HC Deb 17 January 1995 vol 252 cc571-2
6. Dr. Wright

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if she will make a statement on "The Health of the Nation" objectives and progress.

Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

"The Health of the Nation" continues to enjoy the enthusiastic support of the clinical professions within the national health service and of outside bodies such as the World Health Organisation. Where latest information is available, it shows that for 19 out of the 23 targets we are moving in the right direction.

Dr. Wright

Does the right hon. Lady agree that the growing inequality in health between the deprived and the affluent parts of this country is making a nonsense of many of the key targets of "The Health of the Nation"? In particular, does she accept that the appalling rise in suicide rates among young men in deprived areas, which is an indictment of us all, is a direct result of the lack of jobs and the lack of hope? When will the Government understand that we can build a decent health service only if we build a decent society first?

Mrs. Bottomley

May I respond to the hon. Gentleman's comments about the increase in suicide? It is true that suicides have increased in virtually all comparable countries. More people take their own lives than are killed on roads. Our figures are about the average for similar countries. That is why it is such an important target in "The Health of the Nation" strategy. The hon. Gentleman is entirely misguided in that he does not recognise that the changed funding arrangements for the health service, and the distinction between purchasers and providers, mean that we can better focus on many of the difficulties that some areas face. I find it extraordinary that he supports a party that opposed the GP contract, which introduced for the first time deprivation payments for GPs in poorer regions. Perinatal and mortality rates have improved for all income groups and all social classes.

Mr. Streeter

Does my right hon. Friend believe it to be in the interests of patients for NHS hospitals to be put under the control of local Labour councillors and Labour party hacks—as the Labour party proposes—which even Bevan would not have contemplated?

Mrs. Bottomley

My hon. Friend is right. Of course the battle that Herbert Morrison and Nye Bevan fought in 1948 is the debate now being fought in the Labour party. That shows its forward-thinking approach to health policies. It turns the clock back not to 1979, but to 1948 and it reopens the battle of that time. We must have a health service that is responsive to patients, that works with GPs and that focuses on health outcomes. The Government are achieving that, which is why we are delivering results that have exceeded even our own expectations at the time of the first patients charter.

Mr. Alex Carlile

Does the right hon. Lady agree that ensuring that men are as aware of health risks and health needs as women is a legitimate objective of an NHS strategy? Has she noted the alarming rate of deaths caused by prostatic cancer, which exceeds the rate of deaths by cervical cancer? Does she agree that the time has come to ask GPs to screen their male patients, as many screen their female patients, so that men's health can be greatly improved?

Mrs. Bottomley

I am pleased that the hon. and learned Gentleman implicitly recognises the success of the cancer screening programmes. Cervical and breast cancer screening programmes have been extremely effective, with many women being screened. They build on the investment in primary care and show the importance in GP services of having, when possible, effective screening processes at primary care level. We shall consider the hon. and learned Gentleman's proposition carefully.

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