Tomorrow night we shall be debating Third Reading of the Health Authorities Bill. That Bill offered the Government the opportunity to set up a strategic health authority for London, which would have gone a great way to help to resolve the crisis in London's health care. Such an authority could have monitored health care throughout London, co-ordinated activity and avoided the duplication of services to which the Secretary of State referred. It could have targeted resources and developed a coherent health strategy for the capital, which would have benefited the people of London. The Government lost that golden opportunity because they do not listen, not only to the Opposition, but to the people of London.
It was interesting to hear the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) say that people did not come to her with health care problems. In the past year, more than 60 people have come to my surgeries to complain about aspects of London's health service. If that were duplicated throughout every London constituency, it would add up to about 60,000 people with complaints about what is happening to them and to the health service. It might be useful for the Minister, and through him the Secretary of State, to hear a few examples.
A Miss Beirne was admitted to Lewisham hospital in May 1994 for two hip replacement operations and was given a blood transfusion on admission, in preparation for surgery. Her operation was due to take place within a week or two. Six weeks later, she was still in hospital and had not had an operation. She spent more than eight weeks in hospital for an operation that should have taken no more than two. The hospital said that it was a painful decision when the surgeon had to choose on which cases to operate.
Mrs. Jean Anderson, a 78-year-old pensioner, suffered a fall in her home and fractured her leg. She was released into the care of her frail 80-year-old husband. No attempt was made to give her any form of care or back-up such as a home help. Thirteen days passed without any contact from medical services in the form of aftercare or otherwise. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson were left to fend for themselves and, not surprisingly, Mrs. Anderson's health deteriorated dramatically. Her son contacted Lewisham social services, which offered assistance and, finally, visits from a community physiotherapist and a district nurse were arranged, but she collapsed and died at home less than 24 hours later.
In a letter to me from the community health council, the acting chief officer said:
Her chances of surviving would have been increased immeasurably if she had been receiving social, medical, nursing and physiotherapy support.
She received none of those.
I mention that case because the Health Secretary suggested that there was sufficient aftercare and enough beds for elderly patients. The "London Monitor", published by the King's Fund, states that there is a severe shortage of residential beds for the care of elderly people, which is not compensated for by the greater than average number of hospital beds in the capital. London has 5 per cent. more hospital beds for acute and elderly care, but 30 per cent. fewer residential care beds for the elderly. The chief executive of the King's Fund said:
The complexities of the health care system in London require a high degree of co-ordination if change is to be achieved without paying a very high price in human terms.
It is not only patients, or even nurses, who come to my surgeries to talk about the state of the national health service. Two weeks ago, a consultant neurosurgeon sat in the waiting room of my surgery for more than an hour because he wanted to talk to me about the state of the health service in his hospital. It comes to something when a consultant neurosurgeon has to queue up to see his Member of Parliament to explain the sorry state that the health service has reached in London. He said that the internal market was falling considerably short of being a "free market" because of the substantial financial distortions. He told me about the interminable forms that he must fill in whenever he wants to refer a patient. He now employs two secretaries when previously he had none. He told me that competition in health care has resulted in such problems that the free exchange of information has all but disappeared, which is having a negative effect on patients. He also said that the NHS
collects the most user-friendly, rather than the most accurate, statistics. One of his colleagues logged 36 appointments for eight patients. For statistical purposes, that was deemed to be 36 patient episodes and, therefore, 36 patients.
I am a great fan of "Coronation Street" and I try to watch episodes whenever I can. I do not expect, and nor do my constituents in east Lewisham or Londoners, expect to be considered as episodes like a soap opera. It is a contemptible device, by which the Secretary of State can pretend that the health service is treating more people when it is not.
I hope that the Secretary of State will listen to the Opposition, to patients in London, to nurses, to neurosurgeons and to the other staff of London hospitals. If she cannot listen to them, perhaps she will listen to the editorial of the Evening Standard today which says:
Of course there are national problems with the NHS reforms; in London however these are aggravated by dogmatic hostility to the teaching hospitals, chronic underfunding and a profound inability to appreciate the scale of problems unique to a capital city. There is no room for complacency. This is an urgent situation which calls for acknowledgment and amendment from Government.
Let the Secretary of State for Health listen for once, not merely to us, but to the people of London and to London's newspaper, which held such a wonderful conference at the weekend. It explains today exactly why this debate is taking place—because of the crisis in health care in London.