HC Deb 24 June 1997 vol 296 c657
2. Mr. Brazier

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how the indicators of the health of babies and very young children have changed since 1979. [3467]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Paul Boateng)

Infant mortality rates are often used as an indicator of children's overall health status. They have been falling since the inception of the NHS under a Labour Government.

Mr. Brazier

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that answer, but he did not answer the question. Had he done so, he would have had to reveal that almost all the indicators of health among children and babies improved during the Conservative Government's time in office, showing that the NHS was safe in our hands. Will he join me in congratulating the Kent and Canterbury paediatric and maternity units on their excellent work and their imaginative pooling of resources with neighbouring trusts to provide the critical mass necessary for the training of junior doctors?

Mr. Boateng

I am delighted to congratulate the Kent and Canterbury paediatric unit. Its good work is in no way due to the efforts of the previous Government, because they ran the national health service down. I warn the hon. Gentleman against complacency, not least because the incidence of asthma among young children has more than trebled since 1979. The public health measures taken by the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Ms Jowell), will attempt to deal with that problem.

Mr. Sheerman

Will my hon. Friend consider a special group of babies and young children—those who are born to the poorest families, often in urban centres, with parents who are unemployed and on benefit—because worrying research reports suggest that the health of that group is deteriorating, while average levels of health are rising?

Mr. Boateng

I share my hon. Friend's concern, not least because the infant mortality rate is one and a half times higher for poorer families than for wealthy families. This Labour Government will address that cause for concern.

Mr. Maples

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that in no circumstances will the parents of young children who are ill have to contribute financially to the costs of their medical treatment?

Mr. Boateng

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position of leadership in opposition. He asks an important question. He knows that we are determined to ensure that the NHS gives value for money and that the resources at its disposal are used for the benefit of all patients. That will be the issue that is addressed by this Government.

Madam Speaker

Dr. Phyllis Starkey.

Dr. Starkey

Question 19, Madam Speaker.

Madam Speaker

I am calling the hon. Lady to ask a supplementary on Question 2. If she does not wish to do so, we shall go on to the next question.