HC Deb 05 December 1995 vol 268 cc128-30
6. Sir Sydney Chapman

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement about the change in (a) infant and (b) perinatal mortality rates in the last 15 years. [2177]

Mr. Dorrell

Infant and perinatal mortality rates are at their lowest levels ever. Deaths of children aged under one year—the infant mortality rate—fell by half between 1979 and 1994. Stillbirths and deaths of babies less than a week old—the perinatal rate—fell by nearly 40 per cent. over the same period.

Sir Sydney Chapman

I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend's reply, which reveals a staggering reduction in the number of fatalities. Does he agree that that is due principally to three factors; first, the great advances in medical technology; secondly, the increasing skill of our doctors and nurses; and, thirdly, the vastly increased amounts of taxpayers' money put into the national health service? Does my right hon. Friend agree that those figures underline the increased quality of infant health care, like so many other NHS services, for the benefit of the whole nation?

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is precisely right on every count. Those indicators are interesting, because they are some of the relatively few health outcome indicators that are directly comparable with those in different countries. Such indicators tell heavily in favour of the good value and efficient health service delivered by the NHS, which has been consistently supported by the Government and which we shall continue to support.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Has the Secretary of State had a chance to look at the King's Fund's recent publication, "Tackling Inequalities in Health", which confirms—as is to be expected—that over the past 10 years there has been a widening gap between the rich and the poor, and that that gap is reflected by widening differentials in mortality rates for adults and infants? If that is so, what is the Department of Health doing to ensure improvements in health nationwide by increasing equality in wealth and income for all citizens?

Mr. Dorrell

I talked yesterday about some of the things that we are doing to ensure that we deliver, nation wide, the objectives of the national health service. The establishment of proper purchasing arrangements for the health services within the reformed management is designed precisely to target resources on health need. The Government's commitment to weighted capitation— I announced a further step towards its delivery yesterday—is also intended to eliminate variations. That commitment is precisely directed to answer the hon. Gentleman's concerns.

Dame Jill Knight

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it would be welcome, fair and right if the media sometimes concentrated on the remarkable advance that has been made in this part of the health service as in others, and that tiny babies are saved today who would not have had a hope of life even 10 or 12 years ago?

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is a dry statistic that tells a very human story of which anyone interested in the NHS should be proud. It is a comparison between health care in Britain and health care in virtually every other developed country and it tells in favour of both our national health service and the Government's support for it.

Mr. Milburn

Although the overall fall in death rates is clearly welcome, will the Secretary of State explain why last year both the South Tyneside and the Sandwell health care NHS trusts had a perinatal mortality rate of 13.7 per 1,000 live births, while in Kingston and Richmond the rate was just 3.4 per 1,000 live births? Will he also confirm that, if all infants and children enjoyed the same survival rates as those in social classes I and II, up to 3,000 deaths a year might be prevented? Does that latter figure not show that the price of widening social and economic inequality under the Government is being paid for in the health of poorer people?

Mr. Dorrell

What the hon. Gentleman does not cover is two facts: first, that health outcomes are improving for all social classes in Britain; and, secondly, that the Government have put in place reformed management of the health service, precisely to ensure that health resources are targeted at health need. It is precisely for that reason that we changed the management of the health service. Since the hon. Gentleman raises the subject, I assume that he would now like to welcome that.