HC Deb 24 February 1998 vol 307 cc168-9
13. Ms Jenny Jones

What steps he plans to take to improve the monitoring of outcomes and the quality of patient care after the abolition of the NHS internal market. [29327]

Mr. Milburn

"The New NHS" White Paper set out our new approach to assessing and monitoring performance, focusing on the quality, effectiveness and outcomes of care. It incorporates a range of indicators that encompass health outcomes of NHS care and effective health care delivery. We are currently consulting on the detail of this approach.

Ms Jones

Can my hon. Friend assure the House that, in the initiatives that he has announced, quality of care will now take precedence and we will get away from the old days when number crunching and making the tables look right was more important than quality? Can he also assure the House that quality of care will also take precedence in the NHS complaints procedure?

Mr. Milburn

I can certainly give my hon. Friend the latter assurance. Under this Government, standards are as important in health as they are in education. There have recently been recurring problems with standards and quality in the NHS, particularly the difficulties with hip joints and the dreadful problems affecting screening services in Kent and Canterbury Hospitals NHS trust. If we are genuine about wanting a one-class, first-class service, we should no longer be willing to tolerate what is, frankly, second best.

Mr. Boswell

While the Minister is considering outcomes, will he acknowledge that unless people can get off the waiting lists and into treatment there is no question of outcomes? Given the sensitivity of the issue, will he give the House an assurance that there is no question whatever of manipulating the figures by allowing patients off the waiting list either because they have died or because it is unrealistic for them to be treated? In particular, will he consider introducing a robust measurement of overall unmet patient need in order to satisfy us that the NHS is genuinely tackling the problems?

Mr. Milburn

I have to say to the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have a great deal of respect on this and other issues, that if patients have died I do not see why they should remain on NHS waiting lists. As for manipulating the figures, I remind him that it was his party, not mine, that was most adept at manipulating figures—certainly the unemployment figures.

Mr. Flynn

Does my hon. Friend agree that the crisis affecting hip replacements was entirely predictable and inevitable and resulted from the market free-for-all that was extremely profitable for the 60 companies that produced new hip prostheses when two very reliable ones—the Stanmore and the Charnley—were already on the market? Will one of the Government's major reforms be to change the health service so that the emphasis is not on making money or on the quantity of the service, but on the quality of the service?

Mr. Milburn

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that in future the emphasis will be on quality, quality and quality. It is quality that counts, quality that patients experience, and when quality goes wrong it is the patients who suffer.

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