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Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) rose--

Dr. Fox: I shall give way in a moment. The NHS is only running at all thanks to the herculean efforts of its staff, to whom we all give the greatest credit. The Government's management tools for running the health service, when they are not just being complacent, are bullying and the withholding of information. I shall give examples. I caution the hon. Gentleman to remember that before he makes his intervention.

Mr. Blizzard: The hon. Gentleman is not prepared to believe the Prime Minister when he says that hospitals are managing the crisis. I wonder whether he will accept information from my local hospital. I telephoned the James Paget Healthcare NHS trust this morning and was told that the hospital was managing very well. The management are also pleased that they have just started work on a £700,000 refurbishment of the accident and emergency department and are looking forward to the £80,000 that they are going to get to treat cancer patients.

The hon. Gentleman uses anecdotes. My local hospital is managing very well. It started routine operations again last week, despite taking people from other areas in its intensive care units.

Dr. Fox: The hon. Gentleman says that his local hospital has restarted routine operations. We must ask why they had been stopped if the system was coping so well. The hon. Gentleman should be very grateful if his local hospital is coping well, because that is not the experience of many Members of Parliament.

The Government employ various means of running the national health service, including bullying. The experience of Lord Winston last week was interesting. Let us look at what he said and how he was treated by the Government. He said:

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    We know that. Not a single Minister will take responsibility for their own failures. Lord Winston said of the appalling treatment of his 83-year-old mother:

    "It is normal. The terrifying thing is that we accept it."

We do not accept it. That is why we are having this debate. He also said:

    "There is a lot wrong with the health service and no one is prepared to say so. I shouldn't really be saying these things to you now."

What sort of attitude is that? In a free Parliament, no member of either House should have to worry about what they are saying for fear of bullying.

Mr. Andrew Love (Edmonton): The hon. Gentleman has quoted a number of Labour Members. Let me quote his speech to the Tory party conference, where he said:

Following the statements at the weekend on the current issues before the health service, will the hon. Gentleman now come clean? The Tories state that they want an alternative, non-ideological strategy. What will that strategy be--private health insurance?

Dr. Fox: I would urge the Labour Whips to try to give the interventions to their Back Benchers in a form that they can at least read. I will come to the explanation that the hon. Gentleman seeks later. It will be available in a monosyllabic form for Labour Back Benchers later on.

Lord Winston was so cowed after his comments because he could see what was coming. In the twilight world of new Labour spin, the dark shadow of Alastair Campbell was fast approaching. It seems that the Prime Minister's press secretary is better able to gain retractions and recantings from heretics than the inquisition ever was. The result of the grand inquisitor's intervention on this occasion was, incredibly, that Lord Winston--having made an impassioned plea for improvements in the NHS and having pointed out the deficiencies that exist--suddenly told us that he meant no criticism of the Government in any way at all. Remarkable--but it was sad to see a man of such integrity treated so shabbily by the Government's ruthless propaganda machine.

Mr. Geraint Davies (Croydon, Central): Over the weekend, the Prime Minister essentially promised billions extra for the health service, through guaranteeing real increases in expenditure towards the EU average. Could the hon. Gentleman match that pledge, given that he acknowledges that there is a need for more money? Or does he acknowledge that his tax guarantee will mean the inevitable privatisation of the health service?

Dr. Fox: We are now told that it was a pledge from the Prime Minister to raise spending to the EU average within five years. I look forward to the Secretary of State confirming that that was a pledge. I look forward to hearing which programmes from the public spending review will be sacrificed to make up the vague billions that the Prime Minister promised. That will be an interesting passage of the Secretary of State's speech.

Several hon. Members rose--

Dr. Fox: I have given way several times. I shall do so again, but not for the moment.

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We must look at the way the Government run the health service. The culture of this Government is that if information is inconvenient, deny it, corrupt it or change it--even better, withhold it. We know that the bed availability and occupancy report, which is normally published in October, has been sitting on the Secretary of State's desk. Why, we wonder? Is it because it may be slightly more critical than the Government's own report card, issued in the summer? Perhaps it is unlikely to boost the standing of the most unpopular member of the Cabinet, although I notice--to be fair--that the Secretary of State is also the least known member of the Cabinet. Goodness knows what will happen when he is better known.

Is the report being withheld because beds are being lost all the time under a Government who pretend that the trend is in exactly the opposite direction? I look forward to the Minister promising the immediate publication of the report.

If withholding information does not work, the Government can try deceptions, half-truths and smokescreens. Let me give two examples. The Intensive Care Society recently asked about the number of extra intensive care beds that the Government claimed to have created. They were told by the Department of Health that the figure was 100. Then the line changed. No.10 said that there were 100 critical care beds. Then the line changed again. The Prime Minister told Sir David Frost that perhaps about one third were intensive care beds. The answer seems to be different every time the question is asked.

The Secretary of State sent me a letter on 6 January which said that 100 extra intensive care beds had been made available this year. The Secretary of State gave an answer which was factually incorrect. He looks at the letter, which he may well not remember signing. It does say that it was approved by the Secretary of State, and signed in his absence. The information changes from day to day. It is tidal, it comes and goes. There is no such thing as truth under this Government, merely convenience and inconvenience.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): Some tit-for-tat fun always takes place in these debates, but there is a serious point that goes to the heart of the discussion of our national health service--how it should be funded. I ask the hon. Gentleman point blank: does he or does he not support compulsory health insurance to fund the NHS, and does he recognise the great inequalities that that would create?

Dr. Fox: I shall come in some detail to how we intend the service to be funded. However, I do not regard watching the health service deteriorate as tit-for-tat fun. The hon. Lady may do so, and she may regard the litany of failures as entertaining, but I do not find it so.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): My hon. Friend's comments about the claims for the number of intensive care beds changing almost daily may be more prophetic than he realises, because the Government are considering plans to close four intensive care beds in Ashford hospital in my constituency.

Dr. Fox: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point. The Department of Health will doubtless issue a press

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release claiming that the number of intensive care beds in that hospital has increased, because there is no such thing as truth or lies in this Government's culture. The information released is what suits them.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury): Will my hon. Friend comment on the proposed closure of the accident and emergency and intensive care units in my local hospital? In answer to questions about the new configuration for hospitals in my area--which will include a 15 per cent. cut in beds--we were told, "We cannot give details because there is no robust medical plan in place yet."

Dr. Fox: That does not surprise me at all. I know that my hon. Friend has campaigned long and hard about intensive care beds and he may wish to raise that issue with the Secretary of State when he makes his speech. It would be interesting to know what plans he has for health care in my hon. Friend's area.

Jean Corston (Bristol, East) rose--

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