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

No doubt the hon. Lady's constituents will be delighted that she is satisfied with the state of the health service that serves them. I have to say to her that the figures tell another story. In the whole year, including the winter, of 1987–88, a total of 3,500 beds were closed because of financial pressure. Already in the financial year 1991 over 4,000 beds have been closed because of financial pressure.

As the whole House will know, it is a cruel irony of history that during one of the deepest crises in the hospital service the national health service may be called upon to make the greatest effort to cope with the casualties of the crisis in the Gulf. The Secretary of State has given a guarantee, as have other Ministers, that the NHS will cope with all the casualties of the Gulf and with all emergency cases from the civilian population. Of course, it will not be the Secretary of State who will be called upon to honour that commitment. The people who will have to deliver on his guarantee will be the doctors and nurses who staff our accident and emergency units—the nurses who tend patients who may wait for hours on trolleys for beds and the registrars who spend those hours ringing round perhaps 20 hospitals looking for beds. I have no doubt that those nurses and doctors will move mountains to deliver the guarantee given by the Secretary of State.

But neither the Secretary of State nor the House has the right to require that effort of our health staff if we simply respond to the Gulf crisis by taking out of the present number of wards 7,000 beds which the military says that it might need. The Secretary of State must assure us—I hope that he will take the opportunity of this debate to do so —that as many as possible of those 7,000 beds will be provided by bringing back into service some of the 10,000 beds that have been taken out of service during the past three years.