The hon. Lady is right. Tomorrow I will be working as a doctor. I am very proud to be working as a doctor. I have been very public and open about it throughout my time here and I will continue to practise medicine for the foreseeable future. I encourage her to face down her internal critics, as well as those rather ill-informed external critics in the Scottish Daily Mail. I actually stood for election calling for the closure of my local hospital. I did not want my constituents going to an ill-equipped hospital, or thinking that it provided care that it did not. I have sought to educate my local electorate about the need for a 24-hour angio suite and for a 24-hour stroke unit.
We have made some progress on reconfiguration, particularly on stroke care. In London and in Greater Manchester, stroke services have been consolidated. That is why people are now surviving and survival rates for strokes are improving. Patients are taken to appropriate units and appropriately cared for. The appropriate intervention can be applied within the appropriate time. Sadly, that is not possible across the country. It is available only in areas where difficult decisions about reconfiguration have been taken. On oncology, there is a widespread belief that cancer outcomes are all to do with late diagnosis in primary care. Forgive me, but that is not necessarily the whole story. It is the quality of cancer care when patients reach the hospital—any delay in receiving radiotherapy and so on—that is having a profound impact on cancer outcomes. If we consolidated oncology services into fewer sites, we would get better clinical outcomes.
On out-of-hours care, when I turned up here I said that I would scrap out of hours care as it is currently constituted. Most people looked at me and thought, “Are you slightly nuts?” The answer is no. Having done many, many, many sessions in the primary care out-of-hours arena, I realised that there was the potential to delay the care of the acutely unwell in a way that could have an adverse impact and, in extremis, lead to someone’s death. I suspect, without knowing the details, that the case we heard about in the urgent question on Tuesday was such an example. I do not believe it is clinically possible to properly assess a sick child via a telephone. We can go some way towards doing it with an adult, because—guess what?—an adult can express themselves more accurately. With a child, we have to see them and touch them, and, in particular, we have to see the mother’s response towards the child, to assess how acutely unwell they are.
The problem, with all best intentions, is that with a telephone service these types of incidents are always going to happen. It was no different with NHS Direct; the medical profession used to get very frustrated with that, and 111 is the same. The symptoms of sepsis can be the symptoms of many things, so if we tighten the protocols we end up flooding the service with more and more people worried that their child has sepsis when, actually, it is not that common.
I would revisit the whole out-of-hours settlement. We could get away with having fewer doctors during antisocial hours primarily looking after the housebound and those who are terminally ill. The list of patients who could be visited by said doctor would be compiled by GP practices in that region. Patients would not get a visit unless the GP practice has said they are entitled to a visit because of a diagnosis of being either terminally ill or housebound. In future, I would put the resources into urgent care centres. For now, I would put one in each casualty to sift through. I would make sure it was a doctor. Forgive me, but doctors are taught to triage and to diagnose. No other healthcare professionals are taught in the same way. The best thing to do is to put one’s most experienced and qualified person at the front end, because then proper triage can take place.