Acute Hospital Services

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 2:36 pm on 21st February 2007.

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Photo of Patricia Hewitt Patricia Hewitt Secretary of State, Department of Health 2:36 pm, 21st February 2007

I certainly can. Given the state of the NHS that we inherited from the Conservatives 10 years ago, we desperately needed more capacity—both beds and staff—which we delivered, thanks to the record investment that we made and the Conservatives opposed. We are now seeing a reduction in the number of acute beds as a direct result of modern medicine and more day-case surgery in particular, and a continuing increase in the number of critical-care and intermediate-care beds where those are needed.

The Conservatives constantly accuse us of closing hospitals. That, too, is absolute rubbish. More than 150 acute hospitals have been refurbished or rebuilt, or are on the way. Hospitals are working differently, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend Meg Hillier. They are doing what only hospitals can do. Health services are provided as close to home as possible, but are provided in hospital where necessary.

Waiting lists are at their lowest ever in the NHS. Almost no patient waits for more than six months for operations such as hip replacements for which people used to wait over a year, sometimes up to two years, under the Conservatives. But now the NHS is doing even more. Earlier this week my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced that 13 hospital trusts expected to be able to guarantee most of their patients a maximum wait of just 18 weeks from GP referral to hospital operation—far less, in the majority of cases—and to achieve that by the end of the year, a year earlier than the goal that we set. That is an enormous achievement, and I congratulate all the staff involved. However, as the medical director at King's College hospital told my right hon. Friend and me on Monday, the NHS cannot get rid of waiting lists by doing things in the same old way; it can do that only by transforming the way in which hospitals, local GPs and other services work.

Bolton, for instance, has provided a clinical assessment and treatment centre where patients who would formerly have waited to see the orthopaedic consultant at a hospital are now referred to a community team. An orthopaedic consultant in the community, one of the first consultant physiotherapists in the country and other staff are all working together, treating patients who do not need surgery. Those patients—about 70 per cent. of the total—are given physiotherapy, or other treatments that they may need, much faster; meanwhile, hospital consultants can concentrate on the patients with the most serious problems, and spend more time on surgery. As a result, waiting times both for patients who need physiotherapy or other community treatment and for those who need in-patient care have been cut from months to weeks. That too is an enormous achievement. It means that the right care is being given to patients by the right professionals in the right place. That is the kind of reconfiguration that we need throughout the country.