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House of Commons

Wednesday 31 March 1999

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

Adjournment (Easter)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

9.33 am

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): On Tuesday 23 March, The Mirror ran an exclusive story on Anita Froggatt, a constituent of mine from North Wingfield, who had had a healthy breast removed. She had been wrongly identified as a cancer victim at the Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Royal hospital, where a mix-up had occurred with the slides. On reading the report in The Mirror, I immediately contacted Avril Toland, the unit manager at the hospital. I was informed that a consultant pathologist had been suspended. There had been a similar case the previous year, involving the same consultant pathologist, which had resulted in an internal investigation. Obviously, the results and recommendations of the investigation and the procedures that were set in motion were inadequate to deal with the problem.

The second person involved is Kuldip Sumal, who is a constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner). The hospital serves my constituency as well as those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover.

I then contacted the office of the Secretary of State for Health and Anita's solicitor, Phil Bowen. I talked to Anita, who was at the solicitor's when I called. Also, I raised the matter on a point of order with you, Madam Speaker, and discussed the case that evening with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, whose concern is revealed in an answer to a parliamentary question that I tabled on 23 March and to which I received an answer yesterday.

I asked my right hon. Friend what reports he had received on errors made by the Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Royal hospital in diagnosing breast cancer and if he would make a statement. The reply states:

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A serious matter of confidence is involved--the shattered confidence of my constituent and women's confidence in breast cancer screening and treatment in general. Anita is reported in The Mirror as saying:

    "It's horrific. How can I come to terms with this? My life is ruined. I've been to hell and back for nothing . . . Now I look at my wedding picture and want to turn the clock back. I was so confident and happy."

She has the close support of a loving family, including her husband Paul and 10 year-old son Dane, but she, and they, need help to rebuild the confidence that she once had. Kuldip Sumal has been through the same shattering experiences, as did Margaret Nicoll in 1992 at the Royal Alexandra hospital in Paisley, Renfrewshire.

Women in general need their confidence in breast cancer screening and treatment restored. The importance of screening was shown by statistics from the Department of Health in evidence to the Select Committee on Health in 1995. About 13,000 women die of breast cancer each year in England alone. Cases of breast cancer increased by 22 per cent. in England and Wales between 1979 and 1988. The United Kingdom is 22 out of a list of 23 nations for breast cancer mortality--23 being the nation with the highest mortality. The 1995 Select Committee report, "Breast Cancer Services", does not deal with the problem that I am raising, but contains evidence from the Radiotherapy Action Group Exposure--RAGE--on women who have suffered injury from radiotherapy treatment following breast cancer.

To ensure that such errors never happen again, we need not merely another internal inquiry at the royal hospital, but the wider inquiry detailed by the Secretary of State. Furthermore, that inquiry should go beyond the situation at that hospital. Throughout the national health service we want the best practice that operates in any trust hospital. We want that best practice established in north Derbyshire so that these problems do not occur again.

We also need a full examination of all the royal hospital's breast cancer slides because many other women in the area are worried about their treatment, or lack of treatment, if the wrong slides have been examined and related to their cases. The slides supervised by the consultant pathologist concerned must be examined as quickly as possible. I also hope that the Health Committee will revisit the 1995 investigation to cover the problems that have been revealed at the hospital. In its examination, it would find a visit to the hospital valuable.

Breast cancer screening is important. Women need to be encouraged to use the service, but to use it they need to have utter confidence in it. That confidence has been shattered in this case, especially in north Derbyshire. The sooner that the investigations take place and best practice is adopted, the better for everyone concerned.

9.41 am

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): There are three reasons why we should not rush off to our Easter break before considering them. First, before we get back, hedges all over the country will have grown by at least an inch or two if they are leylandii hedges. The matter may cause amusement when a hedge grows from 8 ft to8 ft 2 in, but when it is from 30 ft to 30 ft 2 in many people suffer distress.

The organisation Hedgeline already has 2,200 members. The problem is growing as fast as the hedges. One in five trees planted in England is a leylandii or

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something very like it. We all understand that when one moves into a new plot, it is nice to get some greenery as fast as possible, but many people, either because they are genuinely malevolent or paranoid about being overlooked, plant such trees as close as they can to their boundary, regardless of the damage that it causes to their neighbours. That can mean the removal of a view, not from the ground floor but from the first and second floors of people's houses.

The problem should be controlled. That is why I had hoped to bring in a Bill, but the Government not only objected to it but are in disarray. They had a special unit examine the problem for about six months. They say that they have no idea how to deal with it, but when presented with a Bill that they could have amended as much as they liked in Committee, they refused to allow it even to proceed that far, which is a shame.

Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border): They cannot see the wood for the trees.

Mr. Rowe: My right hon. Friend is right. It is a serious matter that we should consider. It is going to get a great deal worse. I was somewhat dismayed by my meeting with the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale). At the start, he said that he was worried about my Bill because an appeal mechanism against a local authority decision that a hedge was causing a nuisance to neighbours would mean that he would have to set up an entire department to deal with appeals because there would be so many. However, at the end he said, "I am not at all sure Andrew that you are not exaggerating this matter. It doesn't seem to me that it is as big as you think." One cannot have it both ways unless one is new Labour.

The second reason that we should not adjourn is that this is a proper moment to note on the Floor what many hon. Members on both sides of the House have already recognised in receptions and other meetings: the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children campaign to abolish cruelty to children. I acknowledge a vested interest in that I am proud to be a trustee of that organisation.

Before we return from the Easter break, at least one child under five in this country will have died following abuse and neglect. One child under five dies every week of abuse and neglect and 150,000 children are physically abused each year. Many of my colleagues who heard him speak will have been outraged when Jim Harding, the director of the NSPCC, told us that 30 years ago, one of his first cases involved a baby the end of whose little fingers had been cut off with nail scissors. Such awful cruelty not only continues but may even be on the increase. It is difficult to be sure, because, fortunately, abuse is becoming more commonly reported.

With 11 per cent. of adults saying that they were sexually abused as children and an estimated 450,000 children being bullied at school, it is appropriate that the NSPCC should have launched the largest campaignthis century by a non-governmental organisation. It is comparable only to the anti-slavery campaign of Wilberforce and his friends. When they set out, the public

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did not believe that anything could be done about slavery or the slave trade. They were derided for even thinking that something could be done. The same is true now. However much they want the get rid of cruelty to children, a great many people believe that it is pie in the sky to imagine that a campaign can abolish it.

No one suggests that we will get rid of every incident of cruelty to children, but just as Wilberforce and his friends abolished slavery in this country, ended the slave trade and impacted enormously on slavery worldwide, so I believe that the NSPCC campaign against cruelty can be expected to have a similar impact. In 50 years' time, this country will be a kinder place for children to grow up in, and it will be much easier for children to report abuse when they are in misery.

A telling reason why children do not report cruelty is that they believe that the public services will break up their family. However bad life is for them in it, they know that it is all that they have got. If brothers and sisters are going to be separated by social services, what else have they got? This is an insensitivity in our public life that we must tackle. The ever more clamant new thrust towards listening to children is the beginning of wisdom.

I am glad to remind the House that I am chairman of a steering group of all parties and many NGOs that is trying to establish for 2000 the first sitting of a United Kingdom youth parliament. That will be part of listening to young people and allowing their voices to be heard on matters on which the Government do not listen to them. The Government introduce legislation on literacy hours, curfews or changing the nature of support for young people at universities, but they never ask young people what they think. It is time that they did.

The last reason why we should not adjourn is that in the great debate on the Metropolitan police and the Lawrence report, I did not hear anyone wonder whether we ask the police to do too much. This is an important issue. We expect our police to do all sorts of things. We expect them to look after lost property, to register every insurance claim and to police crowds going to football matches or demonstrations. Sometimes reluctantly, we expect them to enforce the law on dangerous drivers. We expect them to act as human traffic lights when the computer systems break down. When the social services are closed, the citizens advice bureau is shut, and the doctor's surgery has gone to bed, we expect them to pick up confused old women with compassion and sympathy. We expect them to find places for people with nowhere to sleep. We expect all that from a group of people who are also expected to respond to crime, assault and violence effectively, efficiently and with power.

Those qualities are difficult to find in one group of people. The Government need to consider carefully whether the young men and women who are brought into the Metropolitan or other police forces are not expected to have too wide a range of qualities because the range of jobs that they do is so diverse.

To take one small example, Ministers might consider carefully whether when I lose my wallet or credit card I should have to get a number from the police before the insurance company will pay attention to my claim. That is surely one of many tasks that could be outsourced to an organisation that would keep in touch with the police. I hope that Ministers will consider the three matters that I have raised before we adjourn.

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