Hospital Service

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 4:23 pm on 16th January 1991.

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Photo of Robin Cook Robin Cook , Livingston 4:23 pm, 16th January 1991

I am afraid that 1 must decline my hon. Friend's invitation to move the motion formally.

I beg to move, That this House expresses concern at the effect on patient care of the closure of 4,000 hospital beds since the start of the financial year; records its alarm at the growing number of hospitals that have been forced by financial pressures to cancel admissions from their waiting lists for the remainder of the financial year; notes that health authorities have been compelled to take this unprecedented step because of Her Majesty's Government's damaging changes to the National Health Service which prevent them carrying forward a deficit; regrets the decision of the Government to impose self-governing trusts on 56 hospitals and other units despite the evidence provided by the consultation period of overwhelming opposition by public and by health staff, and deplores their decision not to submit this decision to debate in the House; and calls upon the Government to increase cash limits for the current year to enable hospitals to resume a full service to the public. It is almost exactly a year since the House debated the national health service in the first Opposition day debate following the Christmas and new year break. In that debate, the then Secretary of State for Health gave the following ringing promise to the House: The winter of next year will not be dominated by cancelled operations, closed wards and cuts in services".— [Official Report, 11 January 1990; Vol. 164, c. 1123.] At the time, I did not believe the right hon. and learned Gentleman and now I know I was right not to believe him. We meet this January in a winter during which more wards have been closed and more operations cancelled than last year or in any previous year.

Of course, we now have a new Secretary of State for Health and he comes to the job with clean hands. He is free, if he wishes, to criticise the mess that he has inherited from his predecessor, although he might be unwise to do that in this forum.

In trying to establish common ground on which we can build in the debate, I hope that the new Secretary of State will at least acknowledge that the position is now unique. Never before have dozens of hospitals in the health service been obliged to close their doors to patients on their waiting lists because the money has run out. That situation is without precedent in the 40 years of the NHS.

The nearest hospital to this place is Westminster hospital. In the second week of October, it closed its doors to all patients on its waiting list. Even now it is admitting fewer than half the patients for routine surgery that it would normally admit.

Westminster hospital is a teaching hospital and we depend on it to train and teach the next generation of doctors. In December 1 sat down with some of the medical students attached to Westminster hospital for six months and they told me that they were spending their six months without the experience of the routine surgery for which they had come there.

The financial crisis does not just affect the teaching hospitals or London. Morpeth cottage hospital occupies a different position in the spectrum of NHS provision. I do not want to offend my hon. Friends from the north-east by suggesting that that cottage hospital occupies the opposite end of the spectrum of provision in relation to Westminster hospital, but it occupies a different part.

Morpeth cottage hospital and Westminster hospital are linked by a common financial crisis. On 21 December, Morpeth cottage hospital closed a surgical ward and an operating theatre for the Christmas break. What makes the Christmas break unusual is that on this occasion neither the ward nor the operating theatre will open again until 1 April when we reach the new financial year.

Last summer the No Turning Back group created something of a political stand by producing its manifesto for a fourth term of Conservative Government. Part of the electrifying notions in that manifesto related to the proposal that the NHS should be an emergency service only and that there should be compulsory private insurance for other routine, non-emergency operations. Right hon. and hon. Members on the Treasury Bench, with the exception of the Minister of State, Scottish Office, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), who is sitting there, ran to distance themselves from those proposals. I recall the former Secretary of State for Health stating clearly that he did not accept that as a vision for the health service. Only six months later the new Secretary of State presides over a health service which in many parts of England is an emergency service only and in which no routine operations are available.