HC Deb 02 May 2000 vol 349 cc18-9
13. Mr. Bill Michie (Sheffield, Heeley)

What assessment he has made of the nature of the relationship between poverty and heart disease. [119066]

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

Poverty is a major cause of heart disease. The poorest working-age men are 50 per cent. more likely to die of coronary heart disease than men in the overall population. That is why one of the key objectives of our new national service framework for heart disease is to tackle inequalities in the incidence of the disease, and access to services dealing with it.

Mr. Michie

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. We are now more hopeful that we will get to the bottom of illnesses caused by poverty, particularly heart disease. Does my right hon. Friend think that health action zones will give information on the relationship between heart disease and poverty? By the way, the Sheffield hospital for women is on song, on target and on price.

Mr. Milburn

As always, my hon. Friend brings good news.

My hon. Friend mentioned coronary heart disease and the role of the health action zones. I can tell him that we consider dealing with the real problems that are intimately linked with deprivation—not just coronary heart disease, but cancer—to be one of the top priorities for those zones. I know that the local health improvement programme in Sheffield has prioritised the tackling of coronary heart disease, and I think that that is absolutely right.

We are providing better treatment through extra operations, the fast-track chest pain clinics that are coming on line, and faster ambulance response times enabling those who have heart attacks to get to hospital and be treated more quickly. We need, however, to emphasise the importance of prevention as well as treatment. That is why we have invested significant amounts in smoking cessation clinics, and in the provision of nicotine replacement therapy on the national health service. For the first time, that therapy will be available free of charge. We have enabled some of the problems to be dealt with at source, rather than being picked up when they occur.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

The Secretary of State has identified a disturbing connection between poverty and the high incidence of heart disease. How can he justify the proposed closure of Harefield hospital in my constituency, which caused a petition with 100,000 signatures to be lodged at Downing street last Wednesday, and gave rise to a procession led by an eight-year-old former patient who had been given a double transplant? Does not a hospital such as Harefield—unlike one in central London such as the Paddington hospital that is proposed for the future—offer an ideal location for poorer people? Their families— and they, as out-patients—can stay, at a reasonable price, in an accessible area. Harefield is the ideal locational hospital. Will the Secretary of State think again?

Mr. Milburn

I think the hon. Gentleman knows that consultation is still taking place on the future configuration of acute hospital services in that part of London. Let me place on record my tribute to the part played by the hon. Gentleman's right hon. and noble Friend Lord Newton in leading some of the discussions about the best make-up of hospital services in the area. I can go no further than that today, but I will consider carefully the concern expressed by the hon. Gentleman and others.