Acute Hospital Services

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 5:01 pm on 21st February 2007.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 5:01 pm, 21st February 2007

This debate takes place in the context of health, but the backdrop is trust. The Minister should not be surprised at the treatment of the Secretary of State's speech by Conservative Members, as it reflects the sense of complete distrust for anything that she says about what is happening in the NHS.

The Government are hoist by their own petard. We have not forgotten how the Labour party treated the health service in the run-up to the 1997 election. We have not forgotten the treatment by then Labour Members and parliamentary candidates of attempts to modernise the health service to assist patients, or reductions in beds. We have not forgotten the screeching in the House about the prospect of privatisation. Ten years on, people have seen what is happening to the health service under Labour, and how the Government have turned on their head to put into practice the same things that they complained about in opposition.

It is no wonder that there is a sense of complete distrust about what the Government do. That is the reason for the general distrust about the fiddling of waiting list figures. No one believes the waiting list figures in this country any more, because every doctor in the country, at both primary and secondary level, knows how the figures are manipulated so that the Government can then spout them.

Sadly, that is the context in which debates on the health service take place, and it is a shame. I want to say good things about what has been happening in Bedford, and to relate that to the debate on the acute services review. I start from a position of having a father and a brother who work in the health service, and of having no private health insurance. The NHS really matters to me, and I am concerned about its future and how it is dealt with.

In Bedford, the debate about reconfiguration takes place against a historical deficit of £11.9 million—an arbitrary calculation, to which I shall return later. There are difficulties in the eastern area, where, strangely, we seem to have a preponderance of poor managers, given the preponderance of health service deficits that do not appear in urban areas. According to the Secretary of State, that is all due to management, when we know that that cannot be the case.

Bedford hospital has done well despite what the Government have done, rather than because of what they have done. The chairman of the Bedford Hospital NHS Trust, Helen Nellis, is standing down. She has given excellent service to the area. She is a loyal, committed woman who has worked her socks off to do what the Government wanted to bring the hospital up to the highest possible standards. Despite her efforts, she has seen the hospital's finances messed around with constantly. Cancer care outputs are extremely good at Bedford, partly due to the Primrose cancer unit, which was built by the community, not by the Government. Cardiac care at Bedford hospital is excellent. Both my mother and father have recently sampled that care and been tremendously well treated.

Throughout the health service, we will find examples of good practice and improvement. That has happened year on year since the 1940s. It is bound to happen. Trying to make out that one Government stop all improvement, and that another Government create it, is nonsensical. However, recognising good care, good practice and hard work by Bedford hospital, nurses, doctors and all other staff, and that there are improvements, does not stop us from asking key questions about whether all the investment that the Government have put into the health service has produced the results that it should have produced, whether money is properly spent throughout the system and whether it is distributed fairly around the country.

The acute services review puts into sharp focus the problems that hospitals such as Bedford hospital have in fighting with one hand tied behind their back because of the constant changes in the health service and its structure and finance, to which my right hon. Friend Mr. Mates referred. That makes it so difficult for any stability or continuity to occur. It makes it difficult to drive forward change with any sense that what happens today will be recognised in three or four years and be given a chance to work.

My constituents are determined to ensure that the current acute services review in the eastern area is dealt with from the bottom up, not the top down, and that medical and clinical need take priority rather than the rather strange economics that affect the region. Let me give three particular reasons why the review is a matter of some concern. First, there is general scepticism. In Hertfordshire, three years were spent on the massive document "Investing In Your Health", involving the whole community and producing the idea of a new hospital. That was overturned overnight. More than that, the new hospital was said to be outdated before it even got going. What system could produce such a nonsensical review and take such an amount of time? Therefore, no one has any confidence that the current review will necessarily produce anything different.