctant to attend male doctors? How can the Prime Minister stand back and allow £1·4 million to be taken away from the NHS in Bradford this year with the possibility of more being taken the year after?

"Grapevine", the official newsletter of the Bradford health authority, had a new year message in January this year under the banner headline: A happy new year to all our Readers. The message from the district general manager, Mr. Mark Baker, said: It has been a long hard autumn. Since September we have been trying to wriggle out of our most serious financial crisis ever. In addition to the much publicised ward closures, we have had to stop building programmes, equipment purchase, restrict the use of agencies, save energy, freeze management posts and many other things in order to save money. So far, although we have closed beds, clinical services have largely been spared.It is not clear yet how badly off financially we will be next year. Indications are that we will start the year with a deficit of at least £1 million despite all our efforts this year, and maybe as high as £2 million.Managers alone cannot solve the problem, nor is the Government going to change its policies on Health Service funding overnight. If we are to continue developing services, and avoid painful closures, everyone must help. Use up old stocks rather than ordering new; save paper in case notes and in communications, save energy by turning off lights and heaters. Above all, think about the cost of what you do. The simplest of tasks involving machines or other equipment has a cost to it. If everybody helps, jobs and services will be more secure.

That is the reality of the new year message to the staff of Bradford health authority.

I urge the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) to consider a number of positive suggestions that I should like to put to her. They are ways in which the Government could make a direct contribution to relieving the financial pressures of Bradford health authority and which would remove entirely the need for the cuts package this year and the threatened cuts package next year.

First, I understand that the pay award report is with the Prime Minister. I urge the Prime Minister and the Minister to understand that if the pay award is fully funded it will give Bradford an extra £660,000 this year. I hope that the pay recommendations will be accepted in full. A total of 500 staff have been made redundant from Bradford health authority in recent years. In fact, staff morale is so low that a working party has been looking into the reasons for that low morale for some time. In 1987 a report from that working party said: The Authority's Working Party on Staff Morale has at several meetings discussed a concern that low pay is contributing to the low morale of certain groups of employees in the Health Service. That is no surprise because the working party also discussed the pay levels of ASC groups 1 and 2, Clerical Officers and Nursing Auxiliaries. It said: For each of these groups average gross earnings were below the EEC low pay figure' of £116 per week. The conclusion of that working party in its report was the following: The Authority records its concern about continuing levels of low pay for various pay groups in the NHS, which are felt to contribute to problems of staff morale within the Service, and to difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff.

I say to the Prime Minister and to the hon. Lady who will reply tonight that, if it is seen to be necessary for the Government to give substantial pay increases to judges, the police, the military and others whom they wish to recruit, retain and motivate, it is similarly vital that all those who work in the Health Service should be treated in the same considerate and generous fashion.

The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South is very free with her advice. Most of it is met with derision by my constituents. If she really wants to stop people, especially young people, smoking and drinking alcohol, why does she not ban tobacco firms and brewers from advertising their products in sponsoring sporting events? If she really wants to stop taxpayers' money being wasted in the National Health Service, why does she not bring the drugs industry into public ownership?

If the hon. Lady wants to give the Bradford health authority extra money, why does she not exempt the authority from rates, which would give it an extra £1 million this year? I understand that private nursing homes are exempt from rates. Why then is the National Health Service liable to rates? I also suggest, since we shall be debating the poll tax next week, that the NHS should be exempt from the poll tax.

Why are not the Bradford and other NHS authorities throughout the country exempt from water and sewerage charges, which also represent a substantial burden on those authorities at the present time?

Why can the Government not provide extra funding for maternity, family planning, cytology, and community nursing services and a new, urgently needed consultant rheumatologist to deal with the young disabled?

This week's social security cuts add enormously to the poverty in Bradford and will intensify ill-health. Only this week, I was told about a young widow with five children who, as she is in receipt of widowed mother's allowance, is not eligible for free school meals. She will now have to pay an extra £15 a week for the school meals which her five children take each day. There are 9,500 children in Bradford who will lose the right to free school meals as of this week.

Credit must go to the Labour-controlled Bradford council, which has sought to relieve some of the hardship that the cuts in social security will bring many men, women and children in our city by supplying school milk, which the Government stop them supplying free, at 1p a day, so that it can continue to be given to children under the age of nine at school. The council has also cut the price of school meals to help those who are losing out under the social security cuts.

There is no way that the charities of Bradford or of the rest of the country can replace the DHSS payments that used to be made for all sorts of urgent necessities to very poor people. It is indeed sad that we are this week taking a step back in history into poor relief, with deserving and undeserving poor.

Pensioners resent being told by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South that they should sell their homes so that they can go private. She has conveniently overlooked the fact that, if they sold their houses and acquired more than £6,000 in the process, they would, as a result of her Government's social security changes of this week, lose all rights to benefit.

Many of my constituents do not have one holiday a year, let alone two, and certainly could not provide themselves with sufficient funds to go into private health care by giving up a second holiday. If they have a front room to decorate, certainly forgoing the decoration of that room would not provide them with the funds necessary to go into private health care. The Government need to understand that the people of Bradford depend on the National Health Service. They want more to be spent on improving and expanding the service and on preventive medicine. Bradford's NHS needs extra money which could easily be provided if the Government had the political will, understanding and compassion to do it.

I hope that this short debate will add to the pressures which are being put on the Government by every community for a change of political will and policy. We know that the money is available and that there is no need for cuts in the NHS in Bradford or anywhere else. I look forward, as do the vast majority of my constituents, to a change of policy, more understanding and more compassion from the Government for the real needs of people in Bradford and throughout the country.