Health and Social Care Bill — Second Reading (2nd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:10 am on 12th October 2011.

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Photo of Lord Winston Lord Winston Labour 11:10 am, 12th October 2011

My Lords, some three or so weeks ago an 80 year-old lady was admitted to an inner-city hospital in the United Kingdom complaining of abdominal pain. She went to accident and emergency where she had a series of cardiac arrests and was resuscitated on four occasions, according to what I was told. Remarkably, that evening she was still alive in accident and emergency and the following morning she was sitting up in bed talking, not terribly coherently but she was communicating and was capable of asking for a cup of tea. She was still under the surgeons, of course, because she had come in labelled with abdominal pain.

The physicians were concerned about the lady and they did an ECG. They found that her ST segments were elevated and that therefore she may have had a coronary thrombosis, so they phoned Hammersmith Hospital-I have the privilege of being associated with that hospital-because there doctors do thrombolysing. There was some toing and froing about whether she should be admitted there for thrombolysing treatment. Eventually, it was pointed out that on the whole Hammersmith Hospital did not contemplate doing thrombolysing on 80 year-old patients. The patient was left there and eventually she was seen by a surgeon who did an MRI, a CAT scan and various other investigations and decided that the lady possibly had a ruptured diverticulum. The surgeon was not sure whether she was fit to be operated on. In the mean time, an anaesthetist saw her. The anaesthetist said that if the surgeon was prepared to operate, he was prepared to anaesthetise. The surgeon said that if the anaesthetist was prepared to anaesthetise, he was prepared to operate. The lady underwent a laparotomy and the diverticulum was repaired. She spent the next four days in intensive care, where she died an undignified death, which was not what her relatives wanted. They probably would not have wanted her to be resuscitated in the first place.

I tell noble Lords this brief story because it is an example of the lack of co-ordination which is common in the health service, which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and I have discussed. We both agree that it needs to be improved. Unfortunately, the Bill does not address that issue at all. In fact, one of my concerns is that the fragmentation may actually make the situation much worse. Co-ordination was addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, yesterday, speaking as chairman of the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. He argued that we need to close hospitals. I agree but it will not be easy to do that under the Bill. However, the noble Lord did not come entirely clean-unfortunately, he is not in his place this morning-and point out that the Hammersmith Hospital's former trust-now the Imperial College trust-is, I believe, some £50 million in deficit this year. There is clearly an urgent need there although, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, I do not believe that the NHS is in crisis.

To illustrate that point, I went to an independent think tank, the Commonwealth Fund, an American organisation which looks at healthcare around the world, and looked at some of its statistics. It turns out that at the end of the previous Labour Government we spent two and a half times less on healthcare than they do in the United States, 18 per cent less than they do in France and more than 40 per cent less than they do in Germany or Holland. It is interesting, therefore, to look at one issue which is really serious for us; the rising problem of ageing in the health service. I chose to look at their statistics for two operations associated with ageing; hip replacement and knee replacement. A knee replacement in the UK costs half what it costs in the US, is 10 per cent or 15 per cent cheaper than in Italy or France and costs 30 per cent less than it costs in Germany. A hip replacement is three times cheaper on the public purse in the United Kingdom than in the US. Do we therefore do fewer operations? Actually not. In the US they do 64 knee replacements per 100,000 of the population compared with 137 in the UK, 121 in Germany and 95 in France. With hips, Germany tops the league with 258 operations per 100,000; France does 208; we do just under 200; Italy, 141 and the United States, 139.

So actually the legacy of the previous Government which we keep hearing about might be a bit better than has been suggested by the present Government. We have heard a great deal about that legacy, but actually, the health service was left in a pretty fine state. I agree completely with what the noble Earl, Lord Howe, said yesterday about outcomes. Of course, it is pointless doing lots of hip operations unless we can match our outcomes with Europe. The figures are not available for those things, but the Commonwealth Fund addressed some interesting issues. Of course, as the Prime Minister said, we have to do something about the health service, but I am not sure that the figures of an independent, international body outside the UK with no political point to make at all can be refuted.

One issue is the satisfaction and the level of successful care recorded by the Commonwealth Fund. I have some figures here to show that the United Kingdom does incredibly well. For an expenditure of something like one-third of that of the United States, in every score we do better than the United States, better than New Zealand, about as well as Holland, much better than Germany, much better than Canada and much better than Australia-typical OECD countries which are rather similar to ourselves. The only place where we failed was in something which the noble Earl, Lord Howe, addressed in his speech yesterday. In the third or fourth paragraph of his speech, he talked about the need to extend longevity. The issue of longevity was clearly described recently by my noble friend Lord Darzi, not in the Chamber yesterday, but in a speech I heard him give at Imperial College last week. He showed a London Tube map from South Kensington, where Imperial College is situated, through Westminster towards Canning Town and in those seven miles longevity drops by seven years. So your expectancy of life in South Kensington, if you are a male, is around 77 and in Canning Town it is about 70. That has nothing to do with the health service; it has to do with education, with the environment, with something that the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro, referred to yesterday-smoking and obesity. Twenty-five per cent of our population have a BMI of greater than 30. That is a very serious issue. We are about the third worst nation in the world after the US and New Zealand.

These things will not be changed by the Bill. In my view the Bill is unnecessary and, I am afraid to say, irresponsible.