HC Deb 17 September 2003 vol 410 cc843-5
3. Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell)

What recent discussions he has had with the Minister for Health in the National Assembly for Wales regarding the national health service in Wales. [129538]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain)

I have regular meetings with Assembly Ministers when the Wales NHS is discussed.

Chris Grayling

What progress is the Secretary of State making in pursuing discussions with the National Assembly and the Department of Health to ensure that England and Wales do not end up with two inspection regimes for health, with all the extra bureaucracy and the additional work for hospitals that that will cause, particularly in border areas?

Mr. Hain

Discussions are continuing. Obviously the Wales NHS is separate from the English NHS, but the two are linked and co-operation is important, especially in the cross-border areas to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)

Will the Secretary of State initiate discussions with the First Minister to establish whether comparative studies can be conducted by the National Audit Offices for Wales and England on performance in the health service, especially relating to orthopaedics, hip operations and cataract operations?

Mr. Hain

That is an important issue. The fact is that performance in Wales has been much better than performance in England in respect of emergency admissions, but worse in respect of elective surgery. That applies to some of the areas mentioned by my right hon. Friend. The Wanless report, which constituted a pretty robust analysis of the situation, has been welcomed by the Health and First Ministers, who are taking action. I think that that will lead to the necessary improvements in performance, although we should not doubt the improvements that have already occurred. For instance, 200,000 more new patients are being seen than were being seen in 1997.

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)

The part-time Secretary of State for Wales cannot abdicate responsibility for the severe problems that patients now face in the national health service in Wales. In-patient and day-case waiting lists continue to deteriorate, despite the fact that the Government have massively increased taxation on the people, including the 1 per cent. increase in national insurance contributions. On 12 September, The Western Mail pointed out that Welsh patients can wait four times longer to be seen than patients in England. In England, the out-patient first appointment target is 17 weeks; in Wales, it is 18 months. Is that acceptable?

Mr. Hain

Of course, we want to improve performance all the time, and I am discussing these matters with Ministers in Cardiff bay to achieve that objective. The hon. Gentleman continually runs down the health service in Wales, yet 200,000 additional patients are being seen, compared with the record when the Tories lost office. How can he make such accusations, given that under the Tories, training places for nurses were cut by 25 per cent., and under Labour such places are already up by 30 per cent.? The truth is that the Tories would wreak havoc on the Wales health service, as they did when they were in power.

Mr. Evans

I am not talking down the national health service, but it is only right that, as an Opposition, we point out the realities of the NHS in Wales. Yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman talked about having citizens' contracts with the public in respect of public services. Citizens are fully delivering on their side of the bargain through massive extra taxation; it is the Government who are not delivering on theirs. Where were the citizens' rights for the 93-year-old lady who ended up breaking both hips last week when she was released from hospital and taken to somebody else's home, five miles away from her own? Where were the citizens' rights for the 26-year-old Caerphilly man who reported to his hospital that he had taken an overdose of 70 tablets, was left on a trolley for hours and then died? That was an absolute tragedy. The right hon. Gentleman's contract with the people is nothing more than a con trick. People will continue to mistrust this Government until they simply deliver the national health service that the people of Wales are paying for.

Mr. Hain

Let us look at the facts. In their 18 years in power, the Tories closed 70 hospitals in Wales; we are in the process of building, or have built, 10 new ones. We are recruiting more nurses, more doctors and more consultants, after the long years of Tory cuts.

The hon. Gentleman rightly describes as tragic the two incidents to which he refers. An inquest is obviously being held into the death of the Caerphilly man who, I understand, took an overdose and died while in hospital. The appalling incident in which the 93-yearold was delivered to the wrong address is the subject of a formal investigation, and as soon as I know its outcome, I shall obviously let the hon. Gentleman know.

Gareth Thomas (Clwyd, West)

May I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the massive extra capital investment in the NHS in north Wales, and in the Ysbyty Glan Clwyd hospital in Bodelwyddan in particular? That includes the cancer treatment centre., which cost £20 million, and new procedures to improve emergency admissions. Does he accept that that represents a huge contrast with the under-investment in the health service that occurred under the Tories?

Mr. Hain

I very much agree with my hon. Friend This is another example of the progress that is being made in the Wales health service. The staff of the excellent and well-managed Ysbyty Glan Clwyd hospital deserve the House's congratulations on their performance. An increasing number of patients are being seen, and the hospital is a beacon for health service provision in the area. That contrasts with the hospital closures that regularly occurred the length and breadth of Wales under the Tories, and which would be repeated if they got into power and implemented their 20 per cent. cuts

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

We owe a great debt of gratitude to those working in the NHS. My constituents tell me that when they do eventually get treatment, it is first class, and I am sure that that is right. When the right hon. Gentleman next speaks to the Minister for Health in Cardiff, will he congratulate her on getting the waiting list for those waiting for in-patient treatment for more than one year down to 12,641, compared with a figure of 37 in England?

Mr. Hain

It is good to hear from the leader of Plaid Cymru in Parliament. Of course he competes for that position with two other leaders of Plaid Cymru, both of whom hate each other and did not vote for each other, revealing a party that is leaderless and schizophrenic about its leadership—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer the question."] Yes, I will answer the question. If the hon Gentleman's disastrous policies for an independent Wales were implemented, health services and school services would be cut; whereas we now have record investment going in, more patients being seen and waiting times coming down. Patients who use the health service in the hon. Gentleman's constituency and elsewhere know that the service is going from strength to strength under Labour.

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