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Ms Julia Drown (South Swindon): The hon. Gentleman has outlined a sad case, but we could produce equally sad cases from when his party were in government. If he looks at what the Government have done, he will see a huge initiative on heart specialists. We know that there are not enough. The Secretary of State has talked to heart surgeons, has worked out what needs to be done and has said that the money and the beds will be there and that the medics will be trained, so that as soon as possible, we will get an NHS of the kind that the patients of this country need. Why does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that?

Dr. Fox: To paraphrase the hon. Lady, things have not got any worse under the present Government--they are just as bad as they were before. That will come as bad news to the people who put her into Westminster, who were told that there were 24 hours in which to save the NHS. I suppose that we should all feel very reassured and can sleep safely in our beds knowing that, while the NHS is cutting the number of bypass operations, the Secretary of State has spoken to a couple of heart surgeons so it is all going to be fine.

Several hon. Members: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Fox: It is hard to choose from the chorus. I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key).

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury): Does my hon. Friend agree that most of the problem is that the Government should not be running the NHS? They should be funding and regulating it. Most of the problem is interference the whole time. Four thousand people work in my constituency hospital. They are sick to death of the Labour party treating the NHS as the Labour party poodle.

Dr. Fox: I think that there is a role for politicians in regulating the NHS and deciding what we should get out of the service, but they should then allow managers and

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doctors to do what they are trained to do, which is manage the service and treat patients. To have politicians interfering at every level of the service, sending circulars minute by minute and meddling wherever conceivable, is the worst possible way to run any health care system. Ministers cannot micro-manage a system that employs 1 million people, and even if were possible for them to do so, it would not be desirable. Politicians should not be managing services; we have specially trained professionals to do that. It is up to the Secretary of State and his Ministers to regulate the system and allow people to get on with what they are trained to do.

We are concerned about the effect of Government policy not only on individual patients but on hospitals. I have here a typical letter on a subject that is raised time and again as we go around the country: the increasing prevalence of hospital-acquired infections. It states:

methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or the "superbug" to which the tabloids refer. The letter continues:

The letter concludes:

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham): I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about hospital-acquired infection. Perhaps he can tell the House whether he supports or opposes our setting standards for infection control in hospitals, or does he stick by his assertion that the Government should not be sending hospitals circulars about cleaning?

Dr. Fox: Setting the quality of standards for all health care, in both the private and the state sector, is a legitimate role of Ministers. [Interruption.] If he could retain in his memory more than one line at a time, the Secretary of State would find that I said exactly that in another part of the speech that I gave yesterday in Glasgow.

Perhaps the Minister of State would like to tell us why, after Labour has been in office for three years, only 10 per cent. of NHS hospitals have proper infection control plans and only 15 per cent. have infection control budgets. What have Ministers been doing for the past three years?

Mr. Denham: We have been setting in place a system--[Interruption.] Calm down. In three years, we have ensured that every single hospital has an infection control team. That was not the case when we came to power three years ago. On the subject of setting standards, let me point out that the hon. Gentleman said:

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Dr. Fox: Even given the level of distortion that we are used to from current Health Ministers, that was a particularly pathetic intervention. Apparently, the Government have spent three years putting together a piece of paper that tells hospitals to establish an infection control team. Any monkey with a typewriter could have produced one as quickly as that.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): The Government are hypersensitive because the World Health Organisation has found that the national health service ranks 18th in the league of health organisations. Under this Government, we have a health service that is worse than that in Greece.

Dr. Fox: I find no pleasure in the fact that the world's fourth largest economy has only the 18th best health care system. There are many reasons for that, far too many to go into now. I was rather surprised by the reaction of the Department of Health, which regarded the findings of the survey as something of a pleasant surprise. It seemed to believe that it would be further down the league than it was. That says a great deal about the Department's expectations for our health care system and its confidence in running the system.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): What assessment has my hon. Friend made of the letter to the Prime Minister from Mr. Tipu Aziz, an internationally distinguished surgeon, who declares that he has supported the Labour party for more than 25 years, but that he now feels betrayed by that party because, as he sees it, morale in the national health service is at a lower level than he has ever seen in his professional life?

Dr. Fox: My assessment is that Mr. Aziz will not be alone.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): Throughout health policy and social policy, is not the first tactic of the party which wants to destroy the health service to privatise it and to denigrate and destroy public services, reducing confidence in them and bringing them down in the eyes of the public?

Dr. Fox: Given the few interventions that the hon. Gentleman will have the opportunity to make, he could surely have thought of a better one than that.

Before coming to the House, I spent all my working life in the NHS, as a hospital doctor and as a general practitioner. In the days when the Secretary of State was running his "Days of Hope" bookshops supporting CND and selling Marxist international newspapers, I was one of those junior doctors working long hours for low pay. I do not need to be told by any Labour Member what dedication is like in the NHS and about the quality of members of the medical and nursing profession. I have

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seen that at first hand. I do not need to be changing my line on what works and does not in the NHS according to my level of preference for any political system.

Ann Keen (Brentford and Isleworth): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Fox: I have given way nine or 10 times. Given the time constraints, I think that that is sufficient.

Ann Keen rose--

Dr. Fox: Let me say it slowly for the hon. Lady; I am not giving way.

Next week, we are getting the Government's latest and greatest stunt so far--NHS week. We are told that there will be NHS Oscars and lots of good news stories. No doubt the press will be pinned down and subjugated to ensure that no one dares to utter a peep against the Government during that period. Ministers should understand that the Government's image is not the problem. Changing it, spending more money on PR and adding more spin will not improve the situation. The lack of substance is the problem.

I will repeat what I said yesterday, because it is time the Opposition said what we want to see. We will transform the culture of the NHS by redefining the relationship between politicians and the management of the system. We aim to take the politics out of health care by changing the role of politicians altogether.

We will maintain an NHS which is free at the point of use and which, as now, provides a comprehensive range of services, funded by the taxpayer. We reject the idea of an NHS core service alone on the grounds of equity.

We intend to diminish the barriers between primary and secondary care and between the independent and state sectors to maximise partnership in all areas. We believe there should be a single regulatory framework based on the needs of the patient and not the needs of the care provider. We must ensure the safety and well-being of all patients wherever they are in the health care delivery system. Our watchwords should be quality, access and choice.

We do not believe it is desirable for politicians to be involved in the detailed management of the state system. The Secretary of State's role will be to take a strategic view of total health care, to agree funding and guaranteed minimum standards of quality and to set public health priorities.

We will abolish the Government's flawed waiting list target and adopt targets based on cure rates and survival rates, to bring them up to the level of our European counterparts. We need to place less importance on input and throughput targets. In defined clinical areas we will give a guarantee to patients that they will be given--

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