Debate on the Address — [First Day]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:45 pm on 13th November 2002.

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Photo of Ann Cryer Ann Cryer Labour, Keighley 9:45 pm, 13th November 2002

I am much obliged to Mr. Amess for being brief—I am sure that he could have spoken for another hour. I shall try hard not to be macho, assertive or aggressive, but I shall be brief of necessity.

I really enjoyed the contribution of my hon. Friend Ms King, which was lively, entertaining and everything that speeches in the House often are not: perhaps—dare I say it?—that was partly to do with the fact that she is a woman. My hon. Friend was elected on the same day as me and the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend Ms Winterton and the Under-Secretary of State for International Development who has just left the Chamber. We were among the 101 women Labour MPs elected five and a half years ago. None of the other parties has come anywhere near to achieving such electoral success for women, and I take great pride in the Labour party's achievement.

As I am short of time, I shall concentrate on the three paragraphs in the Gracious Speech that deal with the health service. The sentence that refers to

Xhealthcare based on the founding principles of the National Health Service" warms my heart. I cannot think of a better example than a tiny hospital in my constituency, Ilkley Coronation hospital. If anyone knows Ilkley, they will realise that it is hardly a Labour heartland—I do not get many votes there, but it is my priority to keep that small hospital open. It provides excellent services, including physiotherapy, a dietician, an X-ray department, family planning—much appreciated by young ladies from the centre of my Keighley constituency—and day care. It used to have a minor injuries unit, but, in anticipation of wider closure, it has been closed by Airedale NHS trust. We expect the whole hospital to be closed, but that decision will be for the primary care trust. Until then, there will be a consultation period, and I shall campaign to keep the hospital open, as it is a basic ingredient of what the NHS should be. I know that there are other important health issues, to which I shall turn shortly, but it is a gem of a hospital, and I shall come down next Tuesday with the chair of Ilkley parish council to see the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend Jacqui Smith to try to persuade her to help me to keep the hospital open for the people of Ilkley.

The hospital was purchased with public subscriptions from the people of Ilkley and built about 100 years ago. I visited it a few months ago. It is not at all seedy—it is a good little hospital providing an excellent service. I am not going to be dogmatic. If someone says that they can provide all those services at the Springs medical centre virtually next door, I shall be quite happy.

The Gracious Speech also mentions giving

Xgreater freedom to successful hospitals".

I am not certain what that refers to, but no doubt it has something to do with giving greater freedom to good, successful and probably acute hospitals.

Airedale general hospital is also in my constituency. It is the biggest employer in my constituency, so it is extremely important to me and my constituents. It provides a range of services not only to my constituents, but to people who live as far north in the dales as Bentham, towards Clapham, past Settle and in the other direction, in the constituency of the Under-Secretary of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, my hon. Friend Mr. Leslie, as far down as Bingley. The hospital is therefore very well used, and I intend to keep it that way. I do not want anything else to be hived off from it and put into one of the mega-hospitals that seem to be growing in city centres, although I appreciate the facilities that they provide.

A few weeks ago, I opened a new pathology department at Airedale general hospital. It was a real pleasure for me to be there and see the work going on. Today I wanted to highlight the work of that pathology department. Too often, we see the glamorous side of our health service—the surgeons and the big hospitals—but we do not know much about the background work that goes on. I suppose it is the equivalent of the background work that goes on in Select Committees in this place, with the surgeons as the equivalent of the Members who make the big speeches in the Chamber, and even Ministers.

I pay tribute to the work of the pathology department. Various bits of me have gone through it at various times, and I very much appreciated its findings. I will not say that it was lifesaving, but it undoubtedly improved the quality of my life from time to time. I recognise the need for regional centres of excellence, such as the one that we have in Leeds that is part of the Leeds teaching hospitals trust, which is made up of Leeds general infirmary and St. James's hospital.

In the Chamber we do not often speak of our personal experiences, but perhaps we should do so more often. Instead of speaking about myself as a constituency MP and my constituents, I shall touch on the fact that my partner, John, has been struggling with cancer for 15 months now. Two weeks ago—I hope that none of the hon. Members present is too squeamish—he had a liver resection in St. James's. He was diagnosed with that fifth cancer only two weeks before he had his operation, so, yes, there are waiting lists in the health service, but when someone's back is to the wall and he has a cancer in the liver that needs to be removed quickly, it happens. It happened with John, and I can assure the House that it had nothing to do with my position as a Member of Parliament. I am sure that Mr. Lodge, the surgeon, did not know who I was when we went to see him the first time, although he may do so now. It was excellent for us that, within two weeks, John was in St. James's and having the operation.

That was terrific, but we must watch out for too much of the health service gravitating towards city centre hospitals. As I said, I recognise that John had specialist surgery, which clearly cannot be provided in every cottage hospital throughout the country. Specialist services must therefore be provided in city centres, but I warn against too much movement. I want Airedale general hospital in my constituency not just to survive, but to prosper. It is in an attractive part of the Aire valley. If we start to siphon off services from there to the Bradford hospitals or the Leeds hospitals it will endanger my wonderful Airedale general hospital. I do not want that.

Airedale hospital has a great advantage over city centre hospitals, in that nurses, doctors and ancillary staff there can work within a short journey of their home, and that home will be reasonably priced and in a beautiful area of the Aire valley. That means that Airedale has no trouble whatever in recruitment. If we start moving more and more towards city centres, we may start having greater problems with recruitment because people do not want to commute great distances and may not want to live in city centres, although I recognise that Leeds is a wonderful city, which I appreciate.

The Queen's Speech states:

XA Bill will also be introduced to help ensure that local authorities support older people awaiting discharge from hospital."

That is not just about bed blocking; it is also about the quality of life for those who have had surgery in an acute hospital such as St James's. I do not want to knock St James's, but it was built on a small site and it has grown and grown. Ward 63 was where my partner John was with two other men; it is a small room with a window about 1 m by 1 m that overlooks a brick wall. Recovering from a third operation for cancer is about not just one's physical state, but one's mental capacity to recover. The worst part of cancer surgery is the depression that can set in because it is such a difficult period, so it is important not to become depressed.

I really appreciate what was done in St James's. Ten years ago John would have died because we did not have the advantage of MRI scans or lasers, and liver operations could not have been performed. Therefore, I appreciate what has been done, but hospitals are more than operating theatres; they are also places where people recover, so their spirit needs to be uplifted. A wonderful tonic for John would have been a window through which he could see a bit of sky, not just a brick wall. There is not much that can be done about that. For historic reasons, St James's has developed on its present site, which is too small and congested and restricted by factors such as traffic. But health service planners should pay more attention to locations so that there is room for improvement and expansion without putting patients into a ward where they can see nothing.

We need to consider the future of the health service. I am proud of the health service, particularly in my area, but hospitals cannot develop and grow on one small site. We must be aware of the need for a little space. From Airedale general hospital there are wonderful views across the Aire valley. Patients recovering from major surgery would be helped by having a good view across such a valley.

I am proud of the health service, but it could be better. I do not say that small is beautiful because that is not always the case, but there is room in our health service for tiny hospitals such as the Coronation hospital in Ilkley, medium-sized hospitals such as Airedale hospital in the Aire valley, and for huge hospitals such as Jimmy's in Leeds. Let us concentrate on all those areas of the health service. They can all be improved on. Within the health service, we should be able to have a good quality of service in all those three different types of hospitals.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Ainger.]

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.