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5 May 1999 : Column 1061

Medical School (North Staffordshire)

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

10.15 pm

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North): I am most grateful for this opportunity to make the case in the House for an undergraduate medical school at Keele university, which will be for the benefit of people in north Staffordshire and further afield. The proposal is supported by many hon. Members, some of whom are here this evening.

We want Keele university to be able to offer places to 50 undergraduate medical students by 2000. Those places will be based in north Staffordshire, and placements will be provided in areas as far afield as Shropshire, the rest of Staffordshire, Burton and Crewe. It is essential to this bid that there is a joint proposal, involving the universities of Keele and of Manchester. This is a collaborative venture.

During Prime Minister's questions today, we heard a lot about doctors' hours and the working time directive. However, the bottom line for us is that we do not have enough doctors, because the previous Government did not give them to us. Therefore, we recognise that we must recruit and train more medical staff in north Staffordshire, where the shortage is already apparent. It is worth noting that the health needs of our area are widely acknowledged to be more pressing than those of the rest of the west midlands and, indeed, of the country as a whole.

I pay tribute to the vision of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who has put forward proposals in response to the medical work force standing advisory committee, which has stated that an extra 1,000 medical students should be recruited every year by the year 2005. I am happy to say that my right hon. Friend will visit north Staffordshire next week, so there will be an opportunity to discuss our proposals with him at first hand. However, his vision has been equalled by that of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who, through the comprehensive spending review, has provided the additional money for the extra recruitment.

Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme): Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the strengths of the Keele bid for the additional places is that work on it has been going on for many years? There has been striking co-operation with the health authorities in Manchester and Shropshire over a long period. Everything is now in place to make it possible to expand the number of available places beyond 50. Is not that one of the main reasons behind the strength of this proposal?

Ms Walley: I am very happy to agree with my hon. Friend, who has campaigned longer than most for this medical school. In a moment, I shall explain how we have been trying to establish a medical school at Keele university since 1965.

The vision that we share is not only for undergraduate places that at present do not exist in north Staffordshire. Our vision is for the expansion of facilities dedicated to medical education. For the first time since 1965, as a result of the comprehensive spending review, we have a real opportunity to establish a medical school in the area.

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That has been the dream of many people--including the medical director at the North Staffordshire hospital trust, Keith Prowse--since the 1960s.

If we look out from Westminster across the river, we can see Guys and St. Thomas's medical school. We want exactly the same facility for Shropshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire. We want a postgraduate school. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) said, the bid is led by Keele university, and it has widespread support, not least from the North Staffordshire hospital NHS trust and other trusts in the area. It is supported by local Members of Parliament. There is also support, and proven expertise, from Manchester and Liverpool universities.

The bid also has the support of chief executives from Burton hospitals NHS trust, East Cheshire NHS trust, Mid Cheshire hospitals NHS trust, Mid Staffordshire general hospitals NHS trust, the Princess Royal hospital NHS trust, the Robert Jones and Agnes Hunt orthopaedic and district hospital NHS trust, the Royal Shrewsbury hospitals NHS trust, and a range of local medical committees and primary care groups.

That wide geographical support is backed by a new spirit of partnership that is growing as a result of the area's recently created and innovative health action zone. Excellent working partnerships across the area involve schools and health partnerships. We want to build on all that. Although we are in the west midlands region, the teaching hospital for which we are bidding would look towards Manchester. We have discussed that point with colleagues in the region and see no problem arising.

No one disputes the difficulties of local recruitment of medical staff. We want to create an opportunity out of the shortage. We want permanent training places. We want 50 in the first instance, and we want to build on that figure. We want local youngsters to aim high and to take up a medical career. We also want to build a local centre of excellence to which students may come from elsewhere. They will come from outside the area to train with us and, having trained, they will stay on to practise in areas that are experiencing some of the greatest difficulties in recruiting medical staff--doctors, consultants and others.

There is a culture of learning in our area. Earlier today, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) and I attended a presentation of the beacon awards at which Stoke-on-Trent college was presented with a certificate of excellence. There is a culture of aiming high so that we may address the traditional imbalance of underachievement.

The spin-offs of a graduate medical centre would be enormous. There would be extra research money and benefits to patients--our constituents. It would almost certainly bring extra employment over a wide area, and it would bring extra ancillary staff. It would give us an opportunity to build a centre of excellence to deal with the particular medical problems that we face. I hope that I have argued convincingly for the excellence of the bid, which will shortly be considered by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Health.

Let me turn now to the extent of ill health in thearea. On key indicators, north Staffordshire performs consistently worse than the west midlands region and the United Kingdom as a whole. This is the right time to redress the imbalance, and to train and recruit personnel in an area in which they are badly needed.

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The figures speak for themselves. Keith Prowse, the medical director of North Staffordshire hospital NHS trust, has highlighted the seriousness of our recruitment problem. In north Staffordshire alone, there are 10 full-time general practitioner vacancies. Four further practices have hard-to-fill vacancies that have not even been advertised. Local GP training schemes have had five more vacant slots in 10 practices since last August. On behalf of all my hon. Friends present in the Chamber tonight, I ask the Minister to look favourably on our proposal for a world-class teaching hospital, based at Keele university and serving the wider region that we represent.

10.25 pm

Charlotte Atkins (Staffordshire, Moorlands): I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke- on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) for allowing me to participate in this important debate.

Among the Government's top priorities are improving health outcomes and addressing health inequalities. The Labour Government were the first to appoint a Minister for Public Health to set out proposals to improve the health of the population as a whole, especially the worse-off. North Staffordshire wants to follow that example. As my hon. Friend says, we have significantly worse health outcomes than either the west midlands or the whole of England and Wales. On the positive side, that means that we can achieve far greater health improvements than other parts of the country, so we are faced not only with a tremendous opportunity, but with a tremendous challenge.

It is in part owing to my hon. Friend's persistence that we have achieved a health action zone, which affords us exciting opportunities. It will help to break down the cycle of unhealthy life styles, poor health outcomes and low health aspirations that has bedevilled north Staffordshire for too long. It creates exciting possibilities: healthy living centres, schemes to promote community safety and tackle teenage pregnancy and drug abuse, and opportunities to create partnerships across education, the voluntary sector, the business community, social services and local people. However, we in north Staffordshire lack the inspiration, the learning culture and the modern expertise that comes from having a local medical school.

Located between Birmingham and Manchester, north Staffordshire fails to attract and retain the high-quality health care professionals we need. It is a well-established fact that the majority of medical students will ultimately practise in the locality in which they have trained; therefore, despite the delights of the Staffordshire peak district, our area has become denuded of local GPs and hospital doctors. Today, I spoke to a local GP in Leek, Dr. Shiers, who told me of the vulnerability of market towns such as Leek. Four to five years ago, when general practice was not a popular option for newly qualified doctors, there were only two or three applicants for local vacant posts.

That does nothing to raise standards of primary health care or to encourage greater collaboration between primary and secondary care. A university medical school at Keele would create positive ripples throughout the whole service, not only in hospitals. Medical students

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need to experience general practice early in their training if we are to create the proper balance between primary and secondary care--an objective to which I know the Government are committed. The influx of students would have a positive impact on general practice by stimulating new ideas, boosting in-service training and encouraging better communication between local doctors.

What I find especially attractive about the Keele proposal is that it is based on partnership--building on the expertise of Manchester university while exploiting the underuse by students of north Staffordshire hospitals and community placements. It would benefit from the assured quality of the established and well-tested Manchester curriculum, and make better and more rational use of national health service training facilities. The proposal offers a cost-effective way of training more doctors and meeting the needs of an area that is crying out for greater investment in improving health care.

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