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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. Before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that this is a brief debate. Many hon. Members wish to speak. If they are brief, many will get in; but if they are not, many will be disappointed.

11.50 am

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) on securing his sixth Adjournment debate in this Parliament. He almost holds the record, but two Members have had seven. I have several points which, unfortunately, cannot be made in a couple of minutes. I want to draw attention to what I believe are the NHS's major weaknesses.

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Like the right hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith), I remember the start of the health service. As a 13-year-old schoolboy at a May day rally in Sophia gardens in Cardiff, I heard Aneurin Bevan speak about the NHS. I remember it more vividly than, say, the events of yesterday evening, which is probably just as well. He used as a measure of the success of the health service something that strikes us as astonishing today--the increase in the birth rate. He pointed out that he was not claiming any personal responsibility for the increase. How extraordinarily things have changed. He would have been surprised that we rate the NHS by the crude measures of waiting lists and the amount of money spent.

I am sometimes critical of the Government, but we are doing splendid work on the NHS. I congratulate Ministers on tackling the major weaknesses. People will look back in 50 years and say that this was a turning point in the reform of the health service. I refer to the Government challenging the omnipotence of clinicians, which led in part to the terrible Bristol tragedies. So much of medicine is based on mythology, on the first thing that comes into a doctor's head, not on science or evidence. A series of individuals make thousands of decisions in their domains. Hip operations--on which I had a debate many years ago--are an example on which research and evidence exist.

The main weakness of the health service is not private medicine but the commercialisation of all medicine, with so much being done not for the needs of the patients or to advance medical science but to serve the interests of commercial companies. It was true even five years ago that anyone having treatment for cancer would have had as good treatment in the health service as they would have had privately. That is no longer true. It is now a gamble. People's treatment depends on where they live and whether drug companies are conducting trials in the area. The drug companies are leading research into cancer treatment. The whole business is a sad gamble with people's lives, because it is commercially driven.

Enormous damage is done by the vast over-use of medicinal drugs. It is a great tragedy and lives are being lost. We make a great fuss about illegal drugs, but the figures for Wales over the past four years show that six people died from heroin and only 13 from all illegal drugs, while 108 died from paracetamol, 28 from co-proxamol and 55 from methadone, which is a legal drug. In the UK, 2,500 people die annually from the misuse of medicinal drugs.

To see zombies with damaged lives who exist in a perpetual trance, one should go not to some slum to find kids with needles sticking out of them but to the residential homes. There, people are drugged unnecessarily with neuroleptic drugs. There have been two major reports in Britain on the subject. One was in a northern town, but I cannot say where because the report has not been published. It discovered that 54 per cent. of residents of such homes who were on neuroleptic drugs did not need them; 20 per cent. of admissions to hospital for elderly people resulted from misuse of medicinal drugs. That involved not only neuroleptic drugs but the interactions between all drugs. An identical figure was found at Gloucester royal hospital: 20 per cent. of elderly admissions were for misuse of such drugs. A Glasgow

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study showed that the figure was 88 per cent. These terrible, powerful drugs mimic the symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Many people have stories of relatives entering homes frail but with alert minds. Within weeks, they are put on regular prescribed medication. It becomes routine and they are turned into zombies with a poor quality of life. The study that I mentioned visited hospitals with a pharmacist and a doctor and examined all the medication that the elderly took. They were able to reduce it by at least half. Each individual was taking an average of six drugs. Some had been taking them for years and did not realise why. It had all been forgotten. The interactions between drugs were doing great harm. Neuroleptic drug use was cut enormously. The result was a better quality of life. People returned to being sensible and taking an interest in what was happening around them and they lived longer.

That is going on now in this country. We must address it. I hope that there will be support for a Bill that will come up during the slaughter of the innocents this Friday when 60-odd Bills come before Parliament. I hope that no Conservative King Herod will kill them all. We must address the problem. The Bill chimes in with what the Government are doing by saying that we need transparency. The Government have a battery of measures to ensure that we can know what is happening. When we find a residential home where 100 per cent. of residents are on neuroleptic drugs, that cannot possibly be right. The savings which can be made by dealing with this issue can be applied to other areas of care in the homes which greatly benefit people.

Drugs are misused in many other parts of the health service. We know about antibiotics, with the creationof methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus. The philosophy of medicine is vast over-use of drugs because of the commercial interests and bodies that press, influence and lobby us and the health service to oversell drugs. We have become a society that does not want to accept the human condition. If we are sadder today than yesterday, we feel that we need a pill to take. For every discomfort, grief or pain, we think that there is an answer. Common sense tells us that someone suffering from a bereavement must suffer, weep and wail. We cannot smother it with drug-created euphoria, because the grief will recur in a more damaging form.

People going to hospital will routinely be told that they have to take daily pain-killers when they are not in pain, just in case, or anti-depressants when they feel happy. Huge amounts of drugs are then given to counteract the effects of other drugs. When the House meets in 50 years, our time will be seen as a period when people were obsessed and our lives full of drug use. That is the main heresy of our time.

The answer to many of our problems is not to be found in superficial measures. People are far better on a waiting list than having their babies attended at Bristol royal infirmary or having a dodgy hip replacement. We must examine the quality of the health service. That is the measure that will improve things. We must escape from the present situation, where so much of the health service is driven not by the needs of patients but by the greedy needs of commerce to make extra profits.

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11.58 am

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I am conscious that we have far too little time, so I shall be brief. I thank the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) for giving us the opportunity to say thank you to the national health service. On behalf of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, I pay tribute to that 50 years of history. We stake our claim to the genesis of the NHS. After the Webbs in the 1920s, Beveridge in the 1930s and 1940s--he was briefly a Liberal Member of Parliament and then a peer--wrote the report that said that a precondition of a welfare state was a national health service that dealt with all conditions. For those who have not read it yet, I recommend the book by Nick Timmins as a very good and timely read about the history of the welfare state in those great days.

Nye Bevan did the country proud and the Labour Government did the country right after the war. The rest of us have a duty to build on the basis of that. We could all eulogise the good things that the health service has done in all four countries of the United Kingdom, this great capital city and our constituencies. I add my words of thanks to those who work and have worked for the health service, not only at the sharp end--consultants doing difficult and acute operations every day, experts in paediatrics and intensive care--but people such as health visitors going out and about and those who work for environmental health improvement. As the right hon. Member for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) said, for every curative health service, we need a preventive health service to match. The two work hand in hand.

Like others, like the House as a whole and, thank goodness, like almost everyone in Parliament, we are committed to retaining in this country a health service free at the point of delivery. I have seen the recent figures. We spend £45 billion a year on the health service. Last year, 30 million people used it. That means that for every person who used it, it cost £1,500. For all of us, who might need it any day, it costs less than £1,000 a year. We pay 6.5p in the pound in tax for the NHS. It is very good value for money.

The debate, which I welcome, is about what the health service should do in the years to come. My colleagues and I believe that we have to connect--in Forster's words, "only connect"--the funders and the job. We have to agree as far as possible what the NHS should do, what is the core service, what is the provision. The Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), was honest enough yesterday to admit to the House that in some parts of the country services are available while in other parts they are not. He said that we should have parity of service. I share that view. The public want to be engaged. I read in the newspapers today that a survey by the Institute of Health Services Management for the conference down the road reveals that one of the things that matters most to people is what the health service does, and that they want much more involvement in the debate about what it does. I hope that, in future, the debate about the boundaries of the NHS will become a public, orderly and regular debate and one in which we can all take part. If things cannot be agreed nationally, our local councils and health authorities--we believe that they should be together--should be able to decide to add on services and to raise the money locally to do so.

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I welcome the fact that the Government are soon to announce significant amounts of money for the health service. All the indications are good. I will not be churlish. I shall analyse the figures carefully and see how much the real increase is in percentage terms. I shall criticise it if it is not enough, but the recognition that we need a lot more money to catch up and then consistent increased growth to sustain the health service is welcome. The Minister knows the priorities. A health service cannot be run without staff. The right hon. Member for Wealden has made the point that we are desperately short of staff. We have to find incentives to people to train and stay with the health service.

We need capital to provide the buildings. I share the scepticism of the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent about the private finance initiative, as do my colleagues. We need an information technology base to ensure that we make efficient use of our resources. I share the view of the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn) that far too many drugs are given to people, and that we depend on drugs far too much. If we can massively reduce the drugs bill and improve health in a drug-free way, we shall be doing the country a good service.

My pager--as well as warnings through the press--tells me that the Secretary of State has announced to the conference in Earls Court the Commission for Health Improvement. In our manifesto--the health section of which I drafted last year--we said that there should be an inspectorate of health and social care. I welcome the commission, on which I gather there will be consultation. I put it to the Minister that there should be--the consultation paper appears in the Minister's hands as if by magic--regular inspection similar to Office for Standards in Education inspections of schools. Any patient or health service professional should be able to telephone the commission and ask it to go in and inspect a GP, hospital or clinic if he does not think that they are doing the job properly. The stronger the commission is, the better. That is where we get a quality health service.

In the 50 years to come, the NHS will be coming home. In the next couple of years we shall, in effect, have four national health services in the four countries of the United Kingdom--one in Wales, one in Northern Ireland, one in Scotland and one in England. I welcome that. The respective services may take on a different style, but it will be no less a national health service. I hope that it will be the people's health service and not the professionals' health service, and that people will have a greater say.

The Secretary of State said yesterday that waiting lists were the supertanker that was turning round. We shall debate that later, but for today we need to say that the NHS is the flagship of the public service fleet. The higher the flag flies, the more contented and healthy the people are. We salute it and wish it a successful voyage in all the 50 years ahead.

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