National Health Service

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 6:52 pm on 24th January 1996.

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Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Opposition Whip (Commons) 6:52 pm, 24th January 1996

I begin by thanking the shadow Secretary of State for Health for her excellent exposé of the state of the health services as they affect my constituents in Bootle and Merseyside. She particularly drew attention to the shortage of beds—a factor highly relevant to my part of the world.

I could not help pricking up my ears when I heard the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) refer to case studies. As she is Chair of the Select Committee on Health, I would like her to consider three case studies that I shall offer the House tonight, if the House will bear with me. I shall use them to illustrate and identify what is going on in hospital care in my part of the world. That is why I am asking the hon. Lady to take my case studies forward.

The first concerns Mrs. K. Larkin, who was diagnosed as having cancer and taken to Fazakerley hospital on 26 October. She was admitted at 2 pm and remained in the reception area until 8 pm without food or drink. Her daughter had to ask for a blanket to cover her up. Only after repeated requests from her family was she even given painkillers. She was later discharged and eventually died at home.

The second case relates to Mr. J. Molloy, another constituent of mine. On 16 January 1995 he was taken by ambulance to Fazakerley hospital, to which he was admitted at 1620 hours suffering from internal bleeding due to a duodenal ulcer. He was kept waiting in the reception area on a trolley for some seven hours and 10 minutes, before being transferred to a cubicle where he was later visited by a doctor, some eight and three-quarter hours after being admitted. He was then taken to a ward at 0320 hours the following morning.

The third case will take a little longer to deal with, but I should like the House to hear it. Mr. Barlow, now unfortunately deceased, was terminally ill with cancer. He was admitted to Fazakerley hospital, following a referral by Dr. Krasner, for the purpose of alleviating a restriction in his throat. He arrived at the hospital at 1.30 pm and proceeded to ward 12 as requested, where he waited for a doctor. After an hour, he asked the nurse when he would be seen and was advised that the doctor was on his way. Much later, because there was a bank holiday pending, he was advised that there was little point in his staying because he would not be seen until after the bank holiday.

Mr. Barlow arrived back after the bank holiday and was admitted to the ward at about 8 am, only to be told that no bed was available. A computer breakdown was blamed. He was given a trolley bed and placed in the store room of the hospital among boxes of syringes, dressing packs and other medical appliances and equipment. That afternoon he was taken to theatre and given a general anaesthetic. He was assured that he would be placed on a ward on his return from the theatre. Mr. Barlow came round from the anaesthetic somewhat disoriented and found himself back on a trolley bed in the same store room—aware that he still had a blockage in his throat. He could get no clear information about what had happened from nurses or ward doctors.

Those are three real cases: they actually happened. The situation in Liverpool's hospitals has been rightly described as critical. Indeed, so bad is it that my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) and for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) went with me to meet the trust. Earlier, the Secretary of State talked about referring cases to Ministers individually. All Merseyside Members have referred individual cases to the Minister, but we have had no satisfactory response: we are always referred back to the trust.

This has caused a terrible crisis of confidence throughout Merseyside. The sad fact is that the older one gets, the less confidence one feels about going anywhere near a hospital. I should be grateful if the Minister would answer today the questions that I tried to put earlier in the debate. The Secretary of State today mentioned certain parts of the country where new beds have been created. Exactly what beds have replaced those lost by the closure of Walton hospital in Liverpool? Will he also say why, when we refer individual cases to the Department of Health—contrary to what the Secretary of State said earlier—he will not deal with them as a matter of urgency, but simply refers us back to the trust, which is self-defeating and gets us absolutely nowhere?

It is clear that there is a crisis in the health service. I am not a dinosaur. I am quite prepared to listen. I know of the problems of funding, and I am prepared to look at that and to have an open mind. What I and my colleagues insist upon, however, is that we have a national health service of which we can be proud. I remember its inception when I was a young boy, and I remember the great relief that it brought to families such as mine. Instead of having to pay for doctors and services, we had the national health service. It is one of the greatest treasures that this nation has and justifies our putting the adjective "Great" in front of Britain. That is what I think of the health service. I am prepared to look at all sorts of ideas so that we eventually come up with a national health service which provides the necessary service at the point of delivery and does not mean people being stuck on trolleys for nine hours at a time in hospitals up and down the country.

Before the hon. Member for Broxbourne leaves the Chamber, I ask her to take to the Select Committee the case studies that I have given. Let us see what the Committee has to say. If any Government fail to provide a proper national health service at the point of delivery, they will bring the country down. I believe in the framework of a Christian state, and that framework means a wholesome national health service that is available to everybody.

When the Minister replies, I very much hope that he will answer the questions that were posed by my hon. Friends earlier. We are dealing with a very serious matter, and we shall be failing many people if there is any further deterioration or exacerbation of the crisis that exists in the health service.