One of our greatest human failings is our lack of memory. I fear that today and in the weeks ahead the Conservatives will try to play on that by hoping that people will forget what the national health service was like in 1997. I would like to remind the House of what it was like in my area. Like everywhere else, we had long waits for elective treatment—18 months was the norm and, as we have heard, it could have been anything up to two years. The biggest change in the health service over the past 10 years is shown by the fact that nobody in my constituency now waits more than six months.
Going to accident and emergency in 1997 was really unpleasant. One could expect a long wait in crowded conditions in an environment that was miserable rather than comfortable. The second biggest change that we have seen is that today one can go to a completely modernised accident and emergency unit that is not crowded and one can be treated in under four hours. My hospital achieves that for 98 per cent. of patients.
They were chaotic times back then. The first national trust to go out of business was in my area. The Anglian Harbours NHS Trust, a community services trust, did not just have a deficit, but crashed and went out of business. Local NHS managers had to pick up the mess. Lowestoft community hospital was threatened with closure and, yes, we marched up and down the streets to save it, and we managed to under this Labour Government.
Mental health care was a complete failure in my area, with appalling Victorian and inconvenient in-patient facilities. Community mental health services were thin on the ground so that when I and my hon. Friend Mr. Wright were elected, we decided to march off to the Secretary of State to get something done. Thankfully, the regional health authority accepted our case and put matters right.