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We have heard nothing about what has happened in terms of key issues for many of our constituents, such
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as waiting times for elective surgery at Ipswich hospital. In April and May last year, more than 500 patients had been waiting more than six months. Unfortunately, the hospital has not yet met its target; at present, one person has been waiting for more than six months for elective surgery. At the same time last year, more than 500 out-patients had been waiting more than 13 weeks from their visit to their GP to their first appointment. However, I am pleased to say that the number is now zero; none of our constituents are on that waiting list.

We need to be honest about the situation. Clearly, there are financial challenges that all trusts have to address, but we must not wrap all the service changes into them. It is unfortunate that we have heard some rather head-in-the-sand observations, more focused on buildings and beds than outcomes for patients—the sort of things that our constituents expect us to deliver across the public service remit: not bricks and mortar, but services.

There are changes in the nature of surgery, such as day surgery. In the past, a day’s preparation and several days’ recuperation in an acute hospital were needed; nowadays, the procedure can be completed in 24 hours and the patient is back where they want to be—at home—as soon as possible. That reduces demand for the number of beds in an acute hospital such as Ipswich hospital and for the number of operating theatres, some of which, according to the hospital management, have been running at as little as 50 per cent. capacity recently.

We need to be responsible, to face up to the realities of some of those changes and to ensure that, when people move on from hospital, they get the support that they want. It is not necessarily just about social care, which was the focus of some of the comments from Opposition Members. The important thing is the intermediate health care that follows somebody’s time in an acute hospital. Given that focus, I suppose that it was not surprising that there was no mention of the £2 million developments in intermediate health care and the opening of the new Bluebird Lodge in my constituency, which is designed to provide modern, 21st century facilities for all sorts of patients, including older people. There is a particular focus on physiotherapy and active engagement. By that I mean not just letting people sit in what might be termed a recuperation hospital, but possibly in an old Victorian establishment that does not meet people’s needs in the 21st century and where people do not get active intervention to allow them to lead independent lives.

I will mention the social care situation, because it is clearly important and, to a degree, it is a linked issue. During the 12 years that Labour was in leadership in Suffolk county council, the number of home care packages were expanded enormously. The number had been cut under the Conservatives up until 1992. It is, of course, disappointing that the instant that Suffolk county council returned to Conservative control, those resources went backwards again, as other choices were made about spending on rural minor roads or whatever.

I am not prepared to stand here and hear our health services done down by the Conservative party. If any of the Opposition Members had made the effort, as I did, to ask about the relative per capita funding of our trusts in Suffolk, going right back to 1987, under the
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old Anglia and Oxford region, which I am sure the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal will recognise from his days in government, they would know that that trust was funded below the national average at exactly the same level as the situation today. As I am sure that the Minister will explain, the formula recognises the needs of older people, as it does the needs of those who have disadvantages in their health.

Let us look at what has been happening at Ipswich hospital. I mentioned some of the service performance improvements, but there are some tough decisions being made. It is particularly regrettable that there have to be some reductions proposed in the specialist nurse services, which, apparently, the hospital is not commissioned to provide. At the same time, other changes are being made to the clerical and administration posts and to consultant secretaries. All those things are making significant contributions to the savings that the hospital needs to make to get into balance, as it has always been required to do statutorily.

Despite all that, we want to see a health service that is fit for the 21st century. I welcome the fact that, among the developments, is our brand new linear accelerator at Ipswich hospital, which is improving the delivery of cancer services—they are among the best in the UK. My constituents have only to drive by to see the construction of the brand new Garrett Anderson building, which will provide new accident and emergency services.

Mr. Ruffley: Will the hon. Gentleman join me and all those who are served by district general hospitals in Suffolk and Norfolk to fight any cuts to accident and emergency services, which, if the rumour mill is to be believed, could well be the result of the strategic health authority review that is due by the end of the year? Will he join me in the fight to save A and E services in our district general hospitals, especially in Ipswich and West Suffolk hospitals?

Chris Mole: I make a habit of not listening to the rumour mill. I have found it interesting to see on the local media that there are campaigns going on all over our region that are based on rumours. I would not like to hypothesise about the origins of those rumours, but it seems that they are being used for particular political ends. Building on the investment in the accident and emergency department at Ipswich hospital, in which no one of course waits more than four hours for their treatment, I am confident that we will see in the Garrett Anderson an even better and further improved accident and emergency facility, and I have no doubt that it will be there for many years.

6.16 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Andy Burnham): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal (Mr. Gummer) on securing the debate. I know that he pays a great deal of attention to the issues that he raised, and I do not doubt the sincerity with which he brought them to the House. I know that many people in Suffolk will be watching this debate and looking at its outcome, so I also thank the
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hon. Members for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) and for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Ruffley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Chris Mole) for attending.

Like the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal, I want to congratulate NHS staff in Suffolk on the hard work that they have put into improving services and performance. Thousands of people are receiving high-quality care and safe services each day. The best of the NHS in Suffolk is among the best health care in the world, so we should all be proud of its achievements.

We are midway through a 10-year NHS plan. The achievements that the NHS is making nationally are outstanding. Waiting times for in-patient treatment have fallen to 26 weeks, compared with 18 months or more in 1997. The maximum waiting time for an out-patient appointment with a consultant has been halved to only 13 weeks, and 98.8 per cent. of patients are now seen, diagnosed and treated within four hours of arriving at an A and E department, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich said.

I set out that context because although I was grateful for the kind words of the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal as he opened the debate, I felt that there was a significant lack of balance in his contribution and that of the hon. Member for West Suffolk. Wild claims were made about the state of the national health service in the region. I do not believe that the claim that the NHS is worse than it was 25 years ago can be backed up by evidence. I will substantiate that remark, but I urge the right hon. Gentleman, who is an experienced parliamentarian for whom I have a great deal of respect, to consider whether several of his claims reflect the reality on the ground in his constituency. All the achievements to which I referred are being carried out in his constituency.

In some ways I will now go off my script. I took it that the crux of the contributions made by the right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal and the hon. Member for West Suffolk was the funding formula, so let us deal with that head on. During his speech, the right hon. Gentleman said—I think that I quote him correctly, but if I do not, I am sure he will put me straight—that old age should be the major indication of need in the national health service and that his area should thus get more than average.

May I refer the right hon. Gentleman to a document that his own party produced in the past month, which called for NHS funding

That is a direct contradiction of the argument that he put to the House. The burden of disease does not equate to old age. Indeed, longevity may be a sign of good, not bad, health.

Let us consider some of the differences in the burden of disease. I take my constituency as an example, to make the comparison real. In my constituency, the cancer mortality rate per 100,000 for people under the age of 75 is 134. In Suffolk, Coastal the corresponding figure is 102. The coronary heart disease mortality rate per 100,000 population for people aged under 75 is 83.80 in my constituency and 35.52 in Suffolk, Coastal. The incidence of stroke among the under-65s is 11.72 in my constituency and 5.04 in Suffolk, Coastal. The
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Conservative party is telling the Department of Health that health funding should follow “the burden of disease”. From those figures, the right hon. Gentleman will see clearly where that burden lies.

What is the claim made by all the Conservative Members who have spoken in the debate? Is the claim that health funding should not follow the burden of disease—should not go to where the need is greatest—or that it should? I am genuinely confused about the position of the Conservatives on the issue, which they said was the crux of the debate.

Mr. Spring: Of course there are areas of the country that have always been recognised as areas of special deprivation. For example, there are problems of bronchial diseases in some parts of London. That has always been recognised in the funding of the health service.

Andy Burnham indicated dissent.

Mr. Spring: Of course it has. It would be absurd not to recognise that. At base, there is a question of balance. If a funding formula creates a situation where hospitals are in crisis and are sacking people, that is not fair or balanced.

Andy Burnham: The Black report was not recognised by the hon. Gentleman’s Government. That ground-breaking report on health inequalities was not recognised. That is why there are health inequalities that still shame this country and why there is an unacceptably large gap in life expectancy between parts of the north and parts of London. The lowest male life expectancy in the country is in Manchester. There is a gap of some eight, nine or 10 years between parts of London. Health inequalities have not been adequately recognised. That was the point of the Conservatives’ document, but this evening I hear a different argument played out to me.

Let us be clear. The claim was for more money for the PCT, but the document says something different. If we followed the logic of the document on the basis of the figures that I gave, there would be more money going to other parts of the country, rather than less. I do not go along with that argument. We need a balance across the system, but we must recognise where ill health is greatest.

At the last general election each and every one of the Opposition Members present stood on the patient’s passport proposal. Each and every one of them voted against the national insurance increases to help fund the national health service. Is there not a twinge of shame that in their contributions there was not a jot of recognition of the stance that they took and what that would have done to health services in Suffolk, had we listened to the Conservative party? Is there not a minute when the words ring a little bit hollow and they feel a little ashamed of some of the claims that have been made? I would, if I were in their place.

The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal claimed—to borrow his words—that they are not getting any money, or anything else, and that the decisions are all political. There was no mention of the £1.4 million that is being invested in Felixstowe to turn the old general hospital into a modern community
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hospital, which will include a day treatment centre, 16 in-patient beds, musculoskeletal services and a range of other clinics and services. Work is due to commence on that project next month—on 7 November, I believe—but there was no mention of that in the right hon. Gentleman’s contribution.

The hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds did not speak for long, but I did not hear any mention of the £600,000 in capital and revenue that is being invested in Mount Farm surgery in Bury St. Edmunds, enabling 3,000 more patients to register with the surgery and to have access to an extended range of services. That backs up my point that there was no balance in the remarks that were made. Real improvements are being made on the ground in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. It is misleading to claim that everything is being done according to a predetermined political agenda and that no investment is being made.

I turn to some of the more general points that were made about funding as a whole. The NHS is in receipt of record resources because of the Government’s funding policy. Funding has increased from a little over £34 billion in 1997-98 to more than £69 billion in 2004-05. It will increase further still, to £92 billion, in the next financial year.

NHS organisations have always been expected to plan for, and achieve, financial balance each and every year. If the Opposition are claiming that there should be no financial rigour in the system—that organisations should be able to spend more than they receive—that is an interesting position to adopt, but it is not one that we will follow. It must be said that the current financial situation in Suffolk cannot be attributed to a lack of funding. The four primary care trusts in Suffolk collectively received allocations of £659 million for this financial year. The NHS is required to generate a break-even position in 2006-07. All NHS organisations—including, of course, those in Suffolk—are expected to achieve run-rate balance by the end of this year.

It does not help local people’s understanding of the difficulties and pressures that all health systems in developed countries are under when wild claims are made about a particular situation. I think that I heard the hon. Member for West Suffolk, who made a long speech, say that he expected there to be a £100 million deficit next year.

Mr. Spring indicated assent.

Andy Burnham: That is a wild claim that does nothing to aid local people’s understanding of the pressures on the system, or to enable them to know whether the quality of health services can be sustained. I make a plea for some facts in this debate, so that we can let people make their own judgments. Talking about a rumour mill does not help when the rumours are perhaps being started in this very Chamber. Let us have some balance and facts in this debate and some leadership from politicians in their communities. Let them explain the changes happening to health services locally and ensure that people understand the issues that we face.

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Mr. Ruffley: Will the Minister give way?

Andy Burnham: I have just a moment left.

The right hon. Member for Suffolk, Coastal asked me five questions and I will write to him in detail on all of them. On the question of Suffolk county council, which he mentioned, my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich was absolutely right. While social care does need the funds to provide an adequate level of service throughout the country, the right hon. Gentleman should perhaps talk to his colleagues on the county
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council to ensure that they give sufficient priority to social care and deliver the services that we all want to see.

This has been a long debate and we have covered a lot of ground. I am grateful for the opportunity to put some facts on the record, because I believe that they were severely lacking in the contributions that we heard this evening.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at half-past Six o’clock.

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