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Grizedale Forest

10.2 pm

Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD): I am presenting a petition on behalf of the friends of Grizedale forest. The petition

To lie upon the Table.

Bassetlaw Primary Care Trust

10.3 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): In addition to the many submissions to the current Trent strategic health authority and South Yorkshire strategic health authority consultations, 8,796 Bassetlaw residents do publicly petition

To lie upon the Table.
20 Mar 2006 : Column 127

Health Services (West Midlands)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Dhanda.]

10.4 pm

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss health services in the west midlands and, not least, health services and the health crisis in Shropshire. As the House will know, the Shropshire health economy has been debated many times. Indeed, the Minister herself has replied to questions that have been put before the House on other occasions.

It is unfortunate that despite the fact that we have wonderful nurses, doctors and health workers throughout the whole of the Shropshire health economy, we now have a deficit of more than £50 million, which is made up of the deficits in Shropshire County primary care trust, Telford and Wrekin primary care trust and the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust. The deficit will clearly have an impact on front-line patient care.

We were told in the previous debate that such deficits would not have an impact on patient care, but it is inevitable that they will. Indeed, that is not just my opinion but that of professionals. I meet nurses and doctors all the time. We recently had a successful march in Shropshire, which was called the march for life, and tried to draw attention to the funding crisis in Shropshire. Many nursing professionals and doctors on the march told me that it would be impossible to find the money through efficiency savings alone. The Minister is an honourable lady, and we get on extremely well together. I hope that she will go back to the Secretary of State after the debate and tell her that Shropshire faces a serious problem.

We heard in the previous debate on health that the situation is often the fault of chief executives. We have had our share of problems with chief executives and chairmen of the hospital trust. Ultimately, however, it is the Secretary of State for Health who approves and appoints the chief executives of trusts, and appoints and agrees to the chairmen of hospital trusts, so the buck must stop with the Secretary of State. That is an important point, because if we accept it the principle of not putting urgent cash injections into trusts can be overcome.

People in Shropshire say to me, "We've paid the taxes, so we expect the health services." The Prime Minister stands at the Dispatch Box week after week and says, "We've put billions of pounds more into the health service," yet people in Shropshire are being asked to have less of a health service for more taxes. Clearly there is a moral point as well as a political one, because the situation is unfair and completely unjustified. An urgent cash injection for the Shropshire health economy is justified if the Secretary of State approved the senior managers whom she then blames for the funding deficit that we face. Additionally, the Government increased national insurance contributions by more than 12 per cent. That has clearly had an impact on the payrolls of all the trusts that I have mentioned, which has had a knock-on effect on patient services, too.
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We heard today that the University Hospital of North Staffordshire NHS Trust is laying off 1,000 people, many of whom will be nurses and doctors. That will also have an impact on the Shropshire health economy. Many of my constituents journey across the border for treatment. Those who require brain surgery are dealt with in Staffordshire, as are people who require thoracic surgery and complex spinal surgery that cannot be dealt with in Oswestry; there are fine people in that unit. The situation will thus have an impact on my constituents.

It is of grave concern when the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy) admits to a measure of concern about such issues. There is much concern about those issues and it is deeply concerning that everything I have heard from the Government side of the Chamber today—apart from the speech by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), which was thoughtful and brave—has been marked by denial and complacency. No Government, of whatever political persuasion, or however good they are at communication, public relations and marketing, can spin their way out of people's own personal experiences.

When people come to my surgery, they tell me of the experiences that they have had at the local hospital. Many of them join me in praising the professionalism of the staff, both on the front line and in the back office, the porters and those working on the switchboard. Nobody underestimates the professionalism and commitment of hospital staff, but people are concerned when they are turned away after they have gone in for surgery. We know that the Minister said earlier that nobody waits longer than six months for an operation, but the NHS website—a Government website—today states that the figure has doubled. So I am puzzled by her remarks.

It is not only acute services that will be affected. I am very concerned that the accident and emergency unit at the Princess Royal hospital in my constituency will be cut. It is no good just putting an accident and emergency sign over the door and saying that the hospital has an accident and emergency department. It needs to be fully functioning, and my constituents are concerned that we will lose the doctor-led unit and end up with a nurse-led unit. The nurses do a wonderful job, and paramedics are getting more and more training—they too do a marvellous job—but they cannot replace the expertise and experience of surgeons on site to deal with emergency admissions.

I know that the Minister has visited Shropshire before, and she has kindly accepted a new invitation to come to the hospital in my constituency in the near future. Shropshire is one of the largest inland counties in England, so however quickly and ably ambulance drivers drive, time costs lives, whether from cardiac arrests, aneurysms or severe asthma attacks. I hope that the Minister will give me an assurance this evening that the accident and emergency department at the Princess Royal hospital will remain fully functioning.

The accident and emergency unit has important links to the paediatric services at the hospital. East Shropshire, including Telford and the Wrekin area, is the part of Shropshire with a younger population, so I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking that the children's services will not be affected.
20 Mar 2006 : Column 129

I wish to widen the debate to primary care services, because I am concerned about the knock-on effects on the provision of drugs, especially for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Many constituents tell me that they need my help to obtain Alzheimer's drugs for their grandparents or parents. It is a growing issue, and PCTs have reduced funding for it as they face other financial pressures. The same issue applies to anti-TNF drugs, and I hope that the Minister will give a commitment this evening to meet women representing Herceptin 4 Shropshire Now. She will be aware of the group, which represents women who are desperate to receive the drug to prolong their lives and make them more comfortable as they face breast cancer.

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