Draft National Health Service (Wales) Bill

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The Chairman: Order. I am listening closely to the argument. Is the hon. Gentleman suggesting that something should be added to the Bill to take account of that problem?

Mr. Evans: I am talking about the power of the CHCs. The front page of the South Wales Evening Post says that the consultation to save Morriston hospital was a sham because the consultation document was not even sent to the CHCs, which were supposed to get the consultation exercise under way across south Wales. If the CHCs are not being respected and are not taken seriously, we will have a real problem. The consultation exercise has been extended, but we must recognise the voice of people across Wales.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has said that no more than two hours should pass between something going wrong and service in that specialist field being provided. The Committee will know that it would take a lot longer for a patient from west Wales to get to a Cardiff hospital, whereas they could get to a Swansea hospital in that time. The CHCs must be taken more seriously in the extended consultation period. I had rather hoped that the voices of the 74,500 people who signed the petition would be considered, too. Let us also give due regard to the skilled staff working in that unit at Morriston hospital; we should ensure that they have the backing that they deserve.

I want to say only one other thing about the Bill because I suspect that we will have plenty of time to comment as it goes through its legislative process. I have no views on how that will come about, but the Secretary of State's comments this morning suggest that the usual process will be used. In addition to examining carefully the Wales Centre for Health, I want to say something about Health Professions Wales. A body exists in Wales called the Health Professionals Council, and there is already much confusion about the responsibilities of the two bodies. I know that the Bill will give the National Assembly for Wales the power to change the name of the CHCs. I hope that that does not happen because they are widely recognised and respected. If a name works, why change it? It has cost the Royal Mail millions of pounds to work that out. Let us hope that the name of the CHCs is kept. The Assembly might need to reconsider the name of Health Professions Wales, which is the new body. I hope that Assembly is given the responsibility of examining the naming of the body. If there is confusion because one body is regulatory and one is not, I hope that that can be examined carefully.

I hope that the changes will be streamlined as much as possible, that bureaucracy will be kept to a minimum and that costs will be carefully examined. Every pound that is spent on bureaucracy is a pound less spent on front-line health services.

I have family and many friends who live in Wales, and I have experienced the health service in Wales at first hand. I, like every member of the Committee,

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want a first-class health service for the people of Wales, and I will do anything and everything in my power to ensure that that comes about.

4.22 pm

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central): I apologise to the Committee. I have shortly to attend another Committee to consider a statutory instrument, so I shall have to make only a brief point.

The Bill calls on CHCs to have a greater scrutiny role, and I shall give an up-to-date example of why that is necessary. Almost exactly a year ago, I met a senior nurse who was working in Llandough hospital. She said that she and three or four of her colleagues were resigning because they were unhappy with the situation in that hospital's orthopaedic unit. She gave me a list of complaints, such as mismanagement, bullying, dirty wards and neglected patients. On 24 July 2001, I wrote to the Minister for Health and Social Services in Wales asking her to examine the nurse's concerns. She replied to me shortly afterwards to say that there would be an investigation.

My constituent—Pat Erickson—resigned, as she promised, with several of her colleagues and worked for agencies, as many nurses do. She has worked for five trusts in all ever since. She saw me on Monday and told me that she had bumped into one of her former managers during her work in the Cardiff and Vale NHS trust during recent weeks. A representative of the trust then wrote the agency a letter that said:

    ''It would be appreciated if you could confirm in writing to myself that Ms P. Erickson will not be offered for Agency employment to the NHS Trust.''

Unison has taken up her case, but it seems that a person who is a clearly a whistleblower has been victimised. I hope that the CHCs' enhanced role will ensure that such victimisation is far less likely in the future.

4.25 pm

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): The Bill is important because it will reform community health councils and set up the Wales Centre for Health and Health Professions Wales. They are important building blocks of the new health service in Wales that the National Assembly for Wales is constructing in conjunction with the Government in Westminster.

As others said earlier, today's process is important. I believe in pre-legislative scrutiny. I count myself as incredibly fortunate in that the first Committee on which I was placed was that which considered the Adoption and Children Bill, which was subject to pre-legislative scrutiny in that it was considered by a Special Standing Committee that took evidence from interested parties and key stakeholders in relation to the Bill before forming a Standing Committee for the usual knockabout and amendments in considering the Bill.

This is an innovative and interesting procedure, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones) on the work that the Welsh Affairs Committee has already done on the Bill. My hon.

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Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) is not in his place, but I listened carefully to his observations on the constitutional position of how we approach the process of considering Bills that have a specific Welsh dimension or that go beyond the borders of Wales but contain elements that specifically relate to Wales.

We should not be bound by the procedure but should innovate and experiment. One method that might be considered is that, instead of using simply the Welsh Affairs Committee, we have a Special Standing Committee that can take and consider evidence. It may not always be appropriate for the Select Committee to do so, as it has a scrutiny role as well as a pre-legislative role.

Ian Lucas: Does my hon. Friend agree that the advantage of setting up such a Special Standing Committee would be that Members with an interest in a particular area could be involved? The peculiar nature of the Welsh Affairs Committee is that it is spread across many different subject areas. Such a Standing Committee would have the advantage of being able to attract members who could bring their experience in particular fields to bear.

Kevin Brennan: As always, my hon. Friend makes an extremely intelligent and cogent point that I should have thought of myself. It clearly would be an advantage from time to time to be able to draw on hon. Members' expertise in using the Special Standing Committee procedure.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): May I give my hon. Friend something else to think about in relation to such a Committee? One of the features of the Select Committee system is that it is consensual. The matter needs a consensual Committee. Setting up a Standing Committee would duplicate what the House already does, which would be wrong.

Kevin Brennan: I have a great deal of respect for my hon. Friend, who has huge experience in the House compared with me. However, in my experience of the Special Standing Committee, at the evidence-taking stage, that was not true. There was cross-party working and understanding in the use of the procedure, just as I found in my work on a Select Committee.

There is room to innovate. I do not have especially strong views on the matter, but I welcome pre-legislative scrutiny, which is important and which will contribute to improving the quality of legislation, especially that relating to Wales.

As I said earlier, in setting up the three institutions, the Bill is a building block in the creation of the new Welsh NHS that is gradually evolving from the devolution settlement. I shall find something appropriate on which to hang the point, but earlier the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) made several points about, and used various statistics to illustrate, the way in which he felt that the NHS in Wales was performing.

I am sure that some figures that I have to give will be of great interest to the new Wales Centre for Health that the Bills sets up. There are features of the NHS in

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Wales, which have not been highlighted today, that are positive achievements and steps forwards. For example, we have heard nothing about the scrapping of NHS prescription charges for the under-25s. CHCs and the Wales Centre for Health will be interested in looking at such things. Another such matter is free dental checks for the over-60s and the under-25s. I do not think that there is powerful awareness of such developments across Wales. An all-Wales free mental health helpline has been set up, but I do not think that there is much awareness of it. We heard some talk earlier about staffing. Between 1997 and 2000 the number of NHS staff in Wales increased by 9 per cent. There are now 6,000 more NHS staff in Wales than in 1997. The number of nurses and health visiting staff increased by 440 between 2000 and 2001.

I shall not try your patience for too much longer, Mr. Griffiths, but one or two more facts should be introduced into the debate. At least 1,385 medical students will have been enrolled in Wales by 2004, which answers some of the points made by Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), and the annual intake of medical students increased between 1998 and 2001 from 190 to 290. We must recognise that progress is being made, not least in terms of the resources now being made available to the national health service in Wales to implement some of the changes in the draft Bill.

The period 2003–04 will see an increase—not in real terms—of 10.41 per cent., 2004–05 an increase of 9.23 per cent. and the following years increases of 9.59 per cent., 9.3 per cent. and 9.59 per cent. in spending on the NHS in Wales. I would challenge any Opposition Member to say that the NHS could sustain any greater increase in terms of its capacity for the recruitment of staff and its physical capacity to expand services. This Bill is an important building block in the process of developing the new NHS in Wales that I am describing.

I shall give one or two specific examples of matters that some of the new bodies in the Bill will want to monitor. Just last week I attended the opening of the new St. David's hospital in my constituency, Cardiff, West. It was closed under the Conservative Government by the late former Member for Cardiff, Central, Ian Grist, when he was a Minister with responsibility for health in the early 1990s. I remember a promise that it would be re-opened by the election. The problem was that we were not told which election. The 100-bed hospital has now been reopened and last week I attended its opening by the First Minister.

Remarks were made earlier about the CHCs' power to inspect dental services. That hospital has an extremely exciting and innovative new community dental facility, which will also be a teaching facility for final-year students from University hospital, Cardiff. They will be being taught, and learning their trade, out in the community, which is where they should be, because 85 per cent. of those dental students end up practising in the community, unlike in other medical professions, where a higher proportion of students often end up working in hospitals. That is a fantastic, innovative, new, excellent facility. We want to see such facilities rolled out across Wales in years to come as a

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result of the commitment to putting extra resources into the NHS.

I have another, smaller, example of something that might be of interest to the bodies that the draft Bill establishes. Last Saturday, I attended the Ely festival in my constituency and was pleased to be able to participate in Heart Ely, a project funded by the health inequalities fund, set up by the National Assembly to promote public health. If we are to improve health in Wales, we have to concentrate not just on waiting times and waiting lists, but on improving public health in the first place. I was happy to participate at the stall at the Ely festival. I was weighed, and I am glad to report that I am not overweight—much to my surprise, having spent a year in this House. The project was exciting, innovative and out in the community, where it should be. It was another example of the sort of changes that we need to deliver a better health service after many years of neglect and lack of investment in the NHS, and a lack of the necessary reforms—the sort of reforms that are in the Bill.

We know that there are still huge problems to overcome in the national health service in Wales. We are dealing with a legacy of neglect, and an attempt to undermine the fundamental principles of the NHS through slow death by cuts. I welcome the Bill. It is designed to keep the NHS in Wales close to the community and to improve its structure. I welcome today's discussion of the draft Bill.

4.36 pm

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