HC Deb 28 March 2000 vol 347 cc212-4
9. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough)

What priority he will give to areas with high levels of heart disease in allocating new resources for improving cardiac care and surgery. [115156]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Alan Milburn)

The national service framework, which I published earlier this month, is a 10-year programme of action, which will mean that everyone can get top-quality coronary heart disease services wherever they live. As a first step, the extra £50 million to increase heart operations is being distributed using a formula that takes account of deaths from heart disease.

Fiona Mactaggart

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Under the Conservative Government, the town that I represent, despite being in the prosperous south-east, became unhealthier. It is one of the top 10 towns in the country for deaths from coronary heart disease among people aged over 65. Unlike the rest of the country, in Slough the rate of increase for deaths from CHD is continuing. I am glad that the targeted £50 million will be connected to deaths from heart disease. May I take this opportunity to thank my right hon. Friend for that money? That sum, together with the £600 million that he announced earlier, will mean that Slough, where people have been allowed to die for 20 years because of the ignorance of those who were not focusing on the health needs of the community, will no longer have the only district general hospital in the country without a dedicated coronary care unit.

Mr. Milburn

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I think that all right hon. and hon. Members are aware that, by international standards, we have a high incidence of coronary heart disease in the United Kingdom compared with other developed nations. There is also an unfortunate coincidence in that the very parts of the country that often have the highest levels of coronary heart disease often have the lowest levels of cardiac surgery interventions. That is something that we must put right. We must get resources into the right places. That is the right and fair thing to do.

As for cardiac services, we shall be rolling out the new mechanisms described in the national service framework first into the areas where they are needed most, precisely to deal with some of the big health problems and to narrow the health inequalities that my hon. Friend describes.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

Will the Secretary of State join me in congratulating the cardiac thoracic unit at the Blackpool Victoria hospital on its excellent work in increasing patient throughput and on the quality of the surgery that it has performed? Will he take this opportunity to remove the cloud of doubt that hangs over the future of the unit? It is much needed in Blackpool and Fylde, and the doubt must be removed. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that, in his distribution of moneys, the North West Lancashire health authority has sufficient funds to ensure that patient throughput can again rise at Blackpool?

Mr. Milburn

As I understand it, the issue about the unit to which the right hon. Gentleman refers is out for consultation. It is a matter that will need to go through the appropriate mechanisms, and it will be determined locally. If it is referred to me, I shall examine it carefully.

Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East)

I understand that my right hon. Friend is currently considering demand projections for a fourth cardiac unit in the west midlands. In Wolverhampton, we have not only the highest number of deaths from cardiac disease in the west midlands but the lowest level of access to surgery in the west midlands. Will my right hon. Friend give sympathetic consideration to a new cardiac unit being sited in Wolverhampton?

Mr. Milburn

I am not aware of the particular local circumstances. If my hon. Friend cares to write to me, I shall examine carefully the issues that he has raised. It is important that all right hon. and hon. Members understand that we have severe capacity problems with our cardiac services and units. As a result of decades of neglect of cardiac services, we have only 170 cardiac surgeons in the NHS in England. We are expanding the numbers pretty rapidly by more than 100 during the next five or six years. That will be an increase of about 60 per cent.

Progress is dependent on the number of surgeons that we have, and it will take time to train them. However, no one should doubt our commitment to increase the number of cardiac surgeons available and to increase the number of heart operations that we are able to carry out. Equally, and in some ways even more significantly, we are committed to nipping some of these problems in the bud. We must get the right emphasis on treatment and on prevention.

Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon)

Can the Secretary of State reassure the House that he is aware that it takes more than surgeons, welcome though they will be, to perform cardiac surgery? Will he guarantee funding for intensive-care and high-dependency beds and the anaesthetists who will be needed to increase the number of operations being done?

Mr. Milburn

It is not only those members of staff who are necessary, important though they are. We also need cardiac nurses and other back-up staff, who will be extremely important. The hon. Gentleman is aware that if we are to expand the capacity of major services to deal with our country's biggest killers—coronary heart disease and cancer—we require an expansion in the number of staff, including doctors, nurses and therapists. That of course requires an increase in the number of available beds, but as I have said to the hon. Gentleman before, it is pretty easy to get beds; it is harder to get trained staff, and I am afraid that it takes time.

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