NHS (Private Sector)

Part of Opposition Day – in the House of Commons at 8:54 pm on 16th January 2012.

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Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Labour, Worsley and Eccles South 8:54 pm, 16th January 2012

I want to speak in support of the motion and argue that NHS hospitals are not private businesses and should not be turned into private businesses, pitted against each other and competing for the most lucrative procedures.

Many of the dangers inherent in the Government’s plans have been displayed in the saga about PIP implants. In that case, tens of thousands of women have been left worried sick about implants received in surgery in private clinics. There are, of course, serious questions about regulation of the products used in private clinics on those tens of thousands of women. Indeed, it has emerged that the PIP implants were effectively counterfeit goods below medical grade, and I understand that some of the gel used in them is designed for use in mattresses.

On 23 December, the Health Secretary’s initial response to the scare affecting tens of thousands of women was that his current advice was that there was

“no need to routinely remove these PIP breast implants. In the meantime we would recommend that all patients who have questions about their PIP breast implants should seek advice from their implanting surgeon.”

As we have heard since, however, some women who had that surgery could not even contact their original surgeon and many clinics demanded hundreds of pounds even for a scan—money that the women involved just might not have. Last week, many private clinics said that patients must pay in cash to have the implants removed.

I did not feel that the initial advice would reassure the women involved, who were left with all their fears and concerns over Christmas and new year, so I asked fellow members of the Health Select Committee to consider an inquiry into the saga and the issues of regulation that it raised, and I am glad that Committee members agreed and that there will now be an inquiry. We have to remember, however, that reviews and inquiries move slowly for people worried sick about their health. I believe that the NHS should stand by these women, as it reluctantly now seems to be agreeing to do.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency passed the products despite their being substandard or, as I said last week and previously, effectively counterfeit. I thought that the point was well made in an article by the health writer and commentator Roy Lilley. He wrote that

“women who have PIP made breast implants are the victims of a crime”,

having

“spent fortunes on enhancements that have turned out to be counterfeit and possibly…injurious to their health… The NHS would not turn away a patient convulsing from consuming counterfeit vodka. Neither should it turn these women away.”

This saga raises many issues about not only the quality of implants but regulation—or the lack of it—in private medicine. That is key to this debate. More issues have been raised in recent days about the ability of surgeons who practise cosmetic surgery in private clinics. Apparently, they are not always trained or skilled enough to apply to be consultants or even to practise in the NHS without supervision, but they are skilled enough to operate alone in cosmetic surgery and private clinics. To what standard do those private clinics operate? What about the many other products implanted in surgery—hips, knees and heart valves, for example? How well regulated are those products and how can we be sure of their quality? I am hopeful that the Health Committee inquiry can tackle some of those regulatory issues.

The concerns raised recently about the cosmetic surgery industry prompt many questions about where we will be if the Government continue with their Health and Social Care Bill. Last week in a letter to The Times, 14 consultants, general practitioners and public health experts wrote:

“The government proposes a vast increase in private provision of health care just as we are told that existing private providers are unable to supply adequate records of what they have been doing and are charging exorbitant sums to consult their records for those women seeking information on what happened to them.”

They continue to warn that the Health and Social Care Bill, now in the other place,

“provides much less protection for patients should their provider fail than is available to people booking package holidays.”

We have to think about that, because the implications are frightening for the future of the NHS.

The other major area of decline is waiting lists—this has been touched on in the debate—which are already getting longer, to the detriment of NHS patients. We must question what will happen when up to half of hospital beds are being used for private patients. In 1997, this country had a Conservative Government and NHS waiting lists were shockingly long. I was out campaigning in the 1997 election with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East

(Paul Goggins), and I met a man who had been told that he would wait two years for vital heart surgery. He was worried that he would die while on the waiting list. That was the reality of the NHS then.

After 13 years of a Labour Government and while campaigning in my constituency in 2010, I met a man who told me about a totally different experience of the NHS. He visited his GP on Monday and was sent for blood tests. On Tuesday, he was told that he could have serious problems and was admitted to a north Manchester hospital for further investigation. They had a specialist surgeon there who operated on him on Thursday and told him that the surgery had saved his life—four days to save a life in the NHS after a Labour Government had run it for 13 years versus a desperate two-year wait back in 1997 under a Conservative-run Government.

The Health and Social Care Bill challenges the NHS’s founding principle that access to services should be based on need, not ability to pay. I know that my constituents do not want these changes. Many of them have asked me to be here for this debate and to vote for the motion. I am happy to do so.

In conclusion, I join my hon. Friend Grahame M. Morris in mentioning the brave participation of Dr Clive Peedell and David Wilson in running 160 miles in six days to draw attention to the growing campaign to drop the Health and Social Care Bill. It is time the Government listened.