HC Deb 16 June 1992 vol 209 cc762-4
4. Dr. Goodson-Wickes

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will make a statement on progress in implementing the standards set out in the patients charter.

The Secretary of State for Health (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley)

Considerable progress has been made by the national health service in implementing the patients charter which came into effect on 1 April.

The public and NHS staff have given the patients charter a warm welcome. The NHS has achieved significant success in putting the patients charter into effect. The efforts of the NHS in responding to and implementing the charter should be recognised.

Dr. Goodson-Wickes

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the excellence of the care available under the national health service has for far too long been blighted by scant regard for patients' ordinary comfort and convenience, especially in the administration of out-patients departments and investigations? Does not the introduction of the patients charter signal the end of off-hand, inefficient and uncaring bureaucracy?

Mrs. Bottomley

All agree that the clinical care provided by the national health service has almost invariably been outstanding, but there are times when patients have not felt that they were treated with the courtesy and concern that they would have wished. The provision of information, arrangements for making a complaint and a discussion about their care are all part of making a health service which is truly patient sensitive and patient centred. The NHS has taken the patients charter initiative to its heart and is now providing high-quality services across the country.

Ms. Glenda Jackson

Does the Secretary of State agree that the patients charter is virtually worthless if patients and staff in the nation's hospitals can be subject to violent and, in the case of one of my constituents, mortal attack by intruders? Does she further agree that an independent inquiry into funding and staffing levels for hospital security is long overdue, and will she take the necessary steps to set in train such an inquiry?

Mrs. Bottomley

Certainly, the case in the hon. Lady's constituency in which someone was fatally attacked on the third floor while using a telephone was appalling and outrageous. New guidance has been given for hospital security. Hospitals have a difficult balance to strike between being places to which visitors, families and staff can have easy access but at the same time places from which perpetrators of foul crimes can be removed. I understand that inquiries under way at the hospital in question have shown that there was adequate security. Of course, any further lessons will and must be learnt, and we must ensure that the guidance is properly applied throughout the service.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my right hon. Friend pay tribute to the work of trust hospitals in helping to carry out the objectives of the patients charter? Is she aware that the Royal Free trust hospital, which has already been mentioned this afternoon, has been responsible for treating many more patients since it became a trust hospital? Should not that be welcomed instead of being criticised by Opposition Members?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend will be well aware of the habit very quickly acquired by Labour Members of being able to refer to hospitals in their constituencies only by talking about the adverse aspects and the problems that emerge. Conservative Members are very much more ready to identify the positive aspects and the work being taken forward, especially in NHS trust hospitals, to deliver the spirit of the patients charter.

Ms. Harman

The Secretary of State will be aware that the patients charter made very specific promises to patients. One of those promises was that no patient would have to wait for NHS treatment for more than two years. In the first month of the operation of the patients charter, 1,999 people have been waiting for more than two years.

Another promise made by the patients charter was that nobody would have to wait for an ambulance for more than 14 minutes in an urban area. Is the Secretary of State aware that in London in the first month of the operation of the patients charter, 10,000 people had to wait for more than 14 minutes for their accident and emergency ambulances to arrive? What does she say to all those to whom the Government made promises in the charters and for whom those promises are now broken?

Mrs. Bottomley

The hon. Lady will be aware that we were deeply disappointed by the small increase in the number waiting for more than two years. The figure amounts to fewer than one patient per hospital throughout the country. The matter must be kept in proportion. Whereas there were 51,000 waiting for more than two years a year ago, the figure is now down to under 2,000.

Once again, the hon. Lady has taken no trouble to investigate what is happening in a hospital in her constituency. I understand that at King's College hospital, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of patients waiting for less than 30 minutes. The figure for those waiting for less than 30 minutes was 30 per cent. a year ago; it is now 60 per cent. and rising. Better patient information is produced and more is planned. There are improvements in the accident and emergency department; there are improvements in the out-patients' department; there are improvements in the numbers of patients whose appointments are not being cancelled. There are further projects to improve the intensive therapy facilities—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. Has the right hon. Lady finished?

Mrs. Bottomley

There has been a great investment in new ambulances, in trained staff and in the communications service which is being modernised. Like the hon. Lady, I hope that the London ambulance service will continue to improve its standards and the care available to patients.