I recently met the public health Minister, my hon. Friend Jane Ellison, and my hon. Friend Mr Harper to discuss cross-border health issues. It is essential that we continue to work with the Welsh Government to ensure that patients on both sides of the border have access to the best health services possible.
Over 20,000 English residents are registered with GP practices in Wales and have been denied access to hospitals of their choice in England. Does the Secretary of State share my view that NHS Wales has seriously overreached itself by denying patients living in England the right to choose where they receive hospital treatment? Does he agree that we urgently need to change the cross-border protocols to ensure that all patients have access to the highest standards of care?
My hon. Friend will be keenly aware of this issue; as he says, many of his constituents rely on GPs from Wales. Similarly, Hereford hospital is an important hospital for patients from Wales. I entirely agree that the cross-border protocol needs to be made fit for purpose, and my office and the Department of Health are working closely together to that end.
The Secretary of State will know—I am very grateful for his support at my recent meeting—that thousands of my constituents are forced to use the NHS in Wales rather than being able to access hospital services in England, as is their legal right. The Health Secretary has said he is going to fix that by the end of the year. In the meantime, is the Secretary of State as concerned as I am that some of the mortality statistics in Welsh hospitals are dangerously high? Has he discussed that in his discussions?
I repeat that the cross-border protocol is of prime importance, and my office, the Department of Health and the Welsh Government are working closely on it. I am glad to see, however, that the Aneurin Bevan health board is allowing patients from England some element of choice. The issue of mortality is of course a concern, and it has been expressed not only by us but by the chief executive of the Healthcare Inspectorate Wales
When I was Secretary of State, I was always keen to praise success in Wales. Would the Secretary of State care to congratulate the Welsh NHS on having a nurse-to-patient ratio that is a fifth higher than that of England, where his Government have cut the number of nurses by 7,000? Will he also congratulate the Welsh Government on recruiting doctors at a much faster rate than in England?
I am always keen and ready to give praise where praise is due. Certainly, Welsh clinicians and nurses do a wonderful job. The fact remains, however, that outcomes in Wales are significantly worse than they are in England, which, to be frank, is something about which the right hon. Gentleman should join me in expressing concern. I also suggest that he have a word with his friend the Welsh Minister for Health and suggest to him that he might wish to take on board the recommendations of Professor Keogh.
Is the Secretary of State aware of the superb service provided for north Wales patients by the Midlands centre for spinal injuries in Gobowen, which carries out life-changing work? Specialist services are being changed by the Government, of which the right hon. Gentleman is the Welsh Secretary. Will he visit the spinal injuries centre and meet me to discuss the concerns about the specialist care proposed by his Government?
I am always keen to praise the work of hospitals that offer such important services to Wales. I fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that the hospital in Gobowen is of world-class standard but, sadly, in terms of waiting times, the target time for English patients is only 18 weeks, whereas in Wales it is 26 weeks, which is unacceptable. Frankly, the hon. Gentleman should agree with me that it is not right that Welsh patients, who pay their taxes at the same rate as English patients, should have substandard care.
Powys local health board has just closed six beds at Knighton hospital because of recruitment problems. With Llandrindod hospital almost always full, that could cause bed-blocking in Hereford hospital. Will the Secretary of State work with the Department of Health and the Welsh Assembly to ensure that those beds are reopened as soon as possible, that Welsh patients can recover from their illnesses in their own community and that capacity is kept available in Hereford hospital?
My hon. Friend illustrates an important point, which is that patients on both sides of the border are frequently reliant on care provided on the other side of the border. He makes a sensible point, because it is clear that Knighton hospital will be put under pressure if the current arrangements in the health care system in Wales continue to prevail.
The Tory war on Wales has reached a new low in this House today: four questions from compliant Tory Back Benchers, all suggesting that a higher proportion of Welsh patients are being treated in England when the reverse is the case. Would the Secretary of State like to correct the record and tell those Members the truth, which is that the proportion of Welsh patients being treated in England has fallen and the reverse proportion has risen?
What I will say is that, in terms of cancer care, Welsh patients are increasingly dependent on English services and, to be frank, are seeking them out, so I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman raises that point.
I am particularly surprised that the right hon. Gentleman should choose cancer as a topic of debate, because the truth is that, in cancer care, Wales is outperforming England. In fact, in the trusts of Jesse Norman, the numbers show that 81% of patients are meeting the 62-week target, which is worse than three quarters of all of the trusts in Wales. We spend more on cancer in Wales and we have faster-improving outcomes. This is a smear by a Secretary of State and a Tory party that used to speak for Wales.
That is actually a smear from a Labour party that is in total dereliction of its duty to Welsh patients. Frankly, the Welsh Government cannot afford to be complacent when they have not met the urgent suspected cancer waiting time since 2008. Furthermore, there is no cancer drugs fund in Wales. Instead of reacting so badly to criticism, the hon. Gentleman might wish to criticise his own friends in the Welsh Government.
My hon. Friend is entirely right. We have protected the health budget in England, but the Welsh Government have cut their health budget by 8%. That is, to be frank, disgraceful and unsupportable. I suggest to Opposition Members that, rather than being in denial, they should criticise their own colleagues in the Welsh Assembly for their dereliction of duty to patients in Wales.