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Small Acute Hospitals (Anaesthetic Provision)

8. Andrew George (St. Ives) (LD): What recent assessment he has made of anaesthetic provision in small acute hospitals. [155725]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): There are 1,250 more consultant anaesthetists working in the national health service than was the case in 1997—an increase of 45 per cent. The figures do not distinguish between anaesthetists working in small or large acute hospitals.

Andrew George : Although I am grateful to the Minister for his support in planning for a new model for the delivery of acute care at the small West Cornwall hospital in my constituency, and while that good work is continuing, anaesthetic cover is being withdrawn in the evening and at night. As such cover is a cornerstone in the maintenance of acute and emergency care, can he help me to ensure that West Cornwall hospital's acute status can be sustained by providing anaesthetic care, so that my constituents are not dangerously exposed—particularly in the evening and at night—and that the NHS is kept local?

Mr. Hutton: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his appreciation of my work. The problem at West Cornwall hospital has been caused by the long-term sickness of two anaesthetic operating assistants and it is difficult for Richmond house in Whitehall to legislate for that type of eventuality. I understand that that difficulty, which is for local managers to address, is being dealt with effectively. The new NHS terms and conditions package, "Agenda for Change", will make it more likely than not that we will be able to offer attractive recruitment and retention premiums for hospitals such as West Cornwall where there might be difficulties recruiting specialist staff. There is no magic solution to the particular problem at West Cornwall but I am looking at the situation carefully to ensure that we meet our commitment to the widest possible access to services locally.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) (UUP): While I understand the Minister's explanation in respect of West Cornwall hospital, is he satisfied that enough people are coming forward to train as anaesthetists? How will that affect the overall provision of health care throughout the kingdom?

Mr. Hutton: We would like as many additional anaesthetists as possible for the NHS and are rapidly expanding training opportunities for precisely that reason. That aim is particularly important in the context of the European working time directive, as anaesthesia is a specialism that presents particular difficulties. We are working closely with the medical royal colleges, including the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, to find effective solutions.

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Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust

9. Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton) (Lab): What role the West Yorkshire strategic health authority plays in securing the new hospital development in the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust; and if he will make a statement. [155726]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Miss Melanie Johnson): West Yorkshire strategic health authority is working closely with Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust and local primary care trusts on plans to redevelop Pinderfields general hospital in Wakefield and Pontefract general infirmary to the maximum benefit of patients.

Mr. O'Brien : The Mid Yorkshire trust provides services at three sites—Dewsbury, Pinderfields general hospital in my constituency and Pontefract general infirmary. There are extenuating circumstances affecting funding and, as the primary care trusts are limited in the contributions that they can make, the strategic health authority should contribute substantially to safeguard the business plan put in place following an assurance by a Labour Minister that new facilities would be provided at Pinderfields and Pontefract. Will my hon. Friend give an assurance that the strategic health authority will provide the resources to ensure that plan goes ahead?

Miss Johnson: I can assure my hon. Friend that the trust's private finance initiative remains on schedule and will provide an improved physical environment and better health services. The strategic health authority is closely involved in resolving the financial difficulties of which he is aware. A recovery plan is being put in place and a fundamental financial stocktake has been undertaken. I further assure him that the Government, together with the SHA, will keep in close touch with the progress of those plans.

Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab): May I say that the recovery plan was explained to hon. Members with constituencies in the Wakefield area just the other day? The population is particularly ill as a result of the area's mineworking history, and it is impatient to see the investment that we desperately need and the fruition of the plan, which has been wisely and patiently constructed under the chairmanship of Lord Lofthouse of Pontefract in partnership with the strategic health authority and the Department.

Miss Johnson: I assure my hon. Friend, as I have already assured my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), that we take a close interest in the matter. I understand the deprivation in the communities that he represents and the issues that arise. Forward work on the PFI and the regeneration of services at primary care level are crucial in substantially improving the health of the local population.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) (Lab): As a child in the 1950s—I hasten to add that I was a very young child—I remember visiting a family member at Pinderfields hospital, Wakefield, who was accommodated in a hut built to hold casualties of the

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second world war. Two weeks ago, I was in the same hut visiting another family member. The hut—a temporary building constructed during the second world war—is still in use. The third-world conditions at Pinderfields hospital are totally unacceptable, and I want to reinforce the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) and for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) about the urgent need for the capital scheme. I welcome the Government's support, but can we have further support to ensure that the scheme moves ahead as rapidly as possible?

Miss Johnson: Indeed. I reassure my hon. Friend that the scheme is on schedule, and I expect the strategic health authority to approve the full business case in September with the aim of starting work during 2005. I appreciate his points, which highlight the lack of investment in the NHS for many years under the previous Government. We are radically increasing investment, and I point out to him the massive decrease of almost one quarter in heart disease and strokes in his constituency during the past few years of the Labour Government. The investment is already making a difference on health issues in his community.


10. Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend, East) (Con): What the change has been in the incidence of HIV/AIDS over the last 12 months; and what the reasons are for the change. [155727]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Miss Melanie Johnson): There have been 5,047 new cases of HIV infection reported in the United Kingdom so far in 2003. That is a 20 per cent. increase on the 4,204 cases reported at the same time last year. The main contributory factors are more people getting tested and the ongoing transmission of HIV infection in the UK, particularly among gay men.

Sir Teddy Taylor : There are wide regional variations in the incidence of the disease, which imposes an enormous burden on health service provision. Will the Minister take account of the incidence of HIV/AIDS in assessing health service funding?

Miss Johnson: That is reflected in a variety of ways. Unless the hon. Gentleman has some new evidence, there is no indication that there is a problem with funding for treatment or diagnosis. All the evidence shows that the funding of treatment for HIV is working well.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend accept that those who are HIV-positive or AIDS sufferers almost inevitably tend to congregate in certain large cities or towns, where the incidence of HIV/AIDS is greater than that in the general population? Is she certain that funding properly meets both the health needs of those people and the general requirement to fund health authorities in the wider community?

Miss Johnson: We always try to ensure that distribution reflects need. Obviously, the formulae that are used help us to do that in terms of the resources that

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are made available at primary care trust level. There is separate funding for work with African communities, for example, and for work being done with the Terence Higgins Trust, which reflects some of needs of the south-east and one or two other centres in the UK.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): The Minister is being unduly conservative because, while the total figures are not in yet, it is estimated that HIV cases for last year will be more than 7,000, which is well above a 20 per cent. increase on 2002. Is she happy that today there are 208 genito-urinary medicine clinics, exactly the same number as in 1997? Despite the herculean efforts of greatly pressured staff, services are deteriorating and waiting times have doubled since 2000. Why is there still no national service framework for sexual health and why has she not taken up our idea of appointing a public health commissioner with a brief to tackle the crisis?

In the midst of all that, last Christmas, the Department of Health spent £60,000 on a website carol entitled, "The 12 STIs of Christmas", with a chorus of dancing stick figures graphically suffering assorted sexually transmitted infections and displaying their inflamed genitals, with such lines as:

It does not even scan. Is that the best that the Government can do?

Miss Johnson: To start with, we believe in acting on facts. The facts are important. The hon. Gentleman tries to make a point about investment. One of the points that he makes is about targets, but the Conservatives have complained repeatedly about targets—[Interruption.] He mentioned an NSF, which involves the use of standards and targets. In terms of the national strategy—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Loughton should allow the Minister to reply.

Miss Johnson: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

For the first time, there is a national strategy to improve sexual health and to modernise services. We have backed the strategy with initial investment of £47.5 million, plus a further £40 million over the next two years. In addition, a further £11.4 million was announced in response to concerns raised by the Health Committee and stakeholders, and a further £15 million of capital has been provided to modernise GUM premises. That is the record on which the Government will fight. The hon. Gentleman fights on a record of disinvestment in health services and would do well to bear that in mind in his questioning.

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