Women's Health

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:20 pm on 10th June 1988.

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Photo of Mr John Hughes Mr John Hughes , Coventry North East 1:20 pm, 10th June 1988

I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution and I hope that the Minister will note it.

The differential is also to be found in other groupings. Although there has been a fall in all-cause death rates in Britain, the improvements in health have not been experienced equally by all sections of the population. Non-manual groups have experienced a much greater decline in death rates than manual groups. Thus, the gap between the two groups has widened. Futhermore, the number of deaths from coronary heart disease and lung cancer has increased alarmingly in the manual groups, whereas there has been a substantial decline in the number of such deaths in non-manual groups. There is also a widening gap between rates of chronic sickness in the manual and non-manual groups.

In our society of abundant poverty, those are the inequalities of health that apply to the deprived areas of Coventry, such as Willenhall, Stoke Aldermoor, Wood End and Foleshill, which have higher mortality rates and more ill health than other areas. The provision of health care, which comes under the jurisdiction of Lady Butterworth, the chairperson of the Coventry family practitioner committee, fails to take that background into consideration. Instead, Lady Butterworth allocates the same number of deputising calls to each practice in Coventry. She makes no allowance for social class or the health status of the patients in a practice. In the process, she exacerbates the inequalities of health, to the detriment of young mothers with children and old women who require practitioner services.

During her period in office, Lady Butterworth has refused permanently to allocate an extra allowance for the deputising service to practices located in the areas that I have mentioned. That leaves doctors with two choices: they can dispense more prescriptions, which would result in a worsening service for women in deprived areas at even higher cost to the taxpayer, or they can caringly and humanely respond to calls above their allocation and find themselves subjected to the most detailed investigation. The doctors in one practice had to explain their actions over a period of 365 days.

With iron-fisted rigidity, Lady Butterworth applies the most draconian measures when a little understanding and a small amount of extra allowance—the cost of which would be far less than the cost of extra prescriptions—would result in better care for women. She refuses to recognise that women suffer from major illnesses and require visits from the doctor more frequently outside normal hours than is provided for in the average allowance. In women's interests, she is obliged to ensure that such visits are available. In other parts of the country such miserly allocation has led to general practitioners who realise that they cannot win applying to opt out of night and weekend work and to forgo the related fees. That is to the detriment of women and I am determined that that will not happen in Coventry.

I feel that it would be in the interests of the well-being of women patients in Coventry if a new chairperson were appointed to the Coventry family practitioner committee, as the present chair has failed to fulfil her duties in many ways. She has allowed money obtained by fraud, which should have been used for the well-being of women in the deprived areas of Coventry, to be retained by a practitioner. She has allowed a single-practice doctor, who claimed a partnership allowance, attracting a higher payment entitlement, fraudulently to retain £42,000, and so failed to imitate the exemplary chairmanship of her predecessor, who recovered £19,000 in similar circumstances. Fraud appears to be condoned when a chairperson of the FPC refuses to carry out the instructions of the committee by suggesting that the matter be buried and when no attempt is made to recover the money. The case was covered up and the police were not informed.

This culpable default of duty also applies in the case where a GP is allowed to retain a fortnight's income when that GP, against the interests of his women patients and in complete breach of his contract, disappeared for two weeks' holiday.

The circumstances in Coventry require immediate investigation. The present term of office of the chairperson should be instantly teminated if the chair has not the grace to resign in the meantime.

The attitude that prevailed impaired even my representations when I sought the assistance of the Minister because of the failure of the FPC to provide adequate and stable care for one of my chronically sick constituents, who had been shunted from doctor to doctor after being placed for only the minimum period. I am certain that that is only the tip of the iceberg and that many more patients are being subjected to a process that is a contradiction of the ethos of the Hippocratic oath.

The circumstances in Coventry, to which I have drawn the attention of the House, are not unique—I am sure that they exist elsewhere. In the interests of women patients, there should be a committee of inquiry into the whole process of the FPC service so that we can eliminate the malpractice that has occurred in Coventry. In the interests of my constituents, I shall resubmit to the Minister the names of Coventry patients who are currently experiencing serious problems under the FPC service. I hope that that will enable her to resolve the problems with some urgency during her ministerial investigation.