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Claire Wise

Volume 127: debated on Thursday 11 February 1988

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4.20 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the urgent need for Claire Wise, from Kidsgrove, to be admitted to the Birmingham children's hospital for open-heart surgery as a matter of urgency."
The matter is urgent because Claire, aged seven, needs open-heart surgery and is one of over 100 children waiting to be admitted to the Birmingham children's hospital heart unit for her operation. At Christmas her parents were advised that she should have this operation within three months, before she has outgrown the shunt operation she had some time ago. Since then I have pressed for Claire to be given an admission date so that she can have her operation before she becomes an emergency.

As you know, Mr. Speaker, I raised the matter in the Adjournment debate on 19 January, and I have written to the Minister since then but he has not yet bothered to reply. Meanwhile, Claire's parents were sent a letter on Tuesday of this week telling them that she was to be admitted on Monday next. Imagine their relief. Imagine their despair when they received a second letter the very next day—yesterday—saying that the operation has had to be cancelled until further notice. I ask the House: what should they do? What would any parent do? What will the Government do?

I know that all scheduled operations for this week and next week are cancelled at the Birmingham children's hospital heart unit, which means that those on the waiting list will have to wait even longer. Time is running out for them and for Claire. It is common sense that intolerable strain is placed on all other vital organs of the body if open-heart surgery which is urgently needed is delayed. I know also that the intensive care unit is full. Those children who become emergencies will have to depend upon the good will of the nurses or being able to survive a journey to London.

I appeal to you, Mr. Speaker, to agree to adjourn the House so that we may debate the matter. How else can Government Ministers tell me what urgent steps they are taking to allocate extra money to designate intensive care unit beds for heart patients in the west midlands, to recruit and train nurses for intensive care beds locally and nationally, and to ensure that Claire gets her operation before it is too late? Without an Adjournment, I appeal to every person in the west midlands health region who cares about Claire and others like her to write to me expressing their concern so that the Government can be made to face up to their failure to provide health care for those who need it. Time is running out for Claire.

The hon. Lady asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that she believes should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the cancellation of the operation on Claire Wise at the Birmingham children's hospital heart unit."
I have listened with concern to what the hon. Lady has said about her constituent. As she knows, the decision I have to take in these difficult matters is whether to give the matter precedence over the business set down for today or Monday. I regret that I cannot find the matter that she has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20 Therefore, I cannot submit her application to the House. I hope that she will find other parliamentary ways of raising the matter in the Chamber.

Later— —

On a point of order. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) has raised what you, Mr. Speaker, rightly described as a very serious matter. I understand the difficulties you are placed in when such a matter is raised. I believe I am right in saying that the relevant Departments are notified of the contents of applications under Standing Order No. 20. Is it not astonishing, in view of the seriousness of the application, that not one Minister from the Department of Health was present when the application was made? You have rightly said that my hon. Friend may find other opportunities of raising the matter. Many applications have been made concerning the Birmingham children's hospital, and it must be a matter of widespread public concern in the west midlands and in the country at large.

Would it be possible, Mr. Speaker, for you to make representations following the application from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North, to the Department asking it to make a statement — possibly tomorrow morning, in view of the urgency of the matter — because that would be a convenient parliamentary opportunity for my hon. Friend to raise the matter?

It is not a matter for me whether a statement is made. This would have been a very good question to put to the Leader of the House. I have heard the hon. Lady's application, but I could not give it precedence because of the criteria laid down in the Standing Orders. The House will appreciate that many operations are cancelled, sadly, for various reasons and it is my difficult duty to make a decision on exactly which should be given precedence and which should not.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Everyone recognises your difficulty and the criteria you apply, but there is growing concern among west midlands Members of Parliament that of necessity they are making representations about indvidual cases, many of which relate to the gross inadequacies of the Birmingham children's hospital and its capacity to provide the operations that children in that area need. I ask you to bear in mind, if there are further applications, that each application is but a single symptom of what is wrong. I ask you to give some consideration to the generality of the problem for people in the west midlands.

I will certainly do that. The hon. Gentleman might also bear in mind that he has the opportunity to raise those matters on Opposition Supply days.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. It has become noticeable in the past several weeks that the applications in relation to these children, almost without exception, as far as I am aware —I am here, like you, Mr. Speaker, every day—come from the west midlands. You have said that you find some difficulty with the criteria on single applications, such as those from my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall. North (Mr. Winnick), my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley). You say that you cannot accept an application under Standing Order No. 20 because the criteria do not allow it. When it becomes apparent that there is not one or two but a number of cases, which do not come from other regions, it becomes apparent, and I am not an hon. Member from the west midlands— —

What I am trying to say, despite that altercation, is that many of us, as I am sure you know, Mr. Speaker, would be making representations from our own areas and not just the west midlands if we were faced with this sort of problem. Will you accept an application from, say, one of my hon. Friends for a debate on the Health Service in the west midlands? Would such an application meet with your approval?

I do not think I can do that. I take individual applications, but the Opposition have the opportunity to choose a general subject for debate once a week on average.

Order. No. The question has been put to me. It is in order for the Opposition to use that procedure if they judge that is right. I have to take a very difficult decision, and I hope that the House realises it is not easy to adjudicate on these matters. I cannot give the House my reasons for refusing an application, but there are clinical and medical judgments as well as other matters to take into account.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. We recognise that there are Opposition daysavailable, but if anyone checks the position he would discover that virtually every debate on the National Health Service that has taken place in the House in recent years has been in Opposition time. My right hon. and hon. Friends from the west midlands took the opportunity to raise the issue during the two most recent debates. The Birmingham issue gets lost in fairly general debates. We are looking for a prompt response to the crisis in the west midlands, or even some time from the Government. After all, they are responsible for resourcing and running the Health Service, although they are most reluctant to have any debates about it.

Order. It is a bit unfair on other hon. Members who wish to take part in debates to carry on with this matter, which is challenging my judgment. I make a judgment on these matters with extreme care. There may come a time when I feel that the criteria are right, but there are many issues at stake, not least the criterion of urgency, but also clinical judgments to make.

I was in no way challenging your judgment, Mr. Speaker, nor have my hon. Friends done so. You will know that I made an application under Standing Order No. 20, and in relation to that case I think it is right to say that the whole country is hoping and praying that the child will survive after 10 hours of surgery.

Bearing in mind the valid points made from the Opposition Front Bench and my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), would it not help you, Mr. Speaker, to avoid the constant applications that undoubtedly will be made if one of the Health Ministers makes a statement at the earliest opportunity about the crisis facing the Health Service in the west midlands? I hope that the Leader of the House will be notified of what we are saying. We are now facing the most difficult problem since the NHS came into being. Surely part of our job as Members of Parliament who represent the west midlands is to raise the issue on the Floor of the House. If a statement is made early next week on the crisis that I have referred to, there will be less need for these applications.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Several Opposition Members, during the exchanges that have just taken place on the application under Standing Order No. 20, clearly heard the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow) accuse my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley) and others of my hon. Friends who have made similar applications recently of participating in an organised campaign.

Bearing in mind the allegations that have been made only today about the hon. Member for Northampton, North evicting his tenants in Lambeth, it ill becomes him to make allegations of that sort on these very serious matters.

Order. Fortunately, I do not hear everything that goes on below the Gangway, but it does not help when allegations of that kind are shouted across the Chamber from a sedentary position.