I am grateful to be called, Mr Deputy Speaker. I had three reasons for writing to Mr Speaker requesting to take part in this debate. The first is that I genuinely wanted to hear, in this Opposition day debate on the NHS, what the Opposition’s plans really are for the future of our health service. The second reason is that I want to describe the experience that my constituents went through, over 13 years of a Labour Administration. Finally, I want to talk about how already, in anticipation of the Health and Social Care Bill becoming law, clinicians in Crawley are working to deliver a better national health service.
I do not mind telling the House that I am forgoing an invitation to a dinner this evening, so great was my desire to hear exactly the official Opposition’s view on the NHS. What I have heard this evening is incredible—or, so that I am not misunderstood, not credible. It is amazing that a party that massively increased the PFI programme during its tenure, spending billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in an inefficient way through the national health service, should come to the House this evening and try to claim that what we are trying to achieve in the Health and Social Care Bill will somehow privatise the national health service. Let us be quite clear: this Government are committed to providing a national health service that is available regardless of the ability to pay. The difference, I contend, between Government Members and Opposition Members is that they are ruled by some sort of centralist dogma that says that if the Department of Health has not willed it, it cannot happen, whereas the Government are trying to introduce a pragmatic approach, in which outcomes are far more important than the strict processes that a dogmatic system for delivering health care should produce.
I said that I wanted briefly to mention the experience of the NHS during what we are often led to believe were the golden years of the health service, under the previous Government. Those years were not so golden for my constituents, because in 2001—a decade ago—we regrettably saw the downgrading of maternity services at Crawley hospital. Crawley is a growing town; indeed, its motto is, “I grow and I rejoice”. However, there was not much rejoicing when its maternity services were taken away and transferred almost 10 miles up the road to East Surrey hospital, where there is now increased pressure on maternity services, as it is having to cope with the increased number of people using those services from not only east Surrey, but the north-east of West Sussex.
To add insult to injury, in 2005 Crawley hospital saw its accident and emergency department closed. Again, it was moved miles up the road to East Surrey hospital, even though there is little public transport between that hospital and Crawley—a growing and ageing town, with increasing health needs and major transportation links, not least the nation’s second biggest airport, London Gatwick—and single-carriageway roads. At best, that is inconvenient for patients and for families wishing to visit them in hospital; at worst, it is potentially fatal. That is my constituents’ experience.