At the beginning of the debate, the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) referred with approbation to many quotations about the so-called "crisis in the health service." He gave a further quote, that it was "close to collapse", and said that it was in the "worst position for many years".
Other press cuttings assert:
Crisis has become an uncomfortable way of life for the health service".
They even assert that the "NHS faces collapse". The Times asserts:
Patients are suffering and the wait for an appointment is lengthening into months, and even years".
Those are serious charges. Those phrases are almost identical to the phrases used by the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. The difference is that those press comments were made in 1975, not in 1995 and 1996. The same sort of comments as the hon. Gentleman made and the same sort of quotations as he used were made in 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1978 under the last Labour Government. In 1975, the Labour Government had to bring in an outsider, Lord Goodman, to sort out the mess in the NHS.
My first point—I make it with some humility—is that a certain amount of care is necessary when talking about the state of the health service. Anyone who seriously believes that the election of a Labour Government would transform the health service's internal morale is not only deceiving himself, but arguing against all historical evidence. In the past 50 years, disputes in the NHS have been entirely politically neutral. If—God forbid—there were to be a Labour Government, that would not mean an end to disputes in the health service. No hon. Member seriously believes that. If they do, they should not be Members. The British Medical Association and the health unions would continue their attacks and continue to press for more resources.
Let us try, therefore, to get away from dangerous nonsense that the NHS in some way faces collapse. It is not true of the NHS today any more, frankly, than it was in 1975. In the past 17 years, there has been a successful development of the NHS. No one would claim for a moment that there have not been problems, but the development has continued.