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Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): The Secretary of State knows that in November last year I asked a number of parliamentary questions about mortuaries in the NHS following serious concerns about the mortuary at Trafford general hospital, which serves my constituents. At that time, it came to light from the responses to those questions that there is no national inspection regime for NHS mortuaries, and that the Department of Health cannot tell me which NHS mortuaries meet necessary minimum standards. Surely that situation cannot be allowed to continue. Will the right hon. Gentleman take responsibility for establishing which NHS mortuaries meet necessary minimum standards, and will he publish that information?
Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge): Does the Secretary of State share my unease, and perhaps surprise, that it was necessary to issue guidance about the correct treatment of bodies? He told us that that was done twice. Was that guidance issued because other concerns had reached him about the treatment of dead bodies? Although I accept what the Secretary of State says, and that for the purposes of these exchanges we are not dealing with a funding issue; nevertheless, there must have been more than one person involved in the treatment of those bodies. There may have been tons or there may have been dozens. Although I accept that it was a management failure and not a financial problem, I have a lingering unease about the fact that so many people must have felt it appropriate to treat bodies in that way in Bedford hospital. That raises the concern that the practice is more endemic and widespread than the right hon. Gentleman would ever want it to be. Will he comment on those propositions?
Dr. Peter Brand (Isle of Wight): I strongly welcomed the guidelines when the Government issued them. Investment in mortuaries is always placed behind investment in, for example, children's wards. It is important that it is given due credence in our planning. Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that what happened at Bedford hospital was not unusual in the national health service or in private undertaking establishments during the winter? I am not saying that it is an acceptable practice, merely that it is not unusual.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that one of the most worrying aspects of the case is that it took a picture in the newspapers, which really denied those people their dignity and respect, for action to be taken? I cannot condone what the press or, indeed, the person who took the picture did, but is it not sad that we do not have a better way of getting action when there is a problem than literally having a shroudwave on the front page?
Mr. Milburn: Much of what the hon. Gentleman says makes absolute sense. I very much hope that in hospitals up and down the country, those people who are responsible for running them and the clinicians who are engaged in providing such services realise the importance of them.
As for Bedford hospital, I understand that in the next financial year it will receive £1.5 million extra to spend on capital projects. It will be for that hospital to determine where best to spend the extra investment. That is right and appropriate because the people who best know the needs of patients who use the hospital are the people who run the organisation--the doctors, nurses, managers and so on. It is our responsibility to give them the tools to do that job, such as the resources and the framework, including the national standards by which they should abide precisely to avoid some of the problems that the hon. Gentleman raises.
Bedford hospital may now receive inquiries from relatives of the deceased for information. Will the Secretary of State ensure that they get proper and accurate information and, indeed, any counselling that they may seek because of their distress? I heard him say that he believes the incident to be unique to Bedford hospital, and we can only hope that that is the case. Can he assure us that proper investigations will take place and that the procedure will be correctly followed by all hospitals? Indeed, what whistleblowing arrangements are available to anyone who works within the NHS who believes that procedures are not being properly followed, so that respect and dignity for the deceased can be restored?
Mr. Milburn: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. On the question of providing information to relatives, as I said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford--many of his constituents have inevitably contacted his local offices--we will try to obtain what information we can. I am trying to impress on the hospital and the local health service that they need to get the appropriate information as quickly as they can to the relatives. That must be the right thing to do.
On the position in other hospitals, as I said in response to the hon. Member for North Devon (Mr. Harvey), yesterday we asked trusts to assure us that the guidance that we issued in May and November 2000 had been and is being adhered to. We have received responses from all parts of the country, and I have received that assurance. As I am sure the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is aware, I have to rely on such assurances.
We have also issued clear guidance to the service on whistleblowing and stipulated that all trusts should have a policy in place so that staff at any level in an NHS organisation--be they the most senior or the most junior--have a legitimate opportunity to raise their concerns in public on behalf of the public. I expect that to be the position in Bedford and in every hospital in the land.
Mrs. Eleanor Laing (Epping Forest): I agree with the Secretary of State that this is a serious matter that should be properly investigated. However, will he please explain how CHI can carry out an independent inquiry when the commission is not an independent body, but is obliged to take instructions from the Government?
Mr. Milburn: With respect, when the hon. Lady asks a question, I shall answer it if she gives me the opportunity to do so. CHI is independent in precisely the same way as Ofsted is independent in relation to schools. CHI is not run by me or the Government; it is run by the people who are responsible for running its services. It reports independently and it publishes its own conclusions and findings.
Let me be clear. The hon. Lady wants to have her cake and eat it. She wants me to instruct CHI to do something, and I have done that. I said that it should take on board the events that have happened in the past week in Bedford
This is a small Bill of only eight clauses, but it is an important one for Wales, with wide-ranging implications for the welfare and interests of children in Wales. Many Members sitting for Welsh constituencies will have a keen interest in the Bill, but they will have an opportunity to contribute to the Second Reading debate and to be involved on Third Reading and on Report.
The Committee needs to be kept small and focused and it needs to reflect the political balance of the House, so as to ensure that there is a full and frank debate on the Bill's provisions. In the interests of efficiency and of achieving a political balance that reflects that of the House, I commend the motion to the House.