HC Deb 16 April 1996 vol 275 cc496-9
4. Mr. Gunnell

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he last met the British Medical Association to discuss emergency services. [23466]

5. Mr. Callaghan

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he last met the British Medical Association to discuss the future provision of accident and emergency departments.[23467]

Mr. Malone

We have regular meetings with representatives of the British Medical Association when a range of issues are discussed.

Mr. Gunnell

What has the Minister to say to my constituent whose mother's death at Leeds general infirmary after an eight-hour wait on a trolley was followed six weeks later by the death of her uncle after a five-hour wait on a trolley at the same hospital? Should he not promise my constituent an inquiry into emergency admissions at Leeds general infirmary? Should not he be able to confirm that the resources that the Secretary of State promised in a statement before the recess will find their way into the emergency bed service in Leeds? I have not been assured that those resources will make any difference to emergency services in Leeds. Is that not a disgrace and should not my constituent be assured that she is not likely to lose more family members after they have waited on trolleys for admission to Leeds general infirmary?

Mr. Malone

I can tell the hon. Gentleman and his constituent that the Government are committed to the improvement of emergency services, as set out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health in a statement to the House not long ago. My right hon. Friend confirmed that a programme of action would follow his statement. That programme will be put in place and the resources to which my right hon. Friend referred are available to be spent in the health service. We have told health authorities that we expect them to treat emergency services as a priority when making expenditure decisions.

Mr. Callaghan

In light of the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) and the fact that a toddler from the midlands died recently after being transferred between four hospitals which did not have an emergency bed, how can the Minister reassure the House and the nation that our emergency and accident departments will cope in the event of a major disaster—I hope that it does not happen—by road, rail or air?

Mr. Malone

I make three points to the hon. Gentleman, who has raised a serious matter. One of his hon. Friends says, "Give us the statistics", so I shall do so. The first and most important statistic is the Government's commitment since 1980 to the development of accident and emergency services. For example, the number of consultants has been extended from 152 to 263, providing an improvement in the quality of the service. The number of other doctors has risen from 1,400 to 1,800 and the number of accident and emergency staff nurses has increased from 4,500 to 6,400. On the hon. Gentleman's specific point, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State quite rightly addressed in his statement the availability of intensive care beds. There are also lessons to be learnt from the working party that reported to the Government, for example, in the proper use of intensive care beds across the country. Those lessons will be learnt and action will follow to secure improvements.

Sir Michael Neubert

Does my hon. Friend agree that the location of a casualty unit is critical to accident and emergency services? Does that not support the argument, while there is time, for the review and retention of the casualty unit at Oldchurch hospital in my constituency as it is close to the most populated, least mobile and least healthy south-west sector of the district, rather than pursuing the plan to base those services in the least populated, most mobile and most healthy north-east sector at Harold Wood?

Mr. Malone

My hon. Friend pursues a constituency point that he has raised before. I must reiterate what I have said on the issue. The relocation of those services is based on the principle of improved quality of care for people in the locality. That can sometimes make decisions extremely difficult in the interests of the general population. I know that my hon. Friend understands that, although he continues to pursue his point.

Mr. Dykes

Is my hon. Friend aware that he is being uncharacteristically complacent in his answers? [Interruption.] May I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and my hon. Friend to listen to my question? Is my hon. Friend further aware that the planned closure of the accident and emergency unit at Edgware general hospital is the largest proposed closure of those vital facilities north of the river? When the accident and emergency department at Stanmore was closed 12 years ago, Edgware was promised that it would continue for ever, so its proposed closure is not acceptable to the local community. The massive campaign to save the department is continuing in greater force. Will my hon. Friend now think again, following my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's helpful answer and the correction on 19 March to the erroneous answer given by himself?

Mr. Malone

I know that my hon. Friend pursues these matters with great interest and assiduity. He recently had a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to discuss the specific matters that he has raised. Decisions still have to be taken and they will be in due course; however, I hear what my hon. Friend says.

Ms Harman

I know that Health Ministers want to wash their hands of responsibility for any problems in the health service, but may I press the Minister again on the two extremely serious cases that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell) in which people died after waiting on trolleys in accident and emergency departments? Will the Minister at least tell the House that he is prepared to look into those cases and deal with the problems? Does he not recognise that there remains a crisis in hospital accident and emergency departments throughout the country? Will the Minister admit that the Audit Commission report, "By Accident or Design" has now confirmed what the Secretary of State denied to the House when he last answered Health Questions? As well as agreeing to look into the cases that my hon. Friend raised, will he admit that there is a problem in accident and emergency due to the shortage of doctors and the fact that there are too few hospital beds so that patients have to wait on trolleys and cannot be admitted to hospital? Will he stop denying the crisis and start taking action to sort out the problems?

Mr. Malone

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has set out to the House a programme of work, which is being undertaken, for the provision of emergency services. On the specific point, of course I will look into the details raised in the questions by the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Gunnell). If anything further needs to be done, I shall ensure that it is done.

On the abrogation of responsibility, the hon. Lady has again said on the Floor of the House that something needs to be done, but she has not given a single spending commitment to support what she says should be done. Until a few days ago, she had an excuse because there was a bar on tax rises from the hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), but that appears to have been lifted by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms Short) and so the hon. Member for Peckham (Ms Harman) cannot hide behind that.