HC Deb 27 January 1998 vol 305 cc137-9
7. Sir Robert Smith

What plans he has to ensure that the same access to treatment under the health service is available to every NHS patient. [23419]

Mr. Boateng

We said in our manifesto that when people are ill, the national health service will be there to help, and that access will be based on need and not on the ability to pay. We meant that, and the steps set out in our White Paper, "The New NHS" will improve consistency. We shall work with the professions to produce national service frameworks and clinical guidelines, and we shall challenge and address variations not based on the health needs and wishes of local people. This gives maximum national consistency, while still allowing appropriate local and individual responsiveness.

Sir Robert Smith

I thank the Minister for that answer. Is he is aware that next week Age Concern is launching an age discrimination awareness campaign, specifically on the problem of health discrimination and access to health care for the aged? Will those guidelines ensure that, regardless of age, people will have equal access to treatment under the NHS?

Mr. Boateng

I welcome Age Concern's work in this area. Our senior citizens are a valuable asset. They must be nurtured and cared for, and we are here to ensure that the NHS does just that.

Ms Walley

I welcome the steps that have been taken so far. Is the Minister aware that people in some parts of the country have worse ill health than those in other areas? There is particular concern about the health of the people in Stoke-on-Trent and North Staffordshire compared with the whole of the west midlands. Will he consider carefully North Staffordshire's application to become a health action zone, so that we can ensure that people have fair and equal access to the national health service?

Mr. Boateng

Health action zones will, indeed, help address the real problems of inequality in our society. They are new and innovative, and will ensure that we focus on the failure of previous Governments, especially the last Government, to tackle inequality. The Conservative Government banned civil servants from using the word "inequality". Civil servants can now talk about inequalities in the NHS, and, more than that, this Government will do something about them.

Mr. Tredinnick

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that an increasing number of patients are turning to complementary therapies, because they find them effective? Does he also accept that there is a problem, because only a small number of general practitioners understand alternative and complementary medical treatments? Does he have any plans to rectify that? Is it true that the Department is about to set up an alternative health register, following the Secretary of State's discussions with the Prince of Wales?

Mr. Boateng

We very much welcome the increasing developments in the field of complementary medicine.

We believe that such treatments have a role to play, but it is important that people get good, reliable information about them. We shall help to ensure that they get just that.

Ms Beverley Hughes

Does my hon. Friend agree that equal opportunity for good health is as important as equal access to treatment? Does he share my concern about the gross inequality between different regions in morbidity and mortality; the chance of life itself? Will he confirm that, unlike the previous Government, one of this Government's top priorities is to tackle the health consequences of poverty?

Mr. Boateng

We shall, indeed, tackle the health consequences of poverty. There is no doubt that a lack of jobs and poor houses contributes towards ill health. Sadly, the previous Government did nothing about that. The Minister for Public Health will shortly produce a Green Paper on this subject. I assure Opposition Members that it will address the issues that have been raised.