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There is a way forward. There are enormous opportunities in the health service for the prioritisation and improvement of patient care. I have been working hard with my local health authority, local trust and local primary care group on how we can improve patient care. I want to give one or two examples of what can be achieved in the NHS by prioritising care to improve patient outcomes.
Many people do not need to be in hospital. They do not want to be in hospital; they would rather be at home. Among that group are people with chronic illnesses, and the Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley health care partnerships primary care group has provided an extra multiple sclerosis nurse as well as an extra epilepsy nurse. It is also currently considering providing an extra Parkinson's disease nurse.
Those nurses are able to care for people in their homes and it has been demonstrated that they reduce costs, improve patient compliance and reduce the risk of admissions. They give much better patient satisfaction. The nurses are excellent news for the sufferers of long-term illnesses in West Kent and reduce pressure on the acute sector. Nurses can make a real difference to the quality of care and they play an important role in keeping people out of hospitals where they do not wish to be.
That sort of initiative should be applauded, as it is the way forward. It demonstrates prioritisation in the NHS, which involves setting priorities, using money to the best advantage and making sure that the available money goes to the best possible patient benefit. The Kent cancer network, managed by the Mid Kent healthcare trust, is driving forward modernisation of the NHS to make cancer services fairer, faster and more convenient. It is at the forefront of creating an NHS better attuned to the needs of patients by reshaping services for people with suspected or diagnosed cancer. The Kent cancer network is the first such collaboration of health authorities and hospitals in the south-east, and will speed up cancer treatment and keep patients fully informed at all stages about what happens next.
The modernising cancer care projects streamline care of patients with suspected and diagnosed breast, lung, bowel, ovarian and prostate cancer, and provide patients with any suspected cancer who need to be seen urgently with an appointment with a specialist within two weeks, thus reducing waiting times for those with real illnesses. The Kent cancer care network enables patients to pre-book appointments, offering them a choice of dates and times, which takes away the uncertainty of not knowing when and by whom they will be seen. It also co-ordinates surgery with follow-up therapy so that patients know in advance what will happen after surgery. That will minimise delays, reduce patient anxiety and improve care.
Kent was chosen from 26 applicants to be one of nine networks running 43 projects covering 14 million people, which will modernise cancer projects from top to bottom as part of the Government's pledge to change the way in which the NHS organises care, and radically to change people's relationship with the NHS. About 250,000 cases of cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year, and there are 156,000 deaths from the illness. The Government have pledged to cut the death rate from cancer in people under 75 by at least a fifth by 2010. We should be carrying out that sort of initiative, which is about priorities in the NHS that really make a difference. Opposition Members go on about dissatisfied doctors and nurses and rundown services, but that does not equate with the health service that I am helping to shape and with which I work. I genuinely see improvements in patient care and reductions in waiting lists.
Dr. Stoate: I would love to believe that that was true and, of course, I look forward to the time when I am re-elected to represent the area that I serve. However, the truth is that West Kent has largely been a Tory-controlled area for many years. Kent county council is Tory controlled and all the constituencies in my area were controlled by the Tories until the election. Since then,
I wish the same improvements to be seen across the country, and look forward to a time when the Government can continue to improve the NHS year on year, making a health service different from the one that we had previously. I am not accusing Opposition Members of privatisation, but of lack of vision, foresight and initiative. I was hoping that today they would give a coherent, rational strategy for their view of the health service. However, they said that they wanted more and that that should come from the private sector. I believe that that is a redundant policy that will not achieve the results that they desire. It will certainly not be very popular in my constituency or throughout the country.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. May I tell hon. Members that, in the short time that is left, if they take the full extent of the allocation to which they are entitled, there will barely be scope for two more speeches before the winding-up speeches? I therefore hope that we try to have short speeches in order to get as many Members in as possible.
Many Labour Members--in particular, the hon. Members for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) and for Brentford and Isleworth (Ann Keen)--have spoken of the evils of a two-tier system, but I suggest that a two-tier system now operates in the health service. The problem to which I shall refer has not been mentioned this afternoon, but it has got worse since the election of the Labour Government and the introduction of primary care groups. In fact, we are really talking about a three-tier system, because there is no such NHS cover in some parts of the country. I refer to complementary and alternative medicine, which includes homeopathy, herbal medicines, osteopathy, chiropractic medicine and healing.
I shall declare an interest: for the past 14 years, I have been an officer of the all-party group on alternative and complementary medicine, during which time I have seen a sea change in attitudes to complementary therapy. Many therapies, such as osteopathy and chiropractic medicine, have come in from the cold and become mainstream. In fact, £1.6 billion is spent annually on complementary medicine; 75 per cent. of the public want complementary medicine on the NHS, and 20 per cent. of people use complementary and alternative medicine now. Excluding those who channel energy--the healers--there are nearly 50,000 complementary and alternative practitioners in Britain.
One of those practitioners works in the House of Commons gym, offering Members acupressure treatments, using the thumb. Hon. Members on both sides of the House may be interested to hear the endorsement of "a satisfied MP", who wrote last year:
Mr. Tredinnick: I have seen that report, and the hon. Member is absolutely right. The problem is that complementary medicine is not available on the NHS, despite the fact that 75 per cent. of people want it to be.
The situation has deteriorated since the Government came to power. The previous Conservative Government introduced GP fundholding, and many doctors worked in small units of two or three and understood complementary therapies. They could start to offer complementary therapies as part of their NHS budget. That initiative was approved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell). Primary care groups have a larger management structure and many of the doctors have no interest in complementary medicine.
Representatives of Glastonbury health centre in the west country recently held a presentation in the House to explain how they use different therapies, such as herbal medicine, homeopathy, massage therapy and osteopathy, in an integrated service. They explained how that reduces health service costs. I hope that officials in the Treasury health team are listening. The problem is that, under the primary care group regime, their funding is being reduced and they are seriously thinking of having to shut down. I know from the letters that I receive that that is a serious problem right across the country, and the Minister must address it.
There is a welcome development: the Government initiative, together with the Foundation for Integrated Medicine, the NHS Alliance and the National Association of Primary Care, to produce a complementary medicine information pack for primary care groups. That has gone quite a way towards developing knowledge in those groups. However, the Minister has not resolved a fundamental problem: there are no guidelines. We need guidelines, and the Department must set some. People expect that of this Government. I encourage colleagues to sign my early-day motion, which has attracted the support of 50 hon. Members. They support the publication of that booklet, but it is important to have guidelines.
I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that complementary and alternative medicine has been effective in prisons. Recently, I have visited Coldingley and Hollesley Bay, both of which use meditation and Reiki techniques and other types of healing to reduce the problems with disturbed prisoners and young offenders. The Prison Service is offering a useful measure of what is possible, and many of the therapies of which it has made use should be extended into the health service.
Finally, I should like to draw the Minister's attention to a problem that arose last week: the decision of the Charity Commissioners to remove the charity status of the National Federation of Spiritual Healers and to deny the
I understand that the Government are responsible only for the funding of the Charity Commissioners, but I urge the Minister to write a letter--perhaps marked "Private and Confidential"--setting out the Government's objectives and pointing out to the commissioners that the therapies that they are "derating" were listed in the Government's own advice to primary care groups, published only last week. We must secure a common approach throughout the country. We need joined-up government: the Prison Service, the Department of Health and the Charity Commissioners should all be working to the same guidelines.