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NHS: Front-line and Specialised Services — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:09 pm on 13th January 2011.

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Photo of Baroness Jolly Baroness Jolly Liberal Democrat 5:09 pm, 13th January 2011

My Lords, I start by thanking noble Lords kindly for the warm welcome that I have found since my introduction on Tuesday-from Members opposite as well as from my own Benches. Advice about my speech was to keep it simple, but most of all to keep it short. I extend these thanks to members of staff who have been exceptionally helpful in all manner of ways. I must say that I am not without trepidation. My introduction by comparison was easy, as once in my robes I was but an actor. Today, I feel somewhat naked without them, particularly in such eminent company.

I live in Cornwall in a community of some six or seven houses overlooking Bodmin Moor. We have little choice in our services. We use them where we can find them and so rely on them all to be excellent, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said. Disappointment is rare. My sponsors, my noble friends Lord Tyler and Lord Teverson, have both left their mark on Cornwall, and I am delighted that today another friend of Cornwall was introduced-my noble friend Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames. The bottom left-hand corner may be far away, but in this place it will not be forgotten.

I trained as a control engineer, taught maths for 15 years, and spent time living and working in the Gulf. On coming home, I joined an NHS trust board. Some years later, a couple of NHS reorganisations found me chairing a Cornish PCT and managing a budget of £120 million. Recently, I have been working for Macmillan Cancer Support, a charity dedicated to providing excellent services to those whose lives are affected by cancer, as well as for a campaigning organisation on issues as varied as fuel poverty and survivorship. It was difficult delivering services in such a rural environment, especially ensuring that services are linked as seamlessly as possible with our social services. Not a year went by when we did not have to find savings to be passed on to services.

In the past, my family has had brief engagements with the NHS, but it was not until last November when my father had a heart attack that I saw the NHS in action for real, for one of mine. One evening, he went to bed feeling unwell. We called NHS Direct. It called an ambulance, which was with us in 15 minutes. After a half-hour dash he was admitted directly to the South West Cardiothoracic Centre in Plymouth. His ECG had been e-mailed ahead by the ambulance crew and he was met by a team called in on a Saturday night. Led by Dr Haywood, his team was professional, caring and candid. The ward really resembled the bridge from the starship "Enterprise", but it was here too that I heard talk of patient dignity and advocacy. My father mattered, as did my mother-a lady who will be 90 on her next birthday.

Cornwall still has a network of community hospitals that allows patients to be treated nearer their homes, relieves beds in the pressured acute units and prepares patients to return home. In time, at my local community hospital in Launceston, I saw at first hand social services working with the ward team, the physio and occupational therapists. The patient came first and together they got my Dad home. Sadly, the NHS was no match finally for age and frailty. He died one month ago today. We saw the NHS at its finest, from the highest of high-tech medicine to the best of nursing care, working seamlessly across four NHS organisations and social services.

In the PCT our decisions involved executive directors, non-executive directors and, most importantly, health professionals. We were committed to a comprehensive service that is available to all, free at the point of use and based on need and not on the ability to pay. We took into consideration local issues-rurality, sparcity, atypical demographics and huge population increases in the summer. We did not run or commission services in the same way in Cornwall as they are here in the capital.

In conclusion, the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, are well made. I would add that in reframing the NHS, I trust that the noble Earl will give every care and consideration to service delivery and, more importantly, to appropriate and adequate funding for far-flung remote rural areas, such as Cornwall.