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House of Commons

Tuesday 26 June 2001

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Private Bills [Lords] (Revival)



Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.


Sessional Returns


Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--


1. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire): What progress has been made in assessing the impact of under-age smoking on physical development. [480]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Yvette Cooper): The evidence shows that smoking during childhood and adolescence increases respiratory problems and may retard the rate of lung growth, and also increases the chance that these people

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will continue smoking as adults. That is why it is welcome that under-age smoking prevalence fell from 13 to 9 per cent. between 1996 and 1999, but why we need to go further in addressing under-age smoking.

David Taylor: Is the Minister aware of the research that has been undertaken by the university of Strathclyde, the results of which show that there is an extremely strong tendency for under-age smokers to poison themselves with the products of the firms whose cigarettes are most heavily promoted? Does she agree that that leads to the ineluctable conclusion that the reintroduction of the Bill to ban tobacco advertising should take place not only during this Parliament, as the Labour party manifesto promised, but during the current Session, which is what Labour Back Benchers want?

Yvette Cooper: I am aware of the research that my hon. Friend has mentioned. I welcome his strong support for the tobacco Bill. It is an important part of the strategy to reduce deaths from smoking. I think that, like me, he will be disappointed that the Bill is not already on the statute book, thanks to the Conservative party's decision before the election to sabotage it. We are committed to reintroducing the Bill in this Parliament as soon as time allows. Governments must take difficult decisions, but my hon. Friend will be aware of the comments of my right hon. Friends the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister on this subject.

NHS Acute Beds

2. Sue Doughty (Guildford): If he will make a statement on the number of acute beds in NHS hospitals. [481]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears): Latest figures show that there are about 108,000 acute beds in the national health service. The NHS plan provides for the first increase in general and acute beds for more than 30 years. We have given a commitment to provide an extra 2,100 general and acute beds and 5,000 extra intermediate care beds by 2004.

Sue Doughty: Is the Minister aware that, of the 366 beds in the Royal Surrey county hospital, 41 are occupied by long-stay care patients who should be going on to nursing care? Does the Minister have any plans to increase the funding for social services to provide adequate care? Does she have any plans to lift the threats to community hospitals in Surrey?

Ms Blears: I am glad of the opportunity to welcome the hon. Lady to Parliament. It is always a pleasure to see another woman in this place, even if she is not in my party. We are well aware of the position in West Surrey. We have already provided significant extra resources to help to reduce waiting times. An extra £33 million has been provided during the current financial year. New medical admission units are helping at the Royal Surrey and Ashford hospitals. There are an extra five critical care beds at the Royal Surrey hospital.

I am of course aware of the pressures on delayed discharges. We must change the way in which services are organised to meet patients' needs. The issue is not

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only about bed numbers. We must have the right type of beds at the right time in the right place to meet patients' needs. We are also putting extra money into social services. There will be 3.4 per cent. more over the next three years. That will be a real-terms cash increase of 12 per cent. for social services. Local organisations should work together to ensure that their systems work for patients. There is much more to do, but we are making genuine progress.

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): May I warmly welcome my hon. Friend to her new job? I warmly welcome also the increased numbers to which she has referred. However, is she aware of the worry among many heart patients in the South Yorkshire area, given the possible closure or reduction in facilities at the Northern general hospital arising from the rationalisation of heart transplant units throughout the country? Many people are worried that this process will have a serious effect on heart treatment for patients in the South Yorkshire and Yorkshire and Humberside areas.

Ms Blears: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her kind words. I am aware of the deep concern of many people in South Yorkshire and in many other areas where these matters are being considered. I understand that they are being considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Obviously we must ensure that there is no knock-on effect, whatever the decisions might be, for people who need treatment as a result of coronary heart disease. That is a top priority for our Government. Decisions will be taken in due course on these extremely important matters.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): May I welcome the hon. Lady to her new job and ask her whether she will, for a moment, rejoin the real world? Is she aware that West Sussex has had £15 million stolen from its social services money by the Government, to be redistributed elsewhere? Is she also aware that 30 beds are blocked at the East Surrey hospital and at Crawley hospital, and that 20 beds are blocked at the Princess Royal hospital in Haywards Heath? Does the hon. Lady understand that the kind of glib answers that she has given provide no comfort to the many old people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time and who badly need to get into a better kind of care?

Ms Blears: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, where I come from, we are rooted in the real world and our feet are on the ground. We are extremely aware of the pressures on social services and on the health service, and we do not seek to deny them. We put in place the practical policies and resources that were never available for social services under previous, Conservative Governments. There were massive cuts during their Administrations, rather than real-terms increases of 12 per cent. in personal social services.

Patients want services that are designed to meet their needs at the time when they need them. The Conservatives make simple calculations: they like to talk about numbers and simple facts. However, the health service is a complex organisation and we need to ensure that the services that the NHS and social services provide take into account the complex needs that people have. We are determined to meet the needs of patients at the right time and in the right

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place. The difference between us and the Conservatives is that we have put our money where our mouth is and put the resources into the service.

Several hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker: Order. I must tell the House that I need briefer questions and, of course, briefer answers.

Mr. Gareth R. Thomas (Harrow, West): May I join other hon. Friends in congratulating my hon. Friend on her elevation to the Front Bench? When she considers the number of acute beds in NHS hospitals, will she look particularly closely at maternity units? Does she recognise the need to roll out more money for extra investment in such units? She may also be aware of the visit that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State paid to Northwick Park hospital during the election campaign to look at the maternity unit that serves my constituents. I think that he was taking time out from trying to find the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). In the light of my right hon. Friend's visit--

Mr. Speaker: Order. I think that the Minister can now reply.

Ms Blears: I shall try to be brief, Mr. Speaker. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. As he may know, we have put an extra £100 million into maternity services and intend to recruit an extra 2,000 midwives. Improving maternity services is a top priority for this country, because women deserve the best services at that time in their lives.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden): May I add my congratulations to the hon. Lady on her appointment? Today's Hansard contains a written answer to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) on delayed discharges, which clearly shows an increase in the last recorded quarter to 31 March last year. The hon. Lady was talking about the real world. In the real world, there are queues of ambulances outside the overfilled Birmingham hospitals. Will the hon. Lady accept that the Government have made no progress at all on bed blocking?

Ms Blears: No, I do not accept that at all. There are real problems of delayed discharges for social services, but I understand that there have been meetings in the past seven days--Birmingham is a case in point--between local authorities and the national health service to try to ensure that a system can be put in place to increase capacity for people awaiting discharge, and that the services are used in an appropriate way.

We are also introducing care trusts. That is one of our policies aimed at ensuring that people get better services, in which we establish links between the national health service and council services such as housing. Problems in that area are often the reason for delayed discharges, and we need better integration between the national health service and local government to ensure that services are provided in the right place at the right time.

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