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I begin with the killer health care-associated infection in the hospital setting. I am proud of my local acute hospital in Stafford. It was a delight to write to the hospital recently to congratulate the management and staff on hitting the December target for waiting times two months early. No one now waits more than six months for an in-patient operation or more than 13 weeks for an out-patient appointment.
However, Stafford hospital featured in the general election campaign in a different light because of some misinformation from the Conservative party, which suggested that the rate of MRSA infections at the hospital was the equivalent of that for every infection in the past year in the west midlands region. When challenged, it said that that was a mistake. However, a similar incident occurred in Harrogate at the same time. Again, the Conservatives said that they had accidentally cited a regional rather than a hospital-specific figure. One such mistake may be misfortune, but two reek of gross carelessness if not worse in trying to frighten voters into making a particular choice at the election.
The infections are serious and Stafford hospital makes a conscientious attempt to test every vulnerable patient who enters the hospital. When I tour the laboratories at Stafford, I never cease to be impressed by the dedicated work of the scientific staff who carry out the tests. I know that my local hospital takes the matter seriously and we welcome the provisions for a new statutory code of practice coupled with a duty on the hospital to fulfil the standards, which the Healthcare Commission will enforce and inspect.
I should like to focus on the provisions that presage a much greater change in primary care services. We await the White Paper in the next few months, but the Bill contains some evidence of the Government's intention to make primary care services much more responsive to patients' needs. First, let me consider the provisions for pharmacists. I have been impressed by the willingness of pharmacists in my constituency to extend their role in primary care services, whether through help with smoking cessation, prescribing medicinesthey are very much up for thatgiving confidential contraception advice or helping people with long-term medical conditions to manage their medicines. They are a tremendous benefit to my local health economy. I visit local pharmacists regularly and have seen the changes that they have made in the skill mix of their staff and in their physical premises, which now include private places for confidential consultations. I therefore know that the changes on supervision and charges for which the Bill provides will rightly help to contribute to a greater role for pharmacists in primary care.
The same goes for my recent visit to the optometrists Webb and Lucas in Bridge street, Stafford. Like other hon. Members, I was lobbied about the changes in the Bill to the general ophthalmic service contracts. The optometrists are angry because their negotiations on a new GOS contract were proceeding unremarkably when the Bill, which refers to a new contract about which they had clearly not finished consulting, was published. I know that meetings have been held and reassurances given since the Bill was published, and I think that it is now accepted that this primary legislation opportunity was taken to put the framework in place, and that the consultation will continue on what the services will involve.
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I would like to say how impressed I was by the members of the local committee whom I met that evening, and by how much they are up for improving their contribution to primary care services. They showed me what they are doing about diabetic eye screening, with the latest camera and computer technology to aid them. They told me about their joint management, with the paediatric services at the hospital, of children with visual problems. They also told me about the "red eye" service, and explained how they were developing a multi-disciplinary community approach to supporting elderly patients with failing eyesight. These are some of the remarkable provisions that they can add to our primary care services.
I know that the great debate tonight has been about smoking, but I will say only that the Bill's proposals on that issue fit with the small contribution that I have made to the debate about primary care services. So many people in primary care services are involved in smoking cessation and in helping people to overcome their addiction to smoking, thereby preventing second-hand smoking among those of us who do not smoke. Health visitors, pharmacists, GPs and practice nurses are all involved in that same aim.
A ban that gets us nearly to where we want to be is better than no ban at all, so I shall certainly support the proposals tonight. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) described how, when he joined the Administration Committee, he wanted to take the big bang approach to a total ban on selling tobacco in this place. He went on to describe how the ban was actually achieved over a number of years, a stage at a time. We will perhaps not achieve the big bang approach to a ban on this occasion, but I am sure that we will get there pretty soon.
I see that a fixed-penalty notice scheme is being proposed for those who break the law on smoking. As I have the ear of the Minister with responsibility for public health, I should like to ask her whether she would be willing to extend that approach to a subject close to my own heart at the moment. Will she consider introducing legislation to prevent people from interfering with women who are breast-feeding in a public place? Last week, once again, we saw the scandalous situation of a man complaining to the police about a woman breast-feeding discreetly in a public place. The police sent a squad car and a uniformed officer to stop her. We will never achieve the rate of breast-feeding in this country that we see in the Scandinavian countries, with the consequent public health benefits
I will indeed, Madam Deputy Speaker. I hope that the Bill will receive our support on Second Reading, because it brings significant measures to reduce smoke-related ill health, health care-associated infections, and the risk of the misuse of controlled drugs. It contains useful measures that will precede further reforms at primary care level. We are moving in the right direction by improving public health awareness, supporting public health services and cutting premature deaths, so I hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading.
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Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): I am a smoker, but I consider myself to be a very considerate smoker. I would not smoke in someone else's house, car or office, or near anyone who was having a meal. It is because I have that consideration for others that I find the parts of the Bill that relate to smoking totally objectionable. I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) when he suggested that it would impinge on his liberty if someone else's cigarette smoke reached his nose. I entirely agree with that, and there is no reason why the rights of smokers and non-smokers cannot be accommodated. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Bill Etherington) mentioned extractor units, which can be installed in pubs and can do a very good job. We live in a society in which people can make choices.
Many hon. Members have quoted figures relating to the number of people who want smoking to be banned in pubs. I think that those figures are probably exaggerated, but if we accept that they are right, and if there is such a large demand for non-smoking pubs and restaurants, the market will deliver those places, as it will in any other line of business. We will then end up with pubs in which people can smoke and have a meal, and pubs in which people do not smoke. We will also have pubs in which smoking is possible in some areas, and banned in others. In those circumstances, it seems to me that everybody would be happy.
The Government, however, make a play of protecting staff. In today's debate, nobody has asked how many people behind the bar of pubs smoke themselves. I have asked the Minister a parliamentary question about that, and the Government have not carried out such a survey. We are therefore trying to protect people from smoke who, in many cases, already smoke.
I also draw an analogy with people going down coal mines. I understand that there are 400,000 outstanding claims by miners or their families relating to people injured in coal mines, many of whom have died already. I do not know of a proposal to stop people going down coal mines, however. When I raised the issue with the hon. Member for Northavon (Steve Webb), he said that it is not necessary for people to smoke in pubs, but it is necessary for people to work down coal minesI paraphrase him, but I think that that it is what he said. That is not true. People do not have to work down coal mineswe do not have to generate electricity through burning coal, as there are many other ways of doing so.
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