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6.2 pm

Mr. Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): I am pleased to be able to bring to the attention of the House the subject of sexual and mental heath services in the East Riding of Yorkshire. As hon. Members will be aware, the services are Cinderella services that are too easily ignored in the national health service. They do not carry the political clout of other matters. The Minister will be aware of my work on fighting for community hospitals, which has been backed by many hon. Members. When compared with the situation for sexual and mental health services, it is easier to organise public support for, and demonstrations on, institutions such as community hospitals so that local and national authorities can be persuaded of the need for change. Unfortunately, sexual and mental health services are easier targets for cuts.

On a business-as-usual basis, the new primary care trust for the East Riding of Yorkshire would have been heading for a £20 million deficit this year. A turnaround team had to go in to effect changes. Before that team arrived, Ministers were wont to tell us that any overspending or deficits were due to poor local financial management. When cuts took place, their typical response was, “It’s nothing to do with me, guv.” However, as the Minister will be aware, the accountants who came in to East Riding of Yorkshire PCT—or Yorkshire Wolds and Coast PCT, as it was—found that there had been no financial mismanagement. They found that the PCT had done a good job in trying to steward its resources, but that a combination of centralised targets and the funding that came with them put the PCT in the position in which it found itself.

As our ably managed primary care trust has tried to tackle its existing deficits, it has found—again, thanks to invention by central Government—that £8 million has been top-sliced and removed from the local area. That has had a further impact on the organisation’s financial balance. The situation might become worse in the future because funding often seems to be gerrymandered to Labour areas and taken away from Conservative areas. Given the meetings attended by the chairman of the Labour party involving the famous heat maps, we know that health funding is too often used to address political needs, rather than health needs. The most deprived people in the community that I represent are the ones who pay the price of that twisting away from recognition of real health needs.

Mental health services in the East Riding of Yorkshire are the 13th lowest funded in the country. The mental health trust is a three-star trust that does an excellent job with the resources that it receives, but there has been an historical failure of service provision because of the way in which the trust is funded. That position was worsened further this year by an additional £700,000 cut imposed on mental health services by the PCT because of its financial difficulties.
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As the Minister may know, a few days ago The Independent reported that

That is not acceptable. The work of Lord Layard, whose report helped to bring the need for counselling therapies to the Government’s attention, is being ignored, and people in my area are unable to access the services they need. Dr Foster, the health care information company, has conducted a survey of mental health charities and reports that cash-strapped trusts are diverting funds away from mental health services, and are instead using the money to plug gaps in other services. That story is heard all too frequently.

That brings me to sexual health services in my area. As the Minister will know, the Department for Health announced that £315 million would be allocated to improve sexual health services across the country. All too often, however, that money has not reached the providers of sexual health services. Because of the financial mismanagement occurring throughout Labour’s NHS, the money is being diverted away from sexual health services.

The impact of that is strongly felt, and it is worth acquainting the House and the Minister with the statistics on sexually transmitted infections in Yorkshire and the Humber region. Between 1996 and 2005, there was a 216 per cent. increase in cases of genital chlamydia. Chlamydia is easily cured, but if it is not found by screening, it can lead to infertility and additional expense later, and it creates great misery for those affected. The figures also show an increase of 128 per cent. in cases of gonorrhoea between 1996 and 2005. The incidence of syphilis has increased by 1,650 per cent., albeit from a low base: the number of cases increased from 6 in 1996 to 105 in 2005. To continue the sad recitation, the number of cases of genital herpes has increased from 457 in 1996 to 556 in 2005—a 22 per cent. increase in incidence—and there has been a 28 per cent. increase in the incidence of genital warts in the same period. We have a serious and growing problem of sexually transmitted infections in our local area, yet moneys that the Government have put aside to tackle that problem are failing to reach the front line, despite assurances from Ministers that they would try to ensure that that did not happen.

No doubt the Minister will mention the announcement in the past few days of a new sexual health campaign. That campaign is to be welcomed—indeed, Nick Partridge, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, did welcome it as a belated effort to raise the profile of such issues. Following that announcement, he said that, of the £315 million,

He went on to say:

The Government have failed to deliver the money to the front-line treatment services, and they have failed to
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launch the promised full-scale campaign to tackle this strong, growing local problem.

Local services are currently being reconfigured, and between January and April next year, six sexual health clinics will close across the East Riding of Yorkshire, so that new, integrated clinics can be created. In its meeting of 12 September, East Riding of Yorkshire council’s overview and scrutiny committee expressed concern about the large distances that many service users would have to travel to integrated clinics. It recognised that some services would be provided in GP surgeries, but said that

As the Minister will be aware, when the GP contract was negotiated, sexual health services were given too low a priority under the points system that rewards GPs, so there is no incentive for them to take a continuing interest in this growing problem, which is a cause of real local concern.

The local primary care trust prepared a report for the board meeting of 28 September this year. Under the heading of finance, there is a short statement that goes to the heart of the failure to increase local sexual health services. It says that the proposals to reconfigure family planning clinics will result in £51,000 in part-year savings in 2006-07, and that £102,000 will be the full-year effect. Rates of sexually transmitted infections are exploding in the area, but the amount being spent by the local primary care trust is being cut, despite Government promises to the contrary. The Minister may hope that, when the director of public health spoke at that board meeting on 28 September, he suggested some reason why the services were not needed, but in fact, he said:

The board concurred with that conclusion, but because of the Government’s financial mismanagement of the NHS, services are being cut, instead of increased.

One of the steps that the Government promised to take was to ensure that, by 2008, all patients could have access to a genito-urinary medicine clinic within 48 hours. In January this year, the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) asked the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), about the likelihood of meeting the target, and the Minister said:

I suppose that that was meant to indicate that the target would be met, but on 13 September, the right hon. Member for Walsall, South (Mr. George) asked the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton), about the same issue, and she answered that,

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Is the 2008 target still expected to be met, and does the Minister have any idea whether it is likely to be met in east Yorkshire?

I have received many representations from both constituents and professionals, which I should like to share with the House. A young woman e-mailed me to say that she had attended a family planning clinic on a Monday morning at Hessle health centre. The doctor told her that the clinic was due to be cancelled because of a lack of money. She was informed that a clinic would only be open on Monday evening and would serve the surrounding area. She said:

Local members of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV—BASHH—said:

Another clinician who contacted me said:

The problem for my constituents has therefore been recognised by people who work in the field. To emphasise the point, the 2005 report by the director of public health said that

On chlamydia, the report said:

However, there have been cuts in services.

There is common thread between mental health and sexual health services. The Minister will be familiar with the Institute for Public Policy Research, a Labour-leaning organisation, which said:

In the summer, the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health said:

and, indeed, sexual health service users—

There is great concern across the East Riding and in my constituency of Beverley and Holderness, so I hope that the Minister can answer the points that I have put to him this evening and give local people hope that services that are too often regarded as Cinderella services will be subject to improvements, not cuts, and
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that the Government’s mismanagement of the NHS will not continue to affect some of the most vulnerable people in society.

6.18 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I congratulate the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) on securing this debate on services that, all hon. Members accept, are regarded as Cinderella services. He made some important non-political points, but he must think that the British people are stupid if he expects them to accept his view—voiced by many other Opposition Members, too—of the development of the health service. The health service that we inherited in 1997 was a disgrace: it was underfunded, hospitals and services were crumbling, staff numbers were inadequate, and there was no obvious work force development strategy. Never mind Cinderella services being underfunded—mainstream core services were in a shambolic state.

The Government have invested record amounts in the national health service year on year, and we are close to achieving our aim of reaching the European average for health expenditure in 2008. The Opposition have not even made a commitment to match that funding for the health service in future.

Mr. Stuart: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Lewis: No, I will not.

The economic test proposed by the Leader of the Opposition, which would share the benefits of growth between tax cuts and spending, would result in significant cuts in expenditure on the NHS and other public services. The document that was recently presented, which suggested the level of tax cuts that the Conservative party ought to be advocating, would lead to swingeing cuts in mainstream national health services.

It is no good Members like the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness giving the impression to their local communities that they have supported the level of additional investment that the Government have put into the national health service so far, or that that level of funding would be continued under a Conservative Government. The hon. Gentleman does not tell his local people that the policy of the Conservative party on health is non-intervention, operational independence and local decision making, yet he and his colleagues suggest in such debates that Ministers like me should intervene on matters such as sexual health and mental health service configuration in his locality. If we adopted the policies of the hon. Gentleman and his party, there would be total operational independence, and decisions made locally would be locally determined.

What annoys me is not that the hon. Gentleman raises legitimate, valid and serious points in the House on behalf of his constituents, but the political disingenuousness, the posturing and the misleading presentation to his constituents of the policies of his party and the implications for the issues that he claims to care about.

Mr. Stuart rose—

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Mr. Lewis: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman once.

Mr. Stuart: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Perhaps he could pick up on one particular point. My constituents, and those of other hon. Members throughout the House, know that the investment by the Labour Government has been massive. The Government, to their credit, listened, and they put the money in—but our constituents want to know where it has gone. Under this Government, productivity has fallen. Will the Minister tell us this: has productivity gone up or down? We know where the money has gone: productivity has gone down, hospitals and services are closing.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. Perhaps I should remind both the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) and the Minister that we are discussing the East Riding of Yorkshire. That is the purpose of this Adjournment debate.

Mr. Lewis: In the East Riding of Yorkshire waiting lists are down, waiting times are down to record low levels and success in treating cancer and heart conditions is up to unprecedented levels. It is our ambition that by 2008 there will be the monumental achievement in the health service of a maximum 18-week wait from the moment a patient visits the GP to the door of the operating theatre. Without targets focusing on matters such as cancer and heart care—this applies to the community in Beverley and Holderness, as to other parts of the country—we would not have achieved much of the progress that has been achieved. The hon. Gentleman implies that the policy of the Opposition is to abolish all targets in the health service. In future, there would be no targets identifying priorities for the use of finite resources. Is it the policy of the Conservative party that there will be no targets in future? That would be a disaster.

The right targets are needed as incentives within the system, but if we had not had the heart and cancer targets, and the waiting list and waiting time targets, and if we did not have our present target of an 18-week wait, we would not have seen many of the performance improvements that have happened in the national health service since 1997.

The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of mental health. When one inherits as a baseline a service that is in such a dreadful state, it takes a significant amount of time to get that Cinderella service fit for purpose. Since 1997, we have 50 per cent. more consultant psychiatrists, 75 per cent. more clinical psychologists, and at least 20 per cent. more mental health nurses. We have more than 700 new mental health teams working in the community—assertive outreach, early intervention and crisis resolution teams. None of them are managers or bureaucrats. All are front-line staff providing mental health services.

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