The NHS has had too much change, which is demoralising and disruptive for both patients and staff. Some change, however, is necessary and desirable.
"Our health, our care, our say" set clear goals for the transfer of services to community settings. That is particularly welcome in a rural setting such as Staffordshire, Moorlands, where a round trip to the acute hospital can be more than 60 miles. In my primary care trust area, community matrons help people better to manage long-term conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, improving their health and quality of life as well as reducing hospital admissions. With an increasingly elderly population, falls are a huge concern and Leek Moorlands hospital now has an innovative falls programme to prevent falls and to help patients manage better after a fall. That saves lives, builds confidence and encourages independence, keeping elderly people out of hospital and living in their own homes, where they want to be.
That is not all. My local community hospital, Leek Moorlands, has a minor injuries unit which is open every day from 8 until 8, with minimal waiting times. In addition, PhysioDirect offers telephone advice and treatment, without having to see a doctor first, for the whole range of neck, joint or muscular problems. There is also the deep vein thrombosis diagnostic service, which allows 200 patients from Staffordshire, Moorlands to be diagnosed and treated locally each year. That is a huge improvement for patients who would otherwise have to travel to Stoke-on-Trent—again, a round trip of about 25 miles.
All of that was initiated by my local primary care trust, which was going to be swallowed up by a gigantic Staffordshire-wide primary care trust—a reconfiguration too far. Although the Shropshire and Staffordshire strategic health authority steadfastly refused to take on board public opinion, the expert external panel and Ministers listened and supported my local campaign and we kept a local primary care trust, which has delivered for local people. Therefore, the public consultation did work and local health bosses were forced to accept its result.
Effective consultation with patients and public is essential, not only for the reconfigurations that I have mentioned, but to ensure that redesigned services truly benefit patients. The chairman of my overview and scrutiny committee, Councillor Mahfooz Ahmad, has worked tirelessly with the local PCT to spearhead the campaign to establish a local health centre and GP surgery in Cheddleton in my constituency—a fast-growing village with about 6,000 residents and no GP. The PCT is rightly responding by carrying out its own public consultation to ensure that there is a real demand for that service. I hope that we will soon see a GP practice in that village.
With all that happening, is it surprising that there is a huge impact on acute hospital services? The number of hospital beds nationally has decreased by a third in the past 20 years. That does not mean, however, that the amount of care has decreased; on the contrary, it has increased dramatically. We must judge the NHS by the number of people it keeps well and makes better, not by the number of beds. My local acute hospital, the University hospital of North Staffordshire, has buildings spread over three sites in an area of more than 90 acres. The age of the buildings ranges from less than 10 years to more than 150. That leads to huge problems and inefficiencies as services are split and patients have to be transported between different buildings and sites during their care.
Our fit-for-the-future project will rightly create a new state-of-the-art hospital. It will have fewer beds, but that is because out-patient appointments will take place in clinics and health centres closer to people's homes, and patients will return home or to community settings more quickly when their treatment is complete. Already, the central out-patients department is cutting its service by 20 per cent. because of fewer GP referrals.
Another change that I welcome is the decision to press ahead with the new maternity and oncology building, with the £65 million being funded from the Department of Health, rather than the private finance initiative. That will be completed in 2009. The cancer centre will be a purpose-built facility bringing together all day case in-patient and radiotherapy activity within one building. The new development will also bring together surgical and non-surgical management of cancer on one site for the first time.
At present, the oncology ward and radiotherapy services are located half a mile from where patients undergo surgical procedures for cancer treatment. All those buildings date back to the 19th century. The Secretary of State had the opportunity to see some of them. She asked when she visited the hospital, "Are these the worst buildings?" We had to tell her, "No, these are some of the best." The maternity unit will offer a modern purpose-built facility based on the separation of a low-risk midwife-led model and a higher-risk medically led model. It will deliver the modern standards of privacy and dignity that every mother has a right to expect. The present facility just does not deliver that.
Parts of north Staffordshire are among the worst 10 per cent. of areas in England for deprivation. Almost 70 per cent. of the local population are among the 20 per cent. of the English population who have the lowest life expectancy, yet in the past north Staffordshire has been badly let down by Governments on health care. We are now at last getting the services that we deserve.