NHS Workforce and Service Development

Part of Opposition Day — [18th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 4:05 pm on 11th October 2006.

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Photo of Bob Blizzard Bob Blizzard PPS (Rt Hon Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State), Department for Transport, PPS (Rt Hon Douglas Alexander, Secretary of State), Scotland Office 4:05 pm, 11th October 2006

No. I have taken two interventions and I get no more extra time.

The purpose of my telling the House about the hospital is that the James Paget hospital shows that a well run NHS hospital can operate within the finances available to it, meet all its targets and deliver quality services without any deficits.

I do not have time to go into so much detail on primary care and community services, but suffice it to say that Waveney primary care trust set out its own "care closer to home" approach before the Government paper, so we see an important role for our community hospitals. The Lowestoft hospital, which faced closure, has had a major overhaul with massive investment, and I welcome the Government's announcement of £700 million more across the country and hope that some of it will come our way.

Many of my constituents in the western part of the area are served by All Hallows hospital. It belongs to a charitable trust and has provided services for many years for elderly NHS patients in my constituency and in south Norfolk. A problem arises, however, when two neighbouring trusts do not move in the same direction, and we have such a problem at the moment with South Norfolk PCT, which is talking about reducing the number of contracts. If it does that, there will be a knock-on effect in my constituency, where the local trust wants to go in another direction, so I hope that we will see greater co-ordination. With practice-based commissioning, I know that local people will want to choose that hospital and that GPs will want to send them there, so with that type of commissioning and the new payments system, we hope we have a future.

As I said, the best thing to happen to primary care in my constituency was the formation again in the recent reconfiguration of a Great Yarmouth and Waveney PCT. That organisation can focus on commissioning the health services that are right for our local area based on local need, working closely with local GPs to serve local people, maintaining that relationship with the local hospital, and getting the funding appropriate to our needs. In mental health, we have brand-new facilities for in-patients. The ambulance service has turned itself around completely, as I said, and I expect it to get a good rating from the Healthcare Commission tomorrow.

What has made the difference since 1997? Obviously, the increased funding, which the Conservatives opposed, has made a great deal of difference, but the other element that has made a difference is targets. The Opposition criticise targets, but if life was so good without targets, why was the NHS such a mess in 1997? I admire medical professionals; I work closely with them and I know that they are dedicated, but they need co-ordination and direction. I do not think that we can simply leave them alone to get on with it.

That raises the question: what is the role of politicians in the NHS? I attended a meeting in Manchester where a gentleman from the British Medical Association kept referring to politicians "meddling" in the NHS. Well, my constituents expect me to meddle in the NHS—they elected me to meddle in the NHS. Every month some of them write to me asking me to meddle in the NHS, and the people who ask me to meddle the most are BMA members—local doctors. They ask me to lobby Ministers to get things done, and sometimes—quite regularly, in fact—it works. If politicians do not involve themselves in that way, people will ask what is the point of voting for them and turnout will fall even lower.

I do not want to hand over the NHS to an independent board. I do not believe that it would be independent or be seen to be independent. Politicians would still get the blame for things that go wrong, but they would have no power to deal with them. I wonder what an independent board would become under the Conservatives. I worry that it would float away in the direction of charges, self-pay, patients' passports, vouchers and all the other principles that we have often heard stated by Conservative Members.

I think that the NHS is safest in politicians' hands because the British people, who cherish the NHS, will punish those politicians who do not look after it, as they did the Conservatives in 1997. Politicians know that. That is why we are committed to the NHS and why the Conservatives just pretend to be. The Conservatives and their newspapers are trying to present a picture of an NHS that is falling apart, but the NHS Confederation has just published a report, "Lost in translation", which points out that when people who have been in hospital are asked about the experience, they say that they had good treatment. Some of them think they were lucky, but they were not lucky; they just voted Labour three times and they now have a Labour NHS.