HC Deb 05 November 1991 vol 198 cc316-8
6. Mr. Gregory

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the patients charter.

Mr. Waldegrave

The patients charter demonstrates our commitment to providing high-quality services within the NHS which are responsive to people's views and needs. It has been widely welcomed, for example, by the Consumers Association, which said that it is a golden opportunity to put patients first.

Mr. Gregory

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this is the first time that any Government have introduced a genuine patients charter of rights? Secondly, does he agree that the quickest way to ensure longer waiting lists, unreasonable behaviour and hospitals again being run by unions rather than by consultants is for power to be given to the Labour party?

Mr. Waldegrave

That is correct. The structure of open agreements between district health authorities and hospitals gives us, for the first time, a clear way of setting standards, monitoring them and enforcing them. That is a great gain from the reforms. The first step to patient responsiveness is encapsulated in the patients charter.

Mr. Ashton

Did not the patients charter cost £2 million to publicise and launch and was it not £2 million worth of Conservative propaganda? Have not we heard planted questions this afternoon that have contained carefully worked-out statistic after statistic? It has been a public relations exercise for this week's by-elections. We are in the run-up to a general election and every figure that the Secretary of State has produced today has been carefully worked out and planted among Conservative Back-Bench Members as a publicity stunt, just like the patients charter.

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman fails to understand the importance of the patients charter, as he fails to understand the reforms. It is vital that we get across the fact that under the reforms in the NHS we can now set proper standards of care throughout the country. It is vital that, in the agreements reached next year, we set out what is to be done nationally and locally. That is inherent in the reforms. It is right that every household should know its rights under the NHS.

The whole operation on the patients charter—the printing and so on—has cost about £2 million. That expenditure is well worth while if it gets across to people the facts about what their rights really are.

Mr. Cormack

As the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and his Front-Bench team are so singularly ill-informed, why does not my right hon. Friend invite them to the Department for a teach-in, when they could be given the true facts and figures? Let them then spread all these lies.

Mr. Waldegrave

We have been trying to brief some Labour Members, especially the London Members. Some of them have been invited again and again to meet the London ambulance service for a briefing other than that which they get from the trade union. They refused to come.

Mr. Alton

Following the disclosure during the past 24 hours of the outbreak of legionnaire's disease at two Liverpool hospitals, does the right hon. Gentleman accept that an essential part of a patients charter should be the right to know when such outbreaks have occurred? Can he explain why that information was concealed for some weeks in one case? Does he accept that another element of the patients charter in this day and age should be that hospitals are constructed in a way that shows that we have learnt the lessons of the past? Equipment should not be installed if it is likely to give rise to legionnaire's disease.

Mr. Waldegrave

I agree that one benefit of the patients charter and, indeed, of the reforms will be the greater availability of information. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will want to be very careful not to scare people unecessarily. In the first incident, it still has not been shown that the infection derived from inside the hospital. All the necessary investigative and follow-up actions were taken and as soon as the problem was known local general practitioners were informed. I have considered the matter and I shall continue to do so, but I do not believe that there has been any dereliction of duty in this important matter. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is a responsible Member of Parliament, would not want to mislead people in this matter.

Dame Jill Knight

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the West Midlands regional health authority has just issued a special paper welcoming the patients charter and agreeing to do everything possible to turn rights into realities? Will he add one more right to the patients charter—that of peace and quiet for sick people in hospital? Is he aware that there is a growing practice of allowing unlimited numbers of people, for unlimited hours, to visit patients in wards? That is not conducive to recovery and nor is the practice of children running up and down wards for hours on end. I hope that my right hon. Friend will add that right to his patients charter.

Mr. Waldegrave

I welcome the steps taken by the West Midlands regional health authority. The issues to which my hon. Friend referred are just those where the health service needs to do a little better on listening to patients' needs. We often receive letters about relatively minor matters that can easily be put right after discussion with patients. I am sure that the hospital that my hon. Friend has in mind will wish to take account of her comments.

Mr. Robin Cook

Can the Secretary of State explain why the words "patient choice" do not appear in his patients charter? Is it because he knows that his new contract system has reduced patient choice? What does his patients charter offer to the thousands of patients who, through the College of Health helpline, have chosen a hospital with a shorter waiting list, but cannot get into that hospital because their health authorities will not pay for them to be treated there?

What does the patients charter offer to the woman in Wandsworth who last month found that she could not have her second child in the hospital that she chose for her first child because her health authority has no contract with that hospital? Why should the House take seriously any patients charter that does not give back to those patients the right to choose their hospital—a right that they had until the Government took it away?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman is wrong. Under the old system—the system to which the modern Labour party characteristically wishes to return—there was the freedom of the right to refer to any hospital and that right remains. However, that sort of reference was nugatory because the money did not follow the patient. We are moving towards a system where a choice will be made and that choice will become reality because the money will follow the patient and so enable that patient to be treated. That is what the hon. Gentleman still has not grasped.

On the matter of choice, the patients charter draws attention to new freedoms and the ease with which people can change their general practitioners, which is a fundamental improvement in freedom. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman still does not understand that the whole drive behind the reforms is to back the general practitioner's decision with money so that choice becomes reality.