§ 6. Mr. Kevin Hughes
To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will make a statement about the management of Trent regional health authority.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley
Trent regional health authority has an excellent record in the delivery of health services. In the past four years, for example, it has seen a 75 per cent. increase in the use of day surgery, releasing resources to treat more patients. Long waiting times, in particular, have fallen dramatically. Almost a third of the region's population now benefit from having a GP fund 172 holder, which is well ahead of the national average. We expect that, from next year, all but four of the region's units will have been strengthened by NHS trust status.
§ Mr. Hughes
The Secretary of State is one of the few people left with confidence in Trent regional health authority. Is she aware of the catalogue of disasters going uninvestigated in that authority: Beverley Allitt; brain damaged babies at Doncaster royal infirmary; Neil Silvester, the psychiatrist who released one of his patients, who, two days later, stabbed to death an innocent 12-year-old girl in Doncaster; and, recently, an unfortunate stabbing in Doncaster royal infirmary?
Public inquiries have been called for in all those cases. All were refused. When will we have a public inquiry into that catalogue of disasters? If the Secretary of State refuses, may we have a public inquiry into the management of Trent regional health authority?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
The hon. Gentleman cites a number of cases, all of which are complex and, as he rightly says, deeply concerning. I commend an article from the Solicitors' Journal that identifies the cases in which a public inquiry is the best approach as distinct from an investigative inquiry where the results are revealed. It states that the format of the public inquiry is quite unsuited to the delicate and sensitive issues of health and child care matters, and thatThe only criteria to be satisfied in the Allitt case are that:
the inquiry team are competent and independent
that they have access to the information
that witnesses are confident to come forward and give their evidence
that the report is published in full". It goes on to say that clearly the decision of a private inquirywill satisfy the overriding concern of the parents, the medical profession and the public that the truth be known".That is important advice. All the cases that the hon. Gentleman cited from his constituency have been investigated. The health advisory service is currently considering the care of the mentally ill in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. At the same time, in his constituency as elsewhere, there have been great improvements in care. No one in Doncaster generally has to wait more than 18 months, 12 months for a cataract operation or nine months for hip and knee operations.
§ Mr. Blunkett
Will the Secretary of State tell the House why she is refusing to meet the parents of Beverley Allitt's victims unless they agree not to discuss the proceedings of the Clothier committee, and why she is refusing a public inquiry on a day when the Clinical Standards Advisory Group has declared the devastating and indicting state of neonatal intensive care facilities in Britain? Does the right hon. Lady agree with the advisory group that the market in health has failed, that there is a need for proper health planning and that, unless that takes place, people throughout Britain can have no faith in the national health service under the right hon. Lady's tutelage?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
That is another typical example of the way in which the hon. Gentleman fails to understand the changes that have been taking place in the health service. The Clinical Standards Advisory Group was set up by the Government precisely to advise on specialist services. It certainly does not say that they are in any way jeopardised 173 by the changes that have taken place. Its advice must be considered by purchasers in securing ever-increasing standards of care for their local health authorities.
I have made it clear that I am happy to meet the parents of Beverley Allitt's victims and I have met a number of them informally. At the moment, judicial matters are under way. In particular, I refer the hon. Gentleman to the comments of the South Lincolnshire community health council. My wishes are those of the parents and staff—to get to the bottom of the case, to reveal all the facts, to publish the report and to ensure that the lessons are learnt. There has already been a lengthy criminal trial and an independent management investigation. The community health council stated:The nature of a public inquiry with its adversarial atmosphere and the length of time that such proceedings demand may not necessarily establish the truth nor at the end of the day throw a lot of light on what actually happened.It is the opinion of Sir Cecil Clothier, a distinguished, eminent and independent Queen's counsel, that that is not the way to get to the truth.