NHS Modernisation

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 15th March 1999.

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Photo of Frank Dobson Frank Dobson The Secretary of State for Health 3:30 pm, 15th March 1999

I shall try to answer as many of the right hon. Lady's questions as I can. She was a trifle inconsistent in her opening remarks, claiming that the matters that I was disclosing today had been disclosed earlier on television and radio and then saying that I had not said anything new. All the money is new money for the national health service because the Treasury funds had previously not been earmarked for the health service. They have now been earmarked. The £100 million from the lottery—to which the right hon. Lady made no reference, unless my ears were deceiving me—is certainly new money for the NHS and will be welcomed by all concerned.

The modernisation fund has many aspects. I announced that part of the nurses' pay award would be funded from the modernisation fund. That is not something that some Tory sleuth managed to spot. I drew attention to the issue myself because we had made prudent allowance for the fact that we needed extra money to pay the nurses to catch up with the pay that they lost during all the years that the Tories were in office.

The right hon. Lady talked about problems with radiographers. Radiographers cannot be trained in 10 minutes; they do not grow on trees. If there is a shortage of radiographers now, it is because they were not trained at any time during the 18 years that the Tories were running down the national health service.

The right hon. Lady appears to think that there is something wrong with wanting every accident and emergency hospital to have an admissions ward. If she wants to quarrel with that, she should talk to all the accident and emergency specialists and to the Royal College of Physicians, whose proposals we are putting into practice. The Tories did not get on with them as quickly as they should have done.

The right hon. Lady referred to the Norfolk and Norwich hospital. It is certainly true that because so many people in the area died, the hospital did not have enough space in its mortuary to keep bodies. It had to do something to cope, and just because some ignorant hysterical newspapers decided that that indicated that something was wrong with the NHS, the right hon. Lady should not go along with it. One of the problems was that private sector undertakers were not burying or cremating people as quickly as they should have been, so the numbers built up.

The right hon. Lady referred to the work carried out in Portsmouth, which cost just over £1 million. Some of the schemes that I have announced today will cost as much, but many will cost much less. We are bringing all the A and E departments up to the necessary standard, in line with what local people want.

The right hon. Lady referred to NHS Direct, which has been a dramatic success story. If the professionals in any locality want the scope of NHS Direct to be extended to involve them more, we are willing to accept that, provided that we are convinced that the local NHS Direct can cope. No Government or Opposition should try to stand in the way of that; nor should any national representative body wish to stand in the way of developments requested by local professionals.

On the point about national or local call centres, my view is that we do not want a national call centre, but a limited number of local, or sub-regional, call centres so that people have a sense of ownership of that part of their local NHS.

I return to the point that the right hon. Lady managed to skirt around—that, as a result of my announcements today, more than £100 million will go into modernising A and E departments, and that £100 million from the national lottery will go into improving the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. I thought that she might have got around to welcoming that.