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One or two people are not terribly happy with that. The British Medical Association is not very happy. Of course, the Labour party always ignores the BMA, except when it needs it. The Royal College of Nursing--again, not exactly a branch office of Conservative central office--does not think that it would go well.
There is probably someone more important than that. Some time ago, in the House of Commons, someone said:
"It is quite impossible . . . to hand over the voluntary hospitals to the local authorities."
"People appointed to the regional hospital boards will not be there merely as representatives of local authority interests, but will be selected for their knowledge of hospital needs and hospital problems and will, therefore, be interested in hospital development, and not retarded, all the time, by considerations of a local character, particularly the incidence of local taxation."--[ Official Report , 30 April 1946; Vol. 422, c. 49.]
That was Nye Bevan, the founder of the health service, an icon to the Labour party. Even he said, in those pioneering days, that it could not possibly work, so why do Opposition Members put forward policies that they know cannot possibly work?
I now refer to efficiency. [Interruption.] I am sorry if the hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie) is disappointed. I hoped that he was listening and learning. Obviously, I have failed. At the moment, £1.5 million is
Column 926being cumulatively saved to the health service--not to go to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor but to go back into patient care. By abolishing regional health authorities, which is happening at the moment, we will save £150 million to go into patient care. In that great policy document we hear what Labour Members would do. They would set up an efficiency unit at the Department of Health. What a good idea. I wonder who would be on that committee. All the hon. Gentleman's chums, of course.
Let us explode once and for all the myth about an overmanaged health service. It has 2.6 per cent. of the work force and 3 per cent. of the wages bill. There is one manager for every 26 front-line staff. Opposition Members should know the disastrous realities of their policies.
The limited list of restricted drugs saves a lot of money to the health service. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the health service spends about 10 per cent. of its £32 billion budget on its drugs. What would the Labour party do? Labour Members say:
"The government has been engaged in an exercise aimed at decreasing the choice of prescribable drugs. Choice is important to patients and health professionals who prescribe and this will be respected by a Labour government."
Is it the intention to scrap the limited list, or are those just weasel words from the Labour party?
The real Disneyland of Labour proposals, such as they are, is to be found in paragraph 9.27 of the document, which states:
"Labour will therefore examine the contribution which might be made by the establishment of a panel, including those working professionally in the field and representatives of patients, in order to develop national guidelines for the allocation of scarce resources. Advice might also be offered where difficult or ethical judgments have to be made."
Surely the history of government is that Departments cannot run anything from the centre. Centralisation and bureaucracy-- [Interruption.] My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has given power to the national health service and community trusts. She has given power to the local people. Opposition Members want to give power to their friends and bureaucrats. That would do a grave disservice to the patient.
Several hon. Members rose --
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. There are 57 minutes available before the winding-up speeches, and five hon. Members, who have been in the Chamber for most of the day, hope to catch my eye. The Chair hopes that they will be able to do so.
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I wish to reflect on some comments of the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) about the origins of the national health service. He failed to say that the creation of the national health service was opposed by the then Tory Opposition. The national health service is probably the greatest leap forward in social progress that the country has seen this century. People are rightly emotive about the health service, especially those who, like me, lived in the days when there was no health service. We appreciate all the efforts of the post-war Labour Government in establishing a
Column 927national health service that was free at the point of need and available to all. Our health service was the envy of the world. Sadly, there has been a deterioration in it; the Government cannot sit back and pretend that the Opposition want to do nothing other than be critical of the Conservative Government.
The facts are available for everyone to see. Why are a growing number of people organising action committees to save their hospitals? Why are hospitals such as St Paul's in Liverpool, an excellent, long-standing eye hospital, being closed under the Conservative Government? Why did the Royal hospital want to extend its activities and develop a hotel in the hospital grounds? Theoretically, it was to move patients rapidly from beds into the hotel. The hotel would have had no medical staff, only telephones, television and a meals service. I asked what would happen if a person who was being moved from an acute ward into the hotel had a haemorrhage during the early hours of the morning. I asked where the hospital staff would be to deal with it. No answer was given. I fear that that is the direction in which the national health service is going.
That same hospital applied to extend its incineration facilities, not to incinerate its own medical waste but to enter into a sub-contract commercial deal to take waste from as far away as the Republic of Ireland and even further. That hospital would have endangered the lives of people who live in the centre of the city of Liverpool. The plan was withdrawn only after a successful campaign was organised not by the Labour party or trade unions but by the community. That forced the trust to drop its proposals. The national health service is being run by people whose first interest is the long-term commercialisation of it and of some hospital services. Broadgreen has been an issue almost since the York report was published. Whenever we question the Secretary of State about the future of Broadgreen, there is a stony silence. Broadgreen hospital catered for a large community, including my constituency. There is no hospital in my constituency. My constituents depend on Broadgreen hospital, which is at least eight miles away. Its accident and emergency unit is being closed. We asked why it is being closed, and we were told that it was a decision of the trusts. We now find that the two independent trusts are merging into a single trust. There is no doubt in the minds of the people of the Broadgreen action committee that the hospital will wither on the vine. The hospital responsible for almost all the area will be the Royal University hospital in the centre of Liverpool, which now takes patients from the former eye hospital and is also responsible for accident and emergency patients from Broadgreen.
That is what is happening in the NHS. People quite rightly feel afraid that the NHS is not safe in the Government's hands. Conservatives opposed the creation of the NHS in 1948 and never had to depend on it. The majority of Tories at that time enjoyed private health insurance, and one of the things that concerns some of us now is the apparent link between private insurance companies and the chairmen and members of trusts.
I fully support the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Broadgreen (Mrs. Kennedy) in relation to the chairman of the local trust, Sir Donald Wilson. He is a medal-hunter--no more than that-- and he has as much interest in the NHS as the man on the
Column 928moon. People in Broadgreen are maintaining their support for the retention of important hospitals and accident and emergency units. Is it any wonder that people are beginning to see that the Government have gone only part of the way in reforming the NHS? I have no crystal ball, but I read the books and that is better than gazing into a crystal ball. I see either a two-tier system, with a first and second grade of care within the NHS, or the eventual privatisation of the NHS. The latter will be hotly denied by the Government, but nevertheless all the signs at this stage are that that is their intention.
To the Tory Government, public expenditure is the work of the devil. Analysis of Government policy on the NHS shows that they believe the NHS to be a burden on the taxpayer. We know where the Government stand in relation to the NHS.
The service will retain its excellence only by having the necessary funding. We must recognise that changes have been made, and Labour's mistake was not to identify the changes that were taking place not only in the hospital service but in the health service generally. We should have found out what new methods were being proposed to treat various illnesses.
In the pre-war period, the hearse was a constant visitor to the street where I lived. Almost every house contained three or four families, which was why ill-health prevailed. Tory Governments did nothing to remedy the problems. Mothers lost children--sometimes three or four out of a family. My own mother lost a baby because we lived in poor conditions, along with the other people who lived in the slums of Liverpool. The slums were the cause of that.
[Interruption.] Conservative Members may smile about those people living in slums. They were prone to illnesses that Conservative Members would not even know about.
Death was imminent in every family who lived in such impoverished conditions. The action of the post-war Labour Government ended that. The NHS contributed so much to the health of nation. Post-war babies were six inches taller than babies born 30 years previously. Babies and their mothers were healthier, and mothers were able to give birth in decent hospitals rather than in slum homes.
There has been a massive change since those days, and the NHS means something to the working class of this country. Working-class people will defend the NHS. They will not be motivated by political activists, but they know that the NHS is a treasure that they must defend. Whatever the Government are saying at the moment, we know their intention. They say--as they always do--that money for the NHS must come from taxation. They should be taxing their rich friends to maintain a decent NHS for those who need it.
The Government should be condemned for the way in which they have dealt with the health service. One reads in the papers every day--the right-wing press, the left-wing press or the middle-of-the-road press--more and more complaints about the NHS. People are saying that the NHS is not being run in the interests of patients and patient care. That should be a lesson for the Government.
People are saying loud and clear: hands off our NHS. It is not the Government's health service. It was brought into being by the post-war electors who came back from the war, determined not to go back to the slums and unemployment of the 1920s and 1930s. People used to stand on street corners, waiting for something to turn up.
Column 929We must not go back to that. The people of this country recognise what the Government are doing to the NHS. I will be out fighting for the retention of the NHS, and I hope that the next Labour Government will clear away all the legislation that this Government have introduced.
No longer can one get answers from people in authority in the NHS; they are unaccountable in every sense of the word. The Secretary of State has lost control, and she and her Ministers believe what the trusts tell them. Hon. Members in my area have to write to the trusts to ask what is going on at Broadgreen. The Secretary of State, her Ministers and the Department of Health are not simply out of touch, they are out of control. They no longer control the NHS, which is now free-running, with the trusts doing all the management.
The Government's propaganda was referred to earlier. Propaganda is one of things at which the Government excel, and I give them full credit for that. They send an unbelievable amount of stuff saying that everything is fine, along with other misinformation or irrelevant information. They send almost nothing about how long patients have to wait for treatment, about the closure of accident and emergency units at Broadgreen or about the fact that the NHS cannot recruit junior doctors because of their conditions. All those things show that the NHS is not safe in the Government's hands. The Secretary of State had better get control of the situation, and start acting as a Secretary of State. She must find out what is going on in the trusts, which often are making decisions when they have not even considered the effects of those decisions on the hospitals concerned. In other words, the Government are completely out of touch with people's needs.
Recently, a man--I do not know the guy--told an interviewer on a radio phone-in programme in Liverpool that he had been waiting two and a half years for a hospital appointment, and he duly turned up at the hospital when he was summoned with nine other patients. The patients were told to stay in the corridors and to get a cup of tea if they wanted. They were there about eight hours. Staff were trying to find out how many people would be discharged that day--beds would still be warm when the new patients got in. In the end, he was sent home, along with other patients, because there were no discharges that day. Is that any way to run a national health service? What justification can there be for that?
This debate has made it clear that the people have an emotive regard for the national health service. They cherish it and recognise that it will be safe only when a Labour Government are back in power.
Mr. Matthew Banks (Southport): I mean the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) no discourtesy, as he is an honest man and he represents a constituency that I know well as it is not far from mine. I know that he will understand if I robustly, but genuinely, disagree with some of his arguments. In the few minutes that I have to make my speech, I shall touch on several of the issues that he mentioned and relate them to the area that I represent in the north-west, which in recent years has witnessed one of the greatest reductions in waiting times in the United Kingdom and the greatest increase in the number of patients treated.
Column 930The picture is entirely different from that painted by the hon. Member for Garston. He said that the national health service was one of the greatest leaps forward in social policy and I do not disagree, but, heavens, that was decades ago: things have moved on. Old hospitals have to close--they become clinically unviable. The Government have built new, bigger and better, clinically more viable hospitals and nowhere is that more evident than in north Merseyside, central Liverpool and the north-west of England.
I am concerned that we heard too much scaremongering from Opposition Members. My hon. Friends have done their best to put the record straight and, in the time available, it would not be right for me to trot out yet more statistics. My hon. Friends have more than adequately drawn our attention to the improvements that have been made in recent years as a result of the reforms that Ministers have pioneered.
In my constituency, which is in northern Merseyside, there is growing satisfaction with the way in which the NHS operates. I referred to the reductions in waiting times and the increase in the number of patients treated. It is pertinent that national health service trusts now treat 3,000 more patients per day than the same hospitals three years ago. Waiting times have reduced dramatically. Half the patients who need treatment are seen immediately and half of the remainder are seen within five weeks.
One striking aspect of this debate is that, if the Labour party had the opportunity to introduce its plans for devolution and breaking up the United Kingdom, it would also have the opportunity of handing many of the powers that have been devolved locally, nearer to the patient, away from clinicians to the politicians, with the setting up of regional assemblies. I am very mindful of what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said about moving to "irrelevant and unwanted" talking shops.
We have not seen new Labour this evening. We listened intently to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) trotting out many news cuttings from The Guardian , but we did not hear anything of policy. My hon. Friends said that it was little wonder that the patient did not always come first as the union interest came first because the Opposition receive so much money from unions and from the Confederation of Health Service Employees in particular.
I hope that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) will have the opportunity to reply shortly--I see him shuffling in his place-- and that he will at least have something positive to say about what the Government have done in recent years. It is not all doom and gloom, but I did not hear the right hon. Member for Derby, South make one positive point, despite the statistics to which my hon. Friends rightly referred.
In my constituency and the north-west of England tremendous improvements have been made. I very much regret the remarks of the hon. Member for Garston about Sir Donald Wilson, as he has done more than the hon. Gentleman in this place or at home in Liverpool to improve the service to NHS patients in Merseyside. The hon. Gentleman should be ashamed of his remarks.
We have heard the politics of envy about salaries. I regularly meet people who work in the health service in north Merseyside and in Southport and Formby district and the well-paid staff and administrators provide the public with a very good service.
Column 931My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes) proposed some of his former political opponents to serve on trusts. Some of my political opponents sit easily on the board of the Southport and Formby Community Health Services trust. They work well and are committed to the Government's reforms.
Those reforms are paying dividends and I speak as someone who has been an in-patient at Broadgreen hospital and Southport and Formby district general hospital. One cannot compare the two, however. Much good work goes on at Broadgreen and I pay tribute to its staff, but we need to move forward, especially with the private finance initiatives that have been pioneered so well in north Merseyside--with imaginative proposals for new building--and in partnership with the private sector. We need to move forward and to improve hospital infrastructure. Sadly, if that means closing older hospitals, that is what we must do if it is in the patient's interest.
We heard that the average waiting time for operations has been cut by half, but we heard no mention of that fact from the right hon. Member for Derby, South. She did not pay any tributes. I recall only the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith) paying tribute to those who work in the health service. Perhaps I did not hear the tributes, but I do not think that they were paid, and that is regrettable.
This Opposition Day debate started at 3.45 pm, but the Opposition Front- Bench spokeswoman--in a speech that lasted nearly an hour--said nothing about what a Labour Government would do, if there ever were one. She said nothing of their plans for the future, let alone giving us serious costings of how those plans might be paid for. I hope that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East will set the record straight. It is time to stop consulting and to let the public know what the Opposition would do, if they ever had the opportunity to implement their plans.
I cannot let the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) pass. I challenged him and gave him an opportunity to answer when I referred to his consultation document. In a mealy-mouthed response, he said that he was appointed to his present post after the consultation paper was published. Is it not about time that we heard where the Liberal Democrats stand? Instead, as the editorial of the Health and Social Service Journal of September 1994 stated, we have to hope that
"With luck, someone might be kind enough to offer some directions."
I gave the hon. and learned Gentleman the opportunity to tell the House and the people where his party stood. He promised to do so and to give us a sense of the direction in which he and his colleagues are going--I wrote it down--but, as the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) said, by the time that the hon. and learned Gentleman had sat down he had given us no sense of direction. Mr. Alex Carlile rose --
Mr. Banks: Unfortunately, the hon. and learned Gentleman will not have time to answer my questions in this debate but we shall certainly look for a fuller explanation later. My question will be in the Official Report tomorrow for all to see and it will be clear that I received no answer. I asked whether the hon. and learned Gentleman believed in retaining the division between commissioner of services and provider of services, and the retention of NHS trusts and GP fundholding. His party changes its policy from one day to the next. It is up to the hon. and learned Gentleman in his own time to put the British public and the House straight on where he stands. Like other Liberal Democrats, he says one thing in this place and another back in his constituency. Moreover, he says one thing at one end of his constituency and another at the other end, depending on who he talks to. The whole House knows that I tell the truth on that.
I draw my remarks to a more premature conclusion than I would wish by returning to my concern about the scare stories put about in my constituency and the north-west. My constituency had to wait for the election of a Conservative Government before funds were found to build a brand new hospital. My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow referred to the cut in the hospital building programme because the Labour Government had got the British economy into such a mess. The hospital to which I referred, where I have been an in-patient, should have been built years ago but we had to wait for the election of a Conservative Government in 1979. I pay tribute to the clinical staff and administrators at the Southport and Formby NHS trust. I make no apology for expressing my concern tonight on a parochial point. My predecessor, who was a Liberal Democrat, had little knowledge of health matters despite the fact that he was national spokesman on health. When health became an important issue, he had to be moved sharpish because he was so hopeless. He has been saying publicly that the current local health service review will close the maternity services that cover the Southport and Formby area. So concerned is the trust--it is not concern on the part of the health authority conducting the review--at what that gentleman has been saying that it has had to call him in for a private briefing because he has been going off the rails.
There will be no loss of maternity services in my constituency. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Minister will continue to listen carefully to representations that I have made privately, and now publicly, to ensure that there will be a proper capital allocation so that when the Christiana Hartley maternity hospital closes because of a lack of clinical viability, and when the private finance initiative, to which I referred, allows for new and further building at our new hospital in Southport, maternity services will be transferred within the town to the main hospital site at Kew.
I hope that we shall now hear something positive from the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East, because we heard nothing positive from the right hon. Member for Derby, South earlier.
Column 9338.52 pm
Mr. Thomas Graham (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde): I have listened to the entire debate and am surprised that the Government have not recognised the fact that they have packed the trusts and boards to the gullet with Tory supporters. They have wiped out any democratic opinion from other sources--from people who are neutral, people from other political parties and people with opposing opinions but who nevertheless wish to see a successful health service. In my area, all the trusts and quangos are packed stupid with Tory placemen.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East): Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the same conditions apply in Northern Ireland, where every quango has been packed with individuals who have no Ulster Unionist credentials?
Mr. Graham: I am grateful for that information. If we travelled the length and breadth of Britain, we would find no balance of opinion on how the national health service should be run in either the trusts or the boards.
I place on record my absolute praise for health service staff: consultants, doctors, and our wonderful nurses who look after people magnificently. I also praise those who back them up--auxiliary nurses, porters and those who make our hospitals function. Ultimately, it is they, not the Government, who make our health service function. The Government do not deliver the service; they simply cripple it and they continue to cripple it. I express my great appreciation to all those who work in the industry and deliver the services.
Since the Tory party introduced its great reforms, we have seen a huge escalation in staff. Instead of patients receiving better treatment, the service is creating more and more paperwork. I and my whole family have been treated as patients at the Paisley Royal Alexandra hospital. Indeed, some members of my family are grateful for being alive today because of the treatment that they received from people trained in our educational establishments and the national health service, not in trusts.
Now that the hospital has become a trust, things have changed. A friend of mine had an operation in the hospital, was sent home too early and had to return to the hospital. On waking up in his bed, he found a man sitting at the end of it. When he asked, "Who are you?" the man replied that he was waiting for his bed because he would be leaving. My friend then had to consult the doctor about whether he would be leaving. What an incredible scene.
In another case, a father in my constituency phoned the emergency doctor, who said that he would need to get the man's daughter into hospital immediately. But the local hospital had no beds and, having phoned around other hospitals, the doctor eventually found a bed in a hospital well into the Glasgow area. When they reached the Glasgow area, they were told that that had been happening all the time. I hope that the Minister is listening because folk in my constituency rely on the Government listening to their pleas.
The Royal Alexandra hospital is a big, brand new hospital that epitomises the best on offer, yet the other week it had no bed for a constituent of mine who needed one in an emergency. In the same hospital, an elderly woman with a broken bone had to wait more than 48 hours before seeing a surgeon. Eventually, she saw a surgeon because her family phoned me and I asked what the blazes was going on and why my constituent had not
Column 934been treated. I was then sent a lovely letter explaining what had happened. What the letter did not tell me, however, was that a woman in the next bed should have been seen before my constituent and was therefore broken-hearted. Although that woman was ready to go in for treatment, my constituent went in front of her because I, as a politician, had argued my constituent's case. I did not know that at the time, but it is an indictment on a trust hospital.
We heard tonight about hospital closures. In my constituency and some other parts of the country, mentally ill and mentally handicapped people who are in desperate need of care and attention can be seen walking the streets at night. I saw them last night in London and the other week in Glasgow. Those people should be receiving the best of care. Are they receiving care? They are in cardboard cities, lying under the bridges and arches. They cannot receive treatment. If we check up, we find that those folk were put into institutions and released without the necessary back-up. What do the Government propose in my area? They set up a quango and appointed Tory clones who are recommending that Ravenscraig, Bridge of Weir, Merchiston and Dykebar hospitals should close. The Tory clones say that they must quickly meet the Government targets. They are not interested in meeting the target of looking after patients.
Mr. Beggs: We in Northern Ireland share the problems that the hon. Gentleman has in his constituency. Does he agree that inadequate provision is made for young people aged between 14 and 18 with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia? There should be separate and special provision for those young people throughout the United Kingdom. They should not be lumped in with adults.
Mr. Graham rose --
Dr. Godman: My hon. Friend mentioned Ravenscraig hospital in my constituency. Scores of constituents have contacted me regarding the threatened closure of that hospital. I sincerely hope that we can conduct a campaign to keep it open.
The Minister should be aware of our constituents' feelings. The Government are running the health service badly. To rescue the health service we probably need a general election. We need to go in a different direction with a different political party--we need people who are committed to running the health service and want to see it grow, develop, be innovative and deliver the best services. I shall speak for another two minutes, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and finish when I have spoken for exactly 10 minutes.
I remember raising in the House the problem of one of my constituents, Mr. Kennedy, who could not see a urologist or get an appointment. He was eventually given an appointment after I had continually harassed the Government to ensure that he was looked after. Mr. Kennedy was eventually looked after and had his operation. What is he like now? He is a brand new man,
Column 935enjoying the full fruits of life. He is an elderly, retired gentleman of over 70. I met him at Christmas, when he was dancing, singing and enjoying a drink--a new man. This country needs a health service that puts people back on their feet.
Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Cunninghame, South): My hon. Friend must understand that the Tories have a hidden agenda. They want to privatise the health service, and are beginning to do so with trusts. The health board in my district this week signed a contract with a private American company that will lead to profits going across the pond. What does my hon. Friend think of that?
The people of Britain no longer have any trust in the Tory's trusts. No one has any faith in the Government's ability to ensure that our health service is the best in the world. The Government no longer treat our young doctors as humans. They make them work like slaves--80 hours a week with hardly any pay. They treat nurses as cannon fodder and do not recognise their skills with proper wages. I have questioned Ministers a million times, but they hang their heads and say that they will never do what is needed. The only thing that we can hope for is a speedy general election. I hope that the Prime Minister is daft enough to call an election next week.
I have been delighted to take part in tonight's debate to argue the case for my constituents. The Minister should give us some heart and give up now.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere): I welcome the opportunity to make a brief contribution. There have been distinguished contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Broxbourne (Mrs. Roe) and for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) and from my right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke).
There have not been many cross-currents during the debate, but one came across the House from the hon. Member for Strathkelvin and Bearsden (Mr. Galbraith), who talked of the need for everyone, including those in low- income groups, to have high expectations for health. That struck a note on both sides of the House. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is particularly interested in maintaining high expectations in health and her policies for improving the health of the nation have gone a long way towards achieving that aim.
My right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South hit the nail on the head when he said that the speech by the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) became interesting only at the very end when she began to talk about her views, her vision and the Labour party's policies. She said precious little in the rest of her speech and simply trailed before the House every press cutting from Labour's press file.
The right hon. Lady answered most of her own questions when she said that in any large organisation things can go wrong. She began by relating some admittedly serious-sounding incidents, but she then moved on to some rather mundane ones, including the examples of a bed being moved and Hull Royal infirmary asking people with minor injuries not to go to the accident and emergency department.
Column 936The right hon. Lady's speech was not really worthy of an Opposition day debate about the national health service. It suffered from two principal defects: first, there was a lack of detail about Labour party policy; and, secondly, she went over very old ground. Any Opposition Member could have made the same speech at any stage in the past 15 years. That sort of sensationalism and trivialising of individual stories does the right hon. Lady no credit at all--indeed, her credibility is threadbare.
The Opposition's big revelation is that the Government are trying to privatise the health service. Opposition Members have been saying that for the past 15 years and it has not happened. Indeed, there is evidence to confound it utterly. During that time an increasing volume of resources-- measured in real terms, set against health service inflation or viewed as a proportion of gross domestic product--have been allocated to the health service. Contrary to what the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) said, the Government are committed to the national health service through public expenditure.
The health service suffered real cuts and was constrained and driven down by the last Labour Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield spoke eloquently about that and I do not want to go over the same sad story. We heard also about Baroness Castle, who seems to be rather a ghost in our proceedings. She recorded in her diaries what took place under that Labour Government and she recalls a verse which was penned by one of her Labour colleagues about the activities of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, now Lord Healey. It went like this:
"All things bright and beautiful, all projects great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Chancellor cuts them all. He cuts the old age pension, although he cuts by stealth, and while he looks for savings, he cuts the national health." That is the record of the last Labour Government as revealed by one of their distinguished former Cabinet Ministers.
We have made a great deal of progress since then, not just through increased funding, but through improvements in efficiency and management-- managers have been much maligned by Labour Members--and through the Government's health reforms. When the right hon. Lady talked about the reasons for improvements in the health service I could hear the goal posts being moved--in fact, I could hear them being sawn down and taken to a different stadium.
I will remind hon. Members of what one of the right hon. Lady's predecessors, the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), said when he set out the acid test of the success of the Government's reforms. I advise Opposition Members never to set targets which might be a hostage to fortune: if the targets are surpassed they will be made to look foolish. In the House in April 1991, the hon. Gentleman said: "Is the Secretary of State prepared to measure the success of those trusts that opted out by the simple test of whether they do more or less work on NHS patients?"--[ Official Report , 17 April 1991; Vol. 206, c. 457.]
According to the hon. Gentleman's own test, the Government's reforms have succeeded. More patients are being treated now under the reformed national health service than ever before--3,000 more per day for the whole country and a rise of 20 per cent. in the health authority which covers my constituency. By any measure,
Column 937that is a substantial increase. The Labour party, confronted with indisputable evidence of the success of the reforms, moves the goal posts. On Second Reading of the Health Authorities Bill, the right hon. Member for Derby, South told the House that her party's supporters resented the Government
"claiming credit for those improvements, as though they all flow from the Government's reforms and changes. In fact, they have absolutely nothing to do with the Government's reforms and changes. Indeed, in many cases those changes have seriously impeded the development of better health care".-- [ Official Report , 12 December 1994; Vol. 251, c. 649.]