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Mr. Brian Jenkins (Tamworth) (Lab): It is a pleasure to participate in the Queen's Speech debate. It is also a pleasure to follow my next door neighbour, the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant). Ironically and coincidentally, we are both covered by the same PCT, but he thinks the glass half-empty, whereas I think it half-full.

I have looked at my constituency in the context of the measures in a number of Queen's Speeches, and I shall outline one or two areas into which we have put a lot of money for new buildings, new equipment and extra staff, leading to falling waiting lists for treatment. I shall consider the sickness service first, rather than overall health.

I was first elected to this House in 1996. Not many months afterwards, the front page of my local paper reported that one of my constituents had had to remortgage his home to pay for his heart bypass operation—a shocking story. However, not one similar story has appeared in the past five years. The system had fallen into an awful state, and it has taken money, and the involvement of the professionals who work unstintingly in the health service, to get us to our present position.

We now treat more people better and faster, and people who have gone through the system tell me about the state that it is in today. Our difficulty is to catch the urban myths and legends, because people reiterate stories about things that took place some 10 years ago. When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health visits the Sir Robert Peel hospital, Tamworth, tomorrow, he will see an excellent little hospital, run by a professional team who have provided new services and innovations.

In this afternoon's debate, one or two hon. Members have mentioned the private-public gap. They seem to think that the private initiatives in health come only from one side. I keep telling people this: when I visit my GP, which I do fairly regularly, I park my car in a car park that is private and belongs to the private buildings of a privately run practice. The GPs own the buildings. When I walk in and I see the girl or woman behind the counter—it is a very nice place, and I am treated professionally—she is an employee of the practice. I then see a doctor who is a contractor to the health service.

So far I have not seen or been in one publicly owned facility. When my GP writes out a prescription, it is on a form printed by a private practice. I take it down to a local shop, where the shopkeeper gets me some tablets made by a private drug company—and we think that we have a problem with private involvement in the health service. The NHS has always been privately provided and publicly funded. It is about time we got away from the hang-up of opposing any private involvement in the health service.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health knows that the ambulance service in Staffordshire is second to none. We are currently using extra facilities in our ambulance service. When an ambulance attends a
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location, paramedics can treat people on the spot; there is often no need to take people to hospital in an ambulance. Admittance to hospital by ambulance occurs at a far higher rate than admittance of people who turn up by themselves. I hope that hospitals will stop being blocked and resources wasted in that manner. That is a priority in Staffordshire today, and it works well. The hospitals that serve my area are very good.

I am amazed when I hear people debate hospital-acquired infections in the public arena. They discuss the matter with great sincerity, but it is a pity that they have not read the Public Accounts Committee report. The PAC went through the matter religiously, and we identified the problems.

I do not want to say, "Privatise hospital cleaning," because that would not advance the situation one iota. We know that all hospitals should be kept clean and free from debris and dust. That is not the problem, because what looks like the cleanest hospital in the world can still have an infection problem. Across the world, different infections spring up in different countries. The key point is the culture of people not washing their hands and transmitting the infection from patient to patient.

David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): I am grateful to my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour for highlighting the improvements being made in general hospitals. Does he agree that no part whatever has been played in that by the rightly maligned star rating system, and that the Secretary of State for Health is to be warmly applauded for at last abandoning what has been a disaster from day one?

Mr. Jenkins: My hon. Friend is welcome to say that, but I could not possibly comment.

After months of trials to find the best anti-bacterial agent, we now have a system whereby doctors always carry syringes at their sides so that they can wash their hands as they go from patient to patient. Everyone who enters a ward now uses that facility, which may be the best option for reducing infection rates in our hospitals.

I want to move on to the broader concepts of health. Many years ago, I took health to mean stopping people getting sick, but one of the reasons why our primary care trust has spent so much time and effort is that people go out into the community and visit patients at home—mental health patients or elderly patients, for example—to ensure that they stay healthy. We should move that up the agenda, because when people are treated at home they must be kept in reasonable conditions.

In January 1985, I was involved in a local council by-election, and I went to a row of old people's bungalows and knocked on the first door. The person who answered had his coat, hat and scarf on, so I said, "I'm terribly sorry, sir—I shan't be a moment," because I thought that he was going out. I asked him my question and moved on to the second house, where again, the occupant had his hat, coat and scarf on. I thought that the two of them must be going out together, so I said, "Shan't be a moment, sir," asked him my question, and moved on. When the third person came to the door with his hat, coat and scarf on, I thought, "There must be a bus around here
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somewhere." Then it dawned on me. I asked him if he was going out, and he said no—he was sitting like that by his fire, which was switched down to one bar. He had to choose between keeping the house warm or eating. We had turned into a miserable society.

Thankfully, when we introduced the £200 winter allowance, those people could switch the other bar of the fire on, to keep the place warm as well as eating. Our warm front programme should be applauded for putting millions of pounds into targeting those vulnerable people to ensure that they double glaze and insulate their homes to keep them warm in the cold months. If that is not done, the health service has to pick up the tab, and it is a losing battle on both fronts.

Sure Start is a brilliant programme. The other week I went along to one in my area, where mothers were being shown how to prepare food and cook. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary will speak to his pal the Education Secretary and ask him to get food preparation and cooking back into our schools where it belongs, because children, male and female, leave school with no concept of food preparation other than reaching for a can and a tin-opener, and given the high levels of sugar and salt in those cans, it is no surprise that they become obese.

When my right hon. Friend talks to the Education Secretary, will he also congratulate him from me, and from Tamworth, and tell him to keep up the good work? There is a lot done, but a lot more to do. We have some excellent schools with good and dedicated professionals who are turning out children with higher qualifications and more aspirations than we have ever had in our town. Our secondary schools work together in concert so that children can be transferred from one sixth form to another, because one specialises in music while another specialises in sport or in science.

Nevertheless, I enter a plea to the Education Secretary on behalf of Staffordshire. If we are to send money to each individual school—an idea that would find favour with certain Members, including me—will he ensure that the formula employed is not the malign and discredited one used by the Department for Education and Skills, but the one used by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, which shows us where deprivation and poverty are? In Staffordshire we suffer from pockets of deprivation that a wealthy county masks. I look forward to the response on that subject.

More youngsters than ever now enter higher education and training. Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, who is about to resume his seat, answer a question? The Opposition amendment states that they are appalled that we have taken no action to abolish tuition fees. After research and consultation with universities, will my right hon. Friend tell us how the universities would make up the shortfall, and how many United Kingdom students would find that the place that they believed was allocated to them had disappeared because the universities could not fund it? Parents and youngsters would like to know that, because it would present them with a choice about the direction to take.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health knows that when I was first elected in 1996, there was mass unemployment, and an alarming and increasing number of people were registered as disabled. I realised
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that the two went hand in hand. A person who is unemployed and feeling depressed will look for an option, and disability can be such an option. A hard core of individuals believe that they are actually disabled and cannot work any more—and they would find it difficult to get back into the work force. Employment can play as great a role as keeping homes warm in the health of a nation. We should therefore consider it seriously.

Today, more people than ever are in work. We have eliminated long-term youth unemployment but we still need more trained people. After years of boom and bust in engineering, fathers advise their sons and daughters not to go into it. Although some of us believe that engineering and manufacturing still have a part to play in creating this country's wealth, we struggle to get people into education and training for them and to view industry and manufacturing as a career opportunity.

There are some excellent small firms in my constituency. They approach me regularly and bemoan the fact that they cannot get the trained skilled personnel that they need. They cannot get our bright youngsters, who have been siphoned off to do courses at university that will not provide them with a future, when they could have been trained in skilled work in our factories. Small firms acknowledge the Government's role in maintaining low interest rates and stability, but they feel lonely and a little unloved. They do not believe that they are the Government's favourite sons. Can we please send them a few warm words to ensure that they know that we acknowledge the major contribution that they make to our country?

I shall not discuss identity cards, or you would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I simply say that much more work must be done to explain exactly what we would do with them.

The Opposition amendment calls for effective choice. Given our record over the past seven years, I believe that our people must have the information to make an effective choice. When they do that, I know that they will stick to the Government, who have done so much but have much more to do.

5.49 pm

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