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Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton): Which treatments does the hon. Gentleman want paid for privately, rather than being free on the NHS?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. We have had sufficient sedentary interventions.

Dr. Fox: It hurts Government Back Benchers when they are forced to listen to the real words, rather than the

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distorted versions they get from their own Front Bench. I said that patients will be given a guaranteed specific maximum waiting time--

Mr. Twigg rose--

Dr. Fox: I will not give way again. I said that patients will be given a specific maximum waiting time for treatment decided by their consultant. It will be set specifically for their individual cases, not arbitrarily by politicians for the average patient. Good medicine is about seeing patients--

Mr. Twigg rose--

Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) rose--

Mr. Ivan Lewis (Bury, South) rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has indicated that he will not give way again. Hon. Members must resume their seats.

Dr. Fox: Those of us who have been, and can expect to stay, in Parliament more than one term know what it means when Government Back Benchers feel that they have continually to heckle those on the Opposition Front Bench. That shows that they are rattled and know we are telling the truth. What is more, our claims chime with the real experience of the public--who know that health care has got worse under the current Government.

I thought that we were moving towards some sort of consensus on public-private partnership. On BBC's "Newsnight", no less a person than the man in charge of the health service--the Prime Minister--said:

That was interesting because it is not what we have been hearing from the Secretary of State this week. Two weeks ago, he took the same line when the soundbites were being dictated by No. 10, rather than Millbank. Rodney Bickerstaffe, the general secretary of one of the main unions, said on BBC's "Question Time":

Mr. Russell Brown (Dumfries): Absolutely.

Dr. Fox: At least the hon. Gentleman is honest. He wants the private sector abolished. I applaud him for having the honesty to say what many of his colleagues believe.

If the private sector--in which 1 million surgical procedures, or 20 per cent. of the total, are carried out each year--were abolished and did not exist, it would cost between £8 billion and £10.5 billion to have all those procedures done by the NHS. Do Labour Members want everything done on the health service? If so, do they want to use all the extra money and more--or do they want NHS patients to wait longer?

Every country in the developed western world has a proper partnership between the state and private sectors. In all the countries of Europe in which the Prime Minister

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takes his free holidays, his socialist friends in charge of health services understand the need for partnership. My greatest problem with the Secretary of State is that he said in response to the World Health Organisation report:

Leaving aside the fact that postcode rationing is hardly fair, who believes that one has to trade off a fair and free service for efficiency or responsiveness, or that the two are mutually exclusive? A free and fair service can be efficient and responsive. The Secretary of State was giving away the fact that he does not understand the concept of choice. He does not believe that doctors or patients should be free to choose. He thinks that they should stand in line like Dickensian paupers having gruel given out to them and be thankful, irrespective of the second-rate care they are getting.

We all remember it; voters remember it--"24 hours to save the NHS", "Things can only get better", "Modernise, not privatise". We have heard it a thousand times. It is meaningless, vacuous drivel.

This is a Government with no substance, scared of their own shadow, obsessed with their image, driven by ego, incapable of taking difficult decisions--a Government afraid to govern. Their twisted priorities mean that the sickest patients get pushed down the queue or die, while more minor cases get moved up to make the figures look better. The Government are spending money preparing for the euro, while our hospitals get filthier. They speak about a national plan, but have no moral authority to call themselves national in any sense.

The best way to expose the situation is to quote from a letter from a GP in Wolverhampton, who writes:

The GP continues:

The letter goes on:

What an indictment. What a disgrace. What a betrayal! "New and modern"? Labour have been rumbled for the self-satisfied, smug, hypocritical, bullying, shallow, soundbite-ridden and vacuous scam of a Government that they are. They should start counting their days.

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1.57 pm

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn): I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

I am glad that the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) has got that off his chest. This debate on priorities in the national health service is very welcome, for a simple reason: it will reveal the clearest of differences between the policies of the Government and those of the Conservative party. For two decades they ran the national health service. They failed to invest in it or to modernise it.

For three years, the Government's priority has been to lay the foundations for a modernised national health service. Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what our priorities have been. First, we have been getting more doctors into the NHS as a priority. That is why there are 4,780 more doctors since we came to office. We have almost 500 extra GPs and 4,300 more hospital doctors.

By 2005, we will have increased the number of medical school places by more than 1,100--a 20 per cent. increase, and the biggest for a generation--and established two new medical schools, the first for 25 years. The hon. Gentleman always says that he wants more real doctors, rather than more spin doctors. That is precisely what we are providing.

Dr. Fox: How many consultants took early retirement from the NHS last year, and was it a record?

Mr. Milburn: I do not know those figures, but I will be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman. I can tell him that we are getting more consultants working in the NHS, and there will be more consultants working in the NHS.

Secondly, we have made getting more nurses into the NHS a priority. That is why there are now 5,000 more nurse training places than when we came to office. I remind the Opposition that when we came to office, the number of nurse training places had been cut by them. Now the numbers are rising. There are 10,770 extra qualified nurses working in the NHS--an increase since we came to power. Last year, the increase in nurse numbers was the highest for seven years.

Thirdly, we have made treating more patients in the NHS a priority. The NHS now carries out 500,000 more operations each year, sees 400,000 more patients as first out-patient appointments and treats 300,000 more emergency cases.

In May 1997, waiting list figures were rising, and were at a record level. Today, the figures are down by more than 100,000. Last year, there was a fall in both in-patient and out-patient waiting list numbers for the first time ever.

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