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Ms Hewitt: Of course I will have a look at the hon. Gentleman's letter. I will ensure that he gets a reply and that his delegation is seen as soon as possible.
Despite the achievements that I have summarised, we would be the first to say that there is a great deal more that we have to do before patients and users can really be satisfied with their care. The three health and care measures outlined in the Gracious Speech will help us to meet those public expectations. All of us know of
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constituency cases when something has unfortunately gone wrong with patients' treatment. Such cases are not sufficiently serious to warrant the expense and anxiety of a major court case, but are none the less bad enough to make people feel quite rightly that they want an apology, an assurance that the same thing will not happen to someone else and, when appropriate, a measure of compensation. We will provide for that through the NHS redress Bill, and I believe that patients and the public will welcome the new system as a real and sensible alternative to all the problems of litigation.
Of course patients and the public have made it clear that they want better health protection both inside and outside hospitals, so the health improvement and protection Bill will represent an important step forward. It will help us to cut MRSA infection rates and to raise standards of hygiene in hospitals. Rates of MRSA infection, which we have required hospitals to measure since 2001, have been falling over the past year or so. For example, in 2003 Guy's and St. Thomas' hospitals, which do some of the most difficult and complex operations in the country, had one of the highest MRSA infection rates in the country. They took concerted action to deal with each of the problems that they identified and the MRSA rate halved within 12 months. That is one of the many examples of outstanding practice on infection control in the NHS.
As you would expect, Mr. Speaker, we are already investigating how scientific advances can help the situation. For example, we are piloting the use of a new rapid test for MRSA to speed up diagnosis. However, there is no doubt that we need to do more, so the new Bill will ensure that every hospital and care home pays proper attention to the need for the best possible hygiene and infection control. It will establish a statutory code of practice, improved inspection arrangements and, as a last resort, appropriate sanctions in the both the NHS and the independent sector, including care homes.
The Bill will also promote better health by banning smoking in most enclosed public spaces. We are acting, as the Conservative party is clearly unwilling to do, to protect people from second-hand smoke and to make it easier for people who want to give up smoking to do so. There is no doubt at all that passive smoking is a direct cause of lung cancer, heart disease, asthma attacks, childhood respiratory disease and, most tragically of all, sudden infant death syndrome. We will of course consult further on the detailed proposals, which will include a consideration of the special arrangements that will be needed for places such as hospices, prisons and long-stay residential homes.
Our constituents also want to know that the extra money that they are putting into our national health service is delivering real value, so the Bill will help to cut the number of arm's-length bodies, to reduce bureaucracy and to improve efficiency, thus saving £500 million, which will be redirected to front-line services. The Bill will modernise community pharmacy and ophthalmic services and ensure the safer management of controlled drugs, following the recommendations of the Shipman inquiry.
The third health measure in the Gracious Speech is the mental health Bill, which will replace the Mental Health Act 1983. Contrary to the statements of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, that new Bill will
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provide better protection for patients, as well as better protection for the public from the tiny minority of mentally ill people who represent a real danger. I am extremely conscious that we must balance carefully the need to protect people with mental disorders from harming themselves or others and the need to preserve their personal freedoms. Before introducing the Bill, we will respond fully to the thorough report of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I are considering carefully.
Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): On mental health, will the new Bill do anything to address the deficiency, which has existed for many years since the closure of so many institutions, that when people suffer acute psychiatric breakdowns, the only residential care available to them mixes them in with other people who are often suffering from such severe psychotic conditions that the in-patient care makes their condition worse rather than better? Is any step being taken to give different forms of in-patient care to people who suffer from different acute mental health problems?
Ms Hewitt: The Bill is designed to create the legal framework rather than to specify the detail of service provision in every part of the country. However, by making it possible to compel treatment if that is appropriate, and to do so not only by detaining people in an in-patient hospital, it will provide a much more appropriate and modern legal framework for the kind of treatment that the best psychiatric services want to give patients who are suffering the type of serious breakdown to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
On education, the dedication of staff, backed up by our programme of investment and reform, is achieving significant results in this sector, too. In 1997, Britainthe fourth richest economy in the worldwas 42nd in the world education league. Today, our 10-year-olds are the third-highest achievers in literacy in the world and the fastest improving in maths. Three quarters of 11-year-olds now reach high standards in reading, writing and maths. That is still not enough, but far better than the situation we inherited eight years ago. On top of that, 2 million children and their families are benefiting from the new registered child care places that we have created in the past eight years; for the first time all three and four-year-olds are guaranteed a free part-time early education placesomething that we will extendand in our most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, as so many of my hon. Friends know, Sure Start is helping to transform children's life chances.
In education, as in health and care, the measures set out in the Gracious Speech will build on what we have achieved. Last December, we published our 10-year child care strategy, setting out how we believe the Government should give more support to parents so that they give their children the best start in life. We will continue to expand child care services and, at the same time, give parents more choice about how they balance their work and family responsibilities.
The legislation that we will introduce in this Session will place new duties on local authorities to secure high-quality child care places in children's services that are
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flexible enough to meet the different needs of different families, that give children the chance to learn, play and socialise while supported by skilled and committed adults, and that provide parents with the health and family support they need. We will also legislate in that Bill to bring the inspection of children's services into Ofsted, and we will consult employers on the future of the adult learning inspectorate, with the expectation that by 2008 its functions will also be part of a single inspectorate for education, children's services and skills.
We will legislate to give a new impetus to school improvement, raising standards and increasing choice, in particular in secondary schools. As standards improve in most schools, we will raise the bar for what is acceptable performance in every school, with particular emphasis on English and maths, on providing more personal tuition so that children can learn at their own pace, neither being held back nor struggling to keep up with others, and on better standards of attendance, behaviour anda particular thing for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skillsbetter school food.
The Bill will introduce new powers for Ofsted and local authorities to tackle school failure and underperformance quickly and effectively. We will give parents more influence on their children's education and more power to trigger prompt action to tackle weak and underperforming schools.
Just as we are giving patients more choice over their hospital treatment, we will give parents and pupils more choice within the state education system. Over time, we want every secondary school to become a specialist school, and we will allow good schools to expand in size and influence by taking over less successful schools if they wish.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I note the glowing terms in which the Secretary of State described the education policy in England. Why, if there has been such achievement, do so many Labour Members opt out of the system and buy places in independent schools for their children? Perhaps the right hon. Lady will ask the Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland why, if the Government are emphasising parental choice in this part of the United Kingdom, in Northern Ireland parental choice is being disregarded and, indeed, the views of parents are being ignored. We are seeing the destruction of grammar schools and the abolition of academic selection, which the majority of people in Northern Ireland have said they wish to retain.
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