HC Deb 19 October 1999 vol 336 cc241-3
5. Mr. Mike Gapes (Ilford, South)

When he next plans to visit Redbridge to discuss the north-east London health economy. [92588]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham)

I intend to visit Redbridge on 18 November.

Mr. Gapes

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I am delighted that a Minister will visit Redbridge. I would welcome the opportunity at that time to show him the serious pressures and problems that NHS staff face in King George hospital, which was originally designed to take 50,000 admissions a year and is currently taking 90,000 a year, and where the accident and emergency department is under great pressure.

I welcome the additional resources that the Government have given to our local health service, but hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to see for himself the reasons why we need more help locally.

Mr. Denham

I look forward to visiting my hon. Friend's constituency. I am determined to ensure that his constituents, like patients throughout the country, benefit in full from the modernisation of the NHS. There are important issues to be dealt with, which are the subject of proper public consultation. They include increased co-operation and better sharing of clinical skills in my hon. Friend's part of London. However, we are already backing that up with substantial resources—nearly £2 million extra—to modernise A and E services for his constituents, and the health authority has received more than £2.5 million of funding over and above the health authority basic allocation from the London fund. I am delighted to have the opportunity to see the NHS on the ground and to discuss how we take forward the modernisation of services in that part of London.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)

When the Minister goes to Redbridge to discuss health in north-east London, will he bear in mind that—because of the previous Secretary of State's changing, or fine tuning, of the funding formula two years ago—north-east London has received about £1 million extra funding at the expense of north and mid-Essex? The consequence has been that, in the current year, mid-Essex has had a deficit of £2.4 million, three hospital wards are being closed, and waiting lists have soared. Will the Government re-examine the funding formula for north-east London and North Essex and restore that £1 million to north and mid-Essex?

Mr. Denham

The health service in Essex has received significant increases in resources, as has every part of the health service across the country. As we announced in November 1998, there is dissatisfaction with the allocations formula, not only in north and mid-Essex, but in other areas. We therefore announced a wide-ranging review of the allocations formula, and said that there will be a freeze on amendments to it until the review is completed. Consequently, in coming years, in each part of the United Kingdom, the health service will be able to plan with some certainty and security, to meet the needs of patients.

Mr. Philip Hammond (Runnymede and Weybridge)

Over the summer, the Minister's attention will have been focused on Redbridge for another reason—the exposure of the scandal of waiting list manipulation at the King George hospital, and subsequently elsewhere in the country. Will the Minister admit that the Government's waiting list initiative has been an unmitigated disaster for the NHS; that there are still 18-month waiters in the system; and that the Government's very modest progress on their targets so far has been achieved only by a massive distortion of clinical priorities, the creation of a culture of manipulation and deceit in the NHS, a doubling of out-patient waiting lists and the absurdity of forcing the sickest patients to wait the longest?

Mr. Denham

No, I do not accept a word of that, because it is all wrong. We are absolutely determined that the public should have every confidence in the waiting list figures that we publish, and I support entirely the Redbridge health care trust in the tough and prompt action that it has taken against those responsible in that case. However, I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman has any evidence for saying that the waiting list figures that we published have been fiddled—they have not. Moreover, we are determined to ensure that the public have full confidence in them.

We shall deliver on our waiting list promise, and have already reduced waiting lists to 70,000 below the level that we inherited. When Conservative Members criticise that fact, they are criticising the fact that another 450,000 in-patients were treated last year. I have not yet heard Conservative Members say which of those 450,000 people should not have had that treatment.

Although the Government will fulfil our waiting list promise, in doing so we shall ensure that conditions that deserve high priority—such as cancer and coronary heart disease—are given proper priority. We have already established a two-week maximum waiting time for breast cancer referrals, and that maximum will be extended to other cancers. In due course, we shall introduce the national service framework on coronary heart disease, which will demonstrate very clearly the priority that we are giving to treating that condition.

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