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Access to NHS Services

Part of Opposition Day — [15th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:34 pm on 3rd July 2007.

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Photo of Mary Creagh Mary Creagh PPS (Andy Burnham, Chief Secretary), HM Treasury 6:34 pm, 3rd July 2007

I wish to speak briefly about the health care system in Wakefield, which presents a challenge, not least because we have to provide health care for two prisons. We have to provide mental health care, drugs and alcohol support and primary care in a women's prison, a young offenders institution and in Wakefield prison, which is high security. A remote electrocardiogram system is now in place in Wakefield prison so that prisoners who might be having a heart attack can be remotely assessed by hospital clinicians, thereby avoiding the security risks involved in transporting prisoners to and from hospital, such as opportunities for escape.

According to the latest statistics, Wakefield has a positive first set of figures for the number of people waiting no more than 18 weeks to receive their treatment. At my local hospital, Pinderfields general hospital, 54 per cent. of patients received their treatment within 18 weeks. In a specialty such as gastroenterology, the proportion was more than 90 per cent. and in cardiology it was more than 70 per cent. Therefore, it is clear that targets are driving down waiting times, and it is vital that we keep them in order to improve patient care. Nationally, targets have resulted in 50,000 extra lives being saved from cancer and 150,000 lives saved from heart disease. That is also linked to our target to treat people in accident and emergency units within four hours. Anybody who had to wait in an accident and emergency unit 10 or 15 years ago with a sick child, a relative or a friend in pain, wondering when they were going to be seen—as many Members must have done—will welcome that maximum four-hour waiting target. It simply did not exist 10 years ago.

I also wish to address accessibility to GP surgeries for people in wheelchairs and those with sight and mobility problems. Last year, I visited Kirkburton health centre in my constituency. It has a fantastic new centre, which was built under the LIFT—local improvement finance trust—scheme. It is fully compliant with disability and discrimination legislation, unlike some of the terraced housing that was all too prevalent under the Conservative years of NHS underfunding.

In Wakefield we have had a problem with access to dental surgeries. I am delighted that that has been greatly relieved by the opening of a new dental practice in Queen street, which last year took on 8,000 new patients and is this year due to take on another 8,000 patients—a total of 16,000 people, most of them my constituents, who have never had access to dental care, or who have not had that for many years. I visited the surgery on Friday; goodie bags were being given to children, containing little toothbrushes that could stand up, little balloons that carried the message,

"Twice a day for two minutes", and a special egg-timer—because we all know that it is not just about encouraging children to brush their teeth, but encouraging them to do so for a considerable period of time and many young children do not have the patience to do that. Wakefield is seeing its share of the £400 million national investment in dentistry.

Like other areas, our local primary care trust has been underfunded. However, I am delighted that no PCT will be more than 3.7 per cent. below its target by the end of this financial year. There have been huge real-terms cash increases for our PCT, and in terms of our secondary and acute sector it was announced today—the celebrations are taking place—that Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust's £340 million private finance initiative to build new hospitals on the Pinderfield and Pontefract sites has been signed, sealed and delivered. I pay tribute to John Parkes, the former chief executive, Julia Squire, the current chief executive and Sir Hugh Sykes, the chair of the trust board, for reducing the in-year deficit of one of our hospitals from £30 million two years ago to £13 million this year. The projection is that balance will be achieved by October this year.

I am also delighted that we have finally got £1 million transferred from the PCT to the acute hospitals to improve the hearing aid services for my constituents. My constituency is in an old industrial area where many people were involved in mining and there is a clear link between such heavy industry and drilling activities and hearing loss. As for the rhetoric about digital hearing aids, may I say, as a former hearing aid user, that people suffering hearing loss are not necessarily always best served by a digital hearing aid? Analogue hearing aids can provide required levels of volume and clarity without the long waits that are associated with the fitting of new digital hearing aids.

To pick up on the points made by Norman Lamb, there are health inequality issues in Wakefield. People in my constituency live on average one year less than the national average life expectancy and seven years less than those with the highest life expectancy in Britain. Some 25 per cent. of the adult population are obese and we need to look at placing a statutory duty on primary care trusts to reduce those types of health inequalities.

In terms of access to health care, the new NHS choices website that was launched a couple of weeks ago provides patients with a great deal of information about what their local hospitals provide. For example, pregnant women in my constituency can look up Pontefract general infirmary and see vital information such as the number of women who knew their midwife in labour—in Pontefract it was 45 per cent. compared to an average of 22 per cent. They can also see if their local hospital has a neonatal intensive care unit or a special care baby unit, or a dedicated obstetric anaesthetist, which is related to my earlier intervention about waiting for an epidural. Crucially, women can discover whether, post-birth, they will have access to breastfeeding support—something that every mother would like to know. As we roll out choice and achieve greater transparency, we will see waiting lists and times coming down further.

The Conservatives will the ends but not the means when it comes to health care access. They voted against the national insurance increase that saw a huge cash injection for the NHS. They talk about abolishing targets that have been crucial in driving down waiting lists and tackling the scourge of hospital-acquired infections. I am delighted that Mr. Bone is in his place. He did not mention his Cornerstone document, although some of the case studies that he mentioned came from it. He wants people to take out health insurance to cover all their family's medical expenses. That would be

"set at a level to cover all your family's medical expenses greater than 5 per cent. of your family's income."

That challenging new system would

"cover all serious medical conditions which could require significant costs."

But the real driver of the document is in this sentence:

"An added bonus of this shift in policy would be a massive cut in taxation without penalising public services."

The second part of that sentence is highly debatable. As in so many instances, the Conservatives offer warm words, but lying beneath them is cold comfort for families and patients in my constituency. We need to put our money where our mouth is, invest in the modern facilities that people deserve, and ensure that our NHS is safe as it approaches its 60th birthday and safe for the next 60 years.