HC Deb 02 March 1999 vol 326 cc868-9
6. Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

What steps he is taking to ensure that age is not used as a criterion for allocating health care. [72380]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Hutton)

The fundamental principle of the national health service is to provide services for everybody on the basis of clinical need. We are putting in place a number of measures that should improve fair access to services, including national service frameworks, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, local clinical governance and a new performance assessment framework. We have made it clear that access to NHS services should be based on clinical need alone.

We are taking a number of steps specifically to improve the health of older people. For example, this year for the first time all people over 75 years old have been targeted for influenza vaccination.

Dr. Cable

I thank the Minister for his positive reply. Is he aware that, from the serious research that has been undertaken in the NHS on specialisms such as cardiac rehabilitation and kidney dialysis, there is hard evidence that many NHS trusts are discriminating on the basis of age? They are, in effect, rationing health care on the basis of age. Does the Minister agree, confirming his previous reply, that that is fundamentally wrong? Will he undertake to carry out a more far-reaching review of specialisms in the NHS to ensure that age discrimination does not occur?

Mr. Hutton

I repeat what I said in my previous answer about the emphasis we place on clinical need: that is the determinant and should govern what treatment a person receives. I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the initiatives that we are taking. I draw his attention in particular to the proposed new national service framework for older people, which we hope will help to drive up quality and standards of care for older people.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)

Although I welcome the Minister's comments, does he realise that they will ring pretty hollow in the west midlands, especially in Lichfield and Burntwood? He will be aware, because I have written to him, of an elderly lady in my constituency who has been waiting for more than a year to have a metal plate removed from her shoulder. Given that the waiting lists in the west midlands are the longest in England and Wales, does he find it amazing, as I do, that none of his hon. Friends has risen to point that out? What can he do to ensure that waiting lists in Lichfield and Burntwood for this type of operation for the elderly, and for younger people, are not even longer than those in the west midlands generally because of a crazy rule that has been introduced since the Government were elected? People have to wait three times as long to go to the Good Hope hospital in Sutton Coldfield if they happen to live in Lichfield and Burntwood. If they live in Sutton Coldfield, they can get into that hospital in a third of the time, regardless of their clinical position.

Mr. Hutton

I am afraid that that was one of those questions that started with a point, but I am not sure where it ended up. I do not think that the beginning and the end were connected. The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that waiting lists have come down by a further 14,000 in January. I hope that he welcomes that excellent news. I remind him that we are taking initiatives—I should be grateful to know whether he supports them—to try to ensure that we improve the range and quality of health services for older people. They make up a significant group of people who use the NHS, and we want to make sure for them, and for others, that the NHS is a first-class service.