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NHS Workforce and Service Development

Part of Opposition Day — [18th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 3:48 pm on 11th October 2006.

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Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Labour, Dudley North 3:48 pm, 11th October 2006

The reality for the whole of the country is that no one now waits longer than six months for an operation, down from 284,000 when we came to power. Ninety-nine per cent. of cancer patients are seen by a specialist within two weeks. Almost 99 per cent. of people with cancer are treated within 31 days of diagnosis, and 19 in 20 patients are seen, treated and discharged from accident and emergency departments within four hours.

Those things did not happen by chance; they happened because we set targets to achieve them. Eradicating targets, as the Opposition propose, may sound alluring, but can they imagine a patient turning up at BUPA—as they probably do—and saying, "I'll pay the charges and sign the contract but I don't care when you treat me, just do it in your own time. I don't want targets, I'm not that bothered"? Of course not.

It is not possible to say that everything is perfect in every case in the modern NHS, but no one prepared to look at the issues dispassionately can fail to deny that the NHS has been transformed. Come to Dudley and a brand new, £160 million hospital can be seen with more doctors, more nurses and more other staff treating more patients more quickly than ever before. There are new community facilities treating patients in their own homes in ways that could not have been dreamed of just a few years ago. That is not to deny that there are issues in Dudley. We have problems with car parking charges and we have a shortage of chiropodists—I hope that the Minister will help on that—but the new facilities and low waiting lists in Dudley show the improvements that extra spending and modern ways of working can bring to the NHS.

One does not have to accept my word on all that. Let me conclude by reading a letter from my constituent, Mr. Albert Williams, a 79-year-old gentleman suffering from two terminal illnesses. He wrote to the Secretary of State to say that

"the new hospital, the extra nurses and doctors and the new technologies I have seen at first hand have made a huge difference to me... The care that I have received in my home is a great example of the way the health service can treat people in the community, be visited by nurses, enabling them to live at home and free up hospital beds for other patients. Send people who spend their whole time complaining about our health service to talk to me. I can remember what people had to rely on before the NHS existed to treat people regardless of their income or ability to pay. It is our country's greatest invention and you", he wrote to the Secretary of State,

"should be proud of the work your government is doing to strengthen it for the future."

That, Madam Deputy Speaker, is the truth about the modern NHS that the Government are building.