My Lords, I emphasise that I have worked in the health service for well over 60 years, but there is still such a lot to learn about it. Something important to have come out of today’s debate is that we should look at a lot of things again.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Mawson, spoke about doing away with health centres. I do not agree at all with that. As a dentist, I found that health centres were a very effective way of giving treatment to children. Parents, especially now that you have to pay for dental examinations, no longer take their children to their own dentist twice a year, which is what used to be the practice. Now, children are lucky if they are seen before they are in pain, which is a most awful reason for anyone to go for treatment: you are automatically very worried and unhappy from the start.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Darzi, on securing this debate. It is very far-reaching and should be considered in detail. Certainly we should use more of those health centres, as we did in the past, and more respite care, or cottage hospital-type recovery after hospital. We are using a very expensive facility to keep people in hospital during their recovery when they would probably much rather be in slightly more homely surroundings. Of course, they would have to be adequate for the treatment that they were recovering from, but all these things are possible if enough thought is applied to them: that is what I believe should happen.
In these couple of minutes which is all we have, I pay tribute to the very many dentists and doctors—huge numbers of them—who came from the Commonwealth in the early days of the National Health Service. In Australia, where I graduated, anyone who had been in the forces was allowed to go to university if they had enough qualifications. As a result, 150 dentists a year qualified in Sydney and there was no work for them; they were just out digging the roads or working on the Snowy River scheme; anything to be earning a crust. Then someone discovered that, yes, there were jobs over here. The first ones came and they passed the word on to all the others. In the early years, in this country, the big thing was that people looked to full clearance of teeth at the age of 21 as the desirable situation in dentistry, which was unbelievable. When we arrived, children’s teeth were in a terrible condition.
Commonwealth dentists, in particular from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, all of whom had a higher degree, which was acceptable here, did a huge amount. We almost got the situation completely under control, but now it is as bad as it ever was. In Manchester, we find that children cannot have ordinary operations under general anaesthetic because every slot is taken with clearance of baby teeth: that is just hard to believe. I have almost run out of time so I will not go on further, but I think we have a lot to think about and a lot to aim at. I want to pay tribute also to Lord Pitt, David Pitt, who did a marvellous amount here, coming from quite a different part of the Commonwealth. He was a hospital patient in the hospital I was chairman of and was so undemanding it was just hard to believe. There is still a great deal for us to do.