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3 Feb 2003 : Column 112—continued

Mr. Hoyle : Allowing for what has been said so far, what would happen under the Bill if another overseas territory were to suggest that it, too, wished to be enfranchised with the European vote? How would its case be considered? What would happen to its application?

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend raises an important point, but every case is clearly different, and has different issues attached to it. As I understand it, the judgment in the case of Matthews v. the United Kingdom found that the European Parliament had the characteristics of a legislature for the purposes of

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Gibraltar. For that reason, the European convention on human rights applied, with regard to the right to free and fair elections. It is important, however, to define what the relevant legislature is, for the purposes of each individual territory.

Andrew Mackinlay : I would like to address the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). Gibraltar had a unique case because it is the only British overseas territory within the European Union. The others are not—perhaps they should be, but they are not—so this case was unique.

Yvette Cooper: My hon. Friend is right to say that the important issue with regard to the Matthews judgment was the relationship between Gibraltar and the European Union and, in particular, between Gibraltar and the European Parliament. That is why it is right that it should be involved in elections to that Parliament. Other overseas territories would obviously have to be regarded in a different way according to their own constitutional positions.

This is a sensible and proportionate Bill that seeks to ensure the enfranchisement of the accession states and of Gibraltar. We need to do this in time for the 2004 elections. There is still a considerable amount of work to do if we are to put all the details in place in time for those elections, but I hope that we in the House of Commons will wish the Bill well and support its Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

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Northern Ireland

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Northern Ireland

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6)(Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Northern Ireland

Question agreed to.


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9)(European Standing Committees),

Mutual Recognition Of Financial Penalties

Question agreed to.

3 Feb 2003 : Column 113

3 Feb 2003 : Column 115

NHS Hospitals (Worcestershire)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kemp.]

9.39 pm

Dr. Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise worries about NHS hospital services in Worcestershire. My one great regret is that, as an Independent Member, I must do so from the Opposition Benches. Unlike you, Mr. Speaker, I cannot sit in the middle of the Chamber and address it as one who can agree with the Government when he thinks they are right and with the Opposition when he thinks that they are right.

I have made it clear that I support the Government's provision of extra money for the NHS, and that I support some of their reforms—certainly those relating to devolution. I have grave fears, however. For instance, strategic health authorities only like to pass good news to the Department of Health. I want to tell the Minister—whom I am very glad to see—how things look from the patient's point of view, not just in Wyre Forest but in other parts of Worcestershire.

Having read one of the local papers tonight, I must make it clear that I, along with others who agree with me, am not attacking staff. They are working as hard as they can to make an appallingly difficult situation work. Those who introduce changes in the NHS are working with doctors and nurses whose first commitment is to the patient. Whatever tools they are given, they will try to make those tools effective.

I have not raised this subject because of my own health service agenda, or a particular political party's health service agenda. I have done so purely and simply because a recently published annual audit letter issued a staggering condemnation of hospital management—not hospital staff. The vice-chairman of the Redditch and Bromsgrove community health council—I am delighted to see that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) is present—said of that letter:

That condemnation does not come from Wyre Forest.

The criticism is fairly wide-ranging. First there is the financial aspect. The acute hospital trust managed to break even last year with the use of some capital and forecast that it could do the same this year, but it is heading for a £6 million overspend, a large amount of which is due to agency nurses. This year's forecast overspend is £7.2 million.

The management knew about that. A written answer from the Minister dated 30 October stated that the cost of agency nurses to the health authority was £3.3 million in 2000–01, £4.3 million in 2001–02 and £4.3 million up to September last year. The management well recognised the scale of the problem with agency nurses, but they have been completely unable to control it.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): Is not one of the most shocking indictments in the audit letter the £1.87 million in the account which no one had anticipated, including those who signed up for contracts?

Dr. Taylor: I am coming to that.

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Let me continue with the criticisms. The next concerns medical manpower management. To my horror, I read that even in 2003 no consultants have job plans to which they and the management have signed up. Before I retired, which is several years ago now, I had a job plan. Those were suggested by the Government years and years ago.

Another staggering thing is that Worcestershire has the highest medical staffing to work load levels of all acute trusts in England. Why? It is not because the county's surgeons are lazy and not working. I have the figures to prove the work load.

The number of surgical finished consultant episodes in 1999–2000 was 44,896. In 2001–02, it was 30,783, a reduction of one third. Why was that? It was because there was a reduction in staffed beds and in theatre availability, and that comes back to the loss of services and staff following the downgrading of Kidderminster.

There are other criticisms: the purchasing consortium is not working; management of waiting lists leaves a lot to be desired; and the supplies function and the medicines management function have been criticised. One could go on, but the next crucial criticism is the need to improve communication to staff.

For a long time, we have heard stories not that we are alarming and undermining staff but that staff are terrified of speaking out because of intimidation and threats from management. At last we have proof of that. I quote from one of the local papers on 28 December last year:

The next criticism relates to the private finance initiative that the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) mentioned. I was staggered to read that the payment for the new PFI in Worcester is increasing annually by £1.87 million. That has to run for another 29 years. At last, we have an admission that there was supposed to be a £3 million saving annually from bed cuts. We claimed that the PFI meant bed cuts for ages. It was always denied but we have it in black and white from the district auditor.

There is another criticism. Staff have been telling us that the design is awful, the corridors are too narrow, and the ability to observe patients in the wards is not adequate. The district auditor says that the layout of the new hospital requires additional staffing.

The annual audit letter condemns the management. It vindicates in passing all the work that Professor Allyson Pollock and her colleagues at University College, London have done on the PFI, particularly the report on the Worcestershire PFI entitled, "Deficits Before Patients", which was so denigrated and castigated by the health authority and the NHS executive in Birmingham at the time.

Other sources of criticism other than the annual audit letter are general practitioners. From all parts of the county, GPs are complaining. Red alerts are frequent.

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It is amazing that, to make it sound better, the hospital trust has suddenly redesignated red alerts as yellow two alerts, which strikes me as an interesting sort of wheeze. I have a quote from an Evesham GP:

The sad thing about all this is that it was foreseen. In November 1997, a great number of GPs and consultants—including not only those from Wyre Forest—described the hospital review as follows:

on meeting the health authority—

That is the end of my criticisms. I want now to be positive, and to try to suggest what can be done, because I am here not for any personal political gain, but to try to help the people of the whole of Worcestershire. First, I have a plea. Please do not cut beds: either the few remaining beds at Kidderminster, or those in the community hospitals. They perform a vital service, relieving the pressure on acute beds and allowing the acute service to discharge patients that little bit quicker.

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