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Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell): Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Dobson: I will in a moment.

That made 700 extra beds available during the winter to help the hard-pressed people in the health service to cope with emergencies. They achieved a brilliant success. I know that the weather was mild last winter, and that there was no flu epidemic; but last winter the NHS dealt with more emergencies than ever before, and there were none of the scandalous lists of people waiting on trolleys and mattresses in corridors that had characterised nearly every winter in the 1990s. That is immensely to the credit of those working in the NHS and local social services. It contributed to the rise in waiting lists, as I had said it would at the start, but I believe that the right priority was given.

Until recently, I had not heard one person object to that decision. Then the last shadow Secretary of State for Health said that it had been made to save my face. I possess my face, and I would not want to sacrifice anyone for the sake of my face. Nothing was done for the sake of my face.

Now the new shadow Secretary of State says that our action was a failed public relations exercise. Was what was done in the West Kent health authority area, part of which the right hon. Lady represents, a public relations exercise? Was it a public relations exercise to put £117,000 into flu vaccinations to protect the most exposed groups? Was it a public relations exercise to put an extra £1 million into 132 additional nursing and residential home placements and home care?

Mr. Brazier: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Dobson: No.

Was it a public relations exercise to spend £50,000 on extending district nurse cover in the right hon. Lady's area, to spend £200,000 on additional beds at Mid-Kent

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hospital, or to spend £150,000 on a minimum care ward and discharge lounge at Kent and Sussex Weald? Apparently so.

Mr. Matthew Taylor: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Dobson: I will in a moment.

Recently, at the invitation of the senior representative of the consultants in the British Medical Association, I visited Halton general hospital. That representative was proud to introduce me to a team of respiratory care nurses who had spent the winter using some of the money to visit old people and other people with chest complaints, and deal with them at home. Being in hospital would have put them in danger, owing to the nature of hospitals. That was not a public relations exercise; it was a brilliant effort on the part of people in the NHS, which was appreciated by everyone--except, apparently, the new shadow Secretary of State for Health, who would rather make cheap political points.

Mr. Brazier rose--

Mr. Heald rose--

Mr. Matthew Taylor rose--

Mr. Dobson: I will give way to the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Mr. Taylor).

Mr. Taylor: The Secretary of State has rightly referred to the brilliant effort by staff in the NHS. He is aware, of course, of the situation in Cornwall, where four hospitals and a maternity unit face closure. He has to accept that it is now his responsibility to say yes or no to the health authority proposal. He will understand that there is much concern among the staff themselves in those hospitals and the maternity unit about their future, and there has been substantial delay in making a decision. Can he give any indication as to whether there is any chance of an early decision, one way or the other, which will at least relieve the burden that they are under? I hope that the decision will be to keep the hospitals and maternity unit open.

Mr. Dobson: I am not supposed to adjudicate on individual decisions on the Floor of the House, because I could be challenged, whether my decision went one way or the other, and I have a quasi-judicial role in this matter. All I can say about the Cornwall situation is this: it is nothing to do with money. The chief executive of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly health authority has said that, even if he had the money, he would close those hospitals.

I am dubious about that idea, as the hon. Gentleman and other Cornwall Members know, and I am looking at the objections to those closures extremely seriously. It is all right people saying, "Make up your mind quickly." If I had made up my mind a lot sooner, they might have got the wrong answer. If they hang on a bit, they might even get the right one.

Mr. Heald: In East and North Hertfordshire health authority, the number of people on the waiting list has gone

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up by a third in the past year, so will the Secretary of State apologise to the 4,000 extra people on the waiting list, and answer the question that my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) asked: what about Lee Bosley, who has been waiting for 19 months? How can the Secretary of State possibly say that people are not waiting for 18 months when here is someone who has been waiting for 19?

Mr. Dobson: I do not know the details of the case that has been raised across the Dispatch Box, but the statements that I have made are based on information that has been supplied through the normal statistical arrangements in the Department of Health. Indeed, I have so insisted on it getting things right that one of the reasons for the increase in waiting lists is that it has had to look around, and has found some people who, strangely, disappeared from the waiting list last year. They are now back on because I want the figures to be accurate. If they are not, I will follow that up and ensure that something is done about it.

Mr. Duncan: So will the Secretary of State withdraw the amendment?

Mr. Dobson: No, I certainly will not withdraw the amendment because, frankly, I would not take the word of the people sitting on the Conservative Front Bench if they were the last people on earth. The child's mother may be right, and I am prepared to find out what has been going on, but I am not prepared to accept any accusations that are hurled at me by people on the Conservative Front Bench. If they had really been interested in the interests of the child, they could have got in touch with my Department--and I would have sorted the matter out in advance--rather than trying to make cheap points at the Dispatch Box.

We are entering just our second year of government and, with the extra money, I am convinced that we can and will tackle waiting lists. In his first Budget, the Chancellor found for this year for the NHS £1.2 billion over and above what the Tory Government had intended. In his second Budget, which was announced fairly recently, he found an extra £500 million, specifically to tackle waiting lists. That takes to £2 billion the total extra funds that we have put into the NHS since we came to power.

Of the £500 million of waiting list money, £417 million extra will go to England--rightly, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will get their share--to start getting waiting lists down. That is how it will be used. Today, I have published--anyone who reads it will be able to challenge the figures--a preliminary survey of what is happening with that money, which shows that more beds are being provided, that more wards are being opened, that more staff are being taken on, that there is more operating theatre time, and that there are more weekend and evening surgeries.

Let us look at what is happening with beds. The Opposition motion accuses us of reducing the number of beds, but, as a result of the availability of that £417 million--or, indeed, only part of it--this year 2,000 extra beds will be made available to the NHS, which would not otherwise be available. Moreover, 1,100 beds which were planned to be closed will not be closed. Therefore, this year, 3,000 extra beds--the equivalent of six new district general hospitals--will be in use to help

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bring down waiting lists. That action is being taken at a time when we are getting on with building another six district general hospitals, including the one in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew).

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. David Faber (Westbury): Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: I shall not give way for the moment.

Although the new Opposition health team have not been in the job very long, they should know that, between 1979 and 1997, the Tory Government--of whom they seem to be so proud--closed 43,000 acute beds in the national health service. This is our second year in government, and3,000 extra beds will be available. Compare that with the 43,000 fewer beds that were available under the Tories. What a contrast!

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Duncan: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dobson: I shall not. I shall mention the hon. Gentleman, after which he can intervene.

This morning, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan)--who keeps leaping to the Dispatch Box--said on radio that he wanted to see the lists of those beds. We have published the lists. However, to save him looking them up, I tell him that, because of the Government's action, there will be 30 extra acute beds in Leicestershire, which will serve his constituency. In west Kent--which includes the constituency represented by the shadow Secretary of State for Health--125 extra beds will be available. I know that the right hon. Lady is in favour of old-fashioned courtesies--so I am just leaning forward to hear the words, "Thank you." She should be grateful that she is getting that extra money.

I shall give some other examples.

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