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Mr. Bacon: Does the Minister agree that another important aspect of the communication process is preparing parents in advance for what might go wrong, because complicated procedures could cause problems? In the case of the Lynch family, as well as many others, this has been a significant problem.
Clearly, all those factors form part of the communication needs, and the professionals involved need to tread a fine line. I am sure that many parents in such circumstances find such information hard to take in. They are consumed with anxiety, in addition to having that extra burden and possibly having to take a decision about what procedures should be carried out. That is an enormous series of problems to have to face.
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As the hon. Gentleman described, on the same day that Sarah received her surgery, the hospital suffered a complete failure of the electrical supply to the wing where the paediatric intensive care unit was sited. He has described how the incident was apparently not reported to the parents at the time. When this was discovered, it obviously added to Mr. and Mrs. Lynch's concerns andI would saydistrust and distress. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the care and treatment that patients receive is a matter for the clinical judgment of the medical team, and the investigation into the subsequent outcome is for the trust to take forward. It would therefore be inappropriate for me to make any comment on, or to intervene in, any specific case. We need to seek to get resolution at trust level if that is at all possible.
Mr. Bacon: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again. She has been extremely generous, and I have been extremely fortunate in having this extra time. Does she agree that any encouragement given to the Brompton by her at the Dispatch Box to be more open in its dealings with the parents, and to give an open and public account at the Brompton level of what has happened, would help to get these issues resolved?
Jane Kennedy: I would not say that only to the Brompton. One of the saddest aspects of my job is reading the letters that I get from Members of Parliament enclosing the experiences of their constituents who have written to say how everything went wrong and that nobody explained anything. All that compounds the sense of grievance. As I said earlier, most people just want an explanation of what happened, along with information, support and redress if they need it, and an apology if it is appropriate. Most of all, people want the reassurance that the institution and the professionals involved will learn from the experience.
I was talking about the electrical failure. After decades of underinvestment in the health service, 50 per cent. of the NHS estate in 1995 pre-dated the creation of the NHS in 1948. I am not making a party political point here. In 1983, the paediatric intensive care unit at the Royal Brompton hospital was sited in a building that was 93 years old. I would seek to reassure the hon. Gentleman, Mr. and Mrs. Lynch and Sarah's twin that the situation today, some 22 years later, is completely different. Modern technologies and generators are now more robust. Modern life-critical medical equipment now remains functional under power failure conditions, supported by local battery supplies. With the NHS continuing to invest in buildings, equipment and infrastructure, generators can now be replaced at regular intervals. A £17 billion national improvement programme is updating the NHS estate, and since Sarah's stay at the Royal Brompton in 1983 the paediatric intensive care unit has been re-sited in the new Sydney wing.
In relation to data and recording, improving paediatric intensive care has been a priority for this Government. The report entitled, "Paediatric Intensive Care: a Framework for the Future", published in 1997, recognised that clinical audit of paediatric intensive care concluded that the collection of data on outcomes from intensive care for children were not satisfactory. We therefore introduced a dedicated audit for paediatric
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intensive care, which collects data from the 29 lead units. We also recognised that it would take upwards of five years to achieve all the aspirations in the report, and we have therefore devoted £25 million of recurrent funding every year since 200001 for the improvement of paediatric intensive care.
Sadly, the improvements that I have described have come too late for Sarah, her parents and her twin. I understand that representatives of the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust have extended their sympathies to Mr. and Mrs. Lynch as well as an unreserved apology for the tragedy that they and Sarah
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suffered. I hope that this matter reaches a satisfactory conclusion Following the debate, I will read the Hansard account and the Bell report in full. I know that the trust would find it helpful to see the expert opinion to which the hon. Gentleman referred.
I want to extend again my condolences to Mr. and Mrs. Lynch. I stress, however that, as I said earlier, this is a matter for the NHS to resolve. I really hope that all involved are able to reach a positive outcome very soon. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the opportunity to discuss the matter.