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The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): None; any such representations are made to the Specialist Training Authority, which is responsible for the supervision of specialist training in hospital practice in the United Kingdom. No such representations have been received by the Specialist Training Authority on Barnsley district general hospital.
Mr. Illsley: Is my hon. Friend aware that the health problems that we already have in Barnsley are likely to be exacerbated if the royal colleges withdraw accreditation for consultant posts at hospitals serving fewer than 500,000 people? Does he agree that the people of Barnsley should not be required to travel long distances, to other towns and cities, simply to see a consultant? Is there any action that he could take to intervene in the matter, to ensure that a full national health service is still available to the people of Barnsley?
Mr. Hutton: I can reassure my hon. Friend on all of those points. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), has just made it clear that we are committed to a comprehensive national health service that is available to all constituents in all parts of the country and provides a first-class service. That is unlike the Conservative party, which sees the future of the NHS as a second-line service for those who cannot afford to take out private health insurance.
In relation to my hon. Friend's specific point about the report from the royal colleges, that was just one contribution to an important continuing debate. He will be aware that any proposal to change or reconfigure national heath services in any part of the country is subject to a full and proper system of public consultation. If local community health councils seek to object to any of the proposals, the decisions will be made by Ministers.
I am sure that my hon. Friend, on behalf of his constituents, will welcome the nearly £12 million of additional funding for Barnsley health authority which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has announced today--an increase of nearly 8 per cent.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Gisela Stuart): The Portsmouth and South East Hampshire health authority is currently preparing detailed proposals on future hospital provision in the area and these proposals will be subject to full statutory public consultation in the new year.
In the meantime, Portsmouth and South East Hampshire health authority is working with the Defence Secondary Care Agency and other key players to ensure that effective patient care is maintained for both NHS and service patients.
Mr. Viggers: Is the Minister aware that my constituents will not regard that answer as satisfactory, any more than they will regard as satisfactory the fact that she could write to me last week almost in the role of a casually interested observer of the problems of hospital care in the Gosport peninsula? Ministers are responsible. The Government have created the problem with the closure of the Royal Hospital Haslar. It is for the Government, through the NHS, to resolve the problem. Will the Minister give active support to the NHS taking over Haslar facilities?
Ms Stuart: I take great issue with the assumption that I am just a casual observer of events in the Gosport peninsula. It is important that efficient services are delivered to the local population. There has already been a £72 million private finance initiative investment in the Queen Alexandra hospital to improve facilities. Similarly, the hon. Gentleman is more than aware that extensive discussions are going on at the moment. I have written to my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces to facilitate negotiations about the continued use of the Haslar site. Negotiations are going on with the ambulance service to ensure that patients who need urgent care are stabilised during transport. We have made a firm commitment, and an extensive consultation process will go on over the next three months to ensure that the people of the Gosport peninsula receive appropriate services.
Mr. Chope: May I take this opportunity to tell the Secretary of State how disgusted people in Dorset are at the fact that, for the second year running, they will have the lowest per capita increase in health funding? Is that not discrimination by the Government against a county with a lot of Conservative Members of Parliament?
Does the Secretary of State accept that there is postcode rationing of Aricept at the moment? If one lives in the Southampton constituency of the Minister of State or over the border in New Milton, one can receive Aricept when it is recommended by a clinician. If one lives in Highcliffe, one cannot receive Aricept on the NHS, even when it is recommended by a clinician. Is not that wholly outrageous and unfair? What are the Government going to do about it?
Mr. Milburn: I thought that the hon. Gentleman was going to stand up to thank the Government for the extra £28 million that we are investing in his health authority area from April next year. That is on top of the extra millions that we are already investing. If the hon.
Mr. Milburn: It is time for Opposition Members--including the hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who is chuntering from the Front Bench--to come clean on this matter. Which is it? Do they want more spending, or less?
On Aricept and the lottery of care, it is worth reminding Conservative Members that it was their Government who created the lottery of care in the national health service and that the present Government not only acknowledge that it exists but are taking action to tackle it.
Dementia is a cruel condition from which an increasing number of people suffer. It is difficult to know what effect Aricept has on dementia, but will my right hon. Friend please ensure that research on dementia, which does not have the same buzz as cancer and heart disease, gets its fair share of NHS resources?
Mr. Milburn: I agree with what my hon. Friend says. Aricept and other potential anti-Alzheimer's drugs are precisely the sort of drugs that we have referred to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence for its first work programme, which includes an assessment of drugs and treatments not only for dementia but for other serious and chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, hepatitis C and motor neurone disease.
That is important because, for the first time, the national health service, in all parts of the country, whether in the form of health authorities or of individual clinicians, will have clear, authoritative guidance about the treatments that work best for patients. That is a real step forward. Not only do we acknowledge that there is a lottery of care but the NICE programme is the first assault that has ever been made on that lottery in the NHS.
Dr. Peter Brand (Isle of Wight): I very much welcome the referral of Aricept and what we hope will be more effective anti-dementia drugs to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, but will the new criterion that NICE must take into account--affordability--prove a handicap to making a proper assessment? We all hope that we will eventually have an effective drug for dementia but the main saving will be not necessarily for the NHS budget but for other Government budgets and, especially, for carers. Who will make the assessment? Will NICE determine whether the drug is affordable, or will Ministers take their proper responsibility?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about Aricept. There is a temptation in the House and elsewhere--I know that he is the last to succumb to it--to suggest that Aricept, or indeed any other drug currently on the market, is a wonder drug that can cure Alzheimer's disease. There is no known cure for Alzheimer's disease.
At best, the evidence seems to suggest that the drug will have limited, if any, effect on the underlying progression of the disease but may have some success in temporarily alleviating the symptoms for some patients. We should not get caught up in all the hype that we read in our newspapers about new wonder drugs coming on the market and solving all these serious and chronic health problems. It is terribly important to keep a sense of discipline and balance about how we handle these issues, as otherwise we hold out false expectations and hopes not only to dementia sufferers but to their relatives and friends.
Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge): Given the continued denial of drugs such as Aricept and, for example, beta interferon to patients whose doctors say that they need them but whose health authorities say that they cannot afford them, can the Secretary of State explain what he meant when he told the House that
On that issue, the parties have a clear difference of view. The Conservative party says that the choice should be made according to people's ability to pay, because it wants to force more people out of the NHS and into private health insurance. We say that the choice should be made according to people's ability to benefit, with the job of NICE being to focus growing NHS resources on those treatments that can best improve people's health.