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Volume 447: debated on Wednesday 7 June 2006

I regularly meet the First Minister and members of his Cabinet. The Assembly Government is investing record amounts in the NHS in Wales, and is delivering real improvements in the standard of services to patients.

The Secretary of State may be aware that many of my constituents are registered with GPs based in Wales, and that they have to wait longer for treatment than others who are registered with GPs based in England. That unacceptable problem was supposed to have been fixed this April, but the decision has now been deferred until next April. Will he talk to his colleague the Secretary of State for Health and to the Welsh Assembly Government to ensure that the decision is brought forward to as early a date as possible?

I want to tell the hon. Gentleman how massive the improvements in health performance and waiting times in Wales have been. More than 213,000 extra patients have been seen in Welsh hospitals since we came to power. Waiting times have plummeted since 1997: in the past year, only 30 patients in Wales waited more than 12 months for treatment—a massive cut of nearly 14,500. The aim is that, by March next year, no patient will have to wait more than eight months. By the end of December 2009, the maximum total wait, from GP referral to receiving treatment, will be 26 weeks. That is a massive improvement, and the hon. Gentleman ought to welcome it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the dramatic turnaround in the health service in Wales is due to the hard work of NHS employees there? No patient now waits more than 12 months for in-patient or day-case treatment. Is that not a tremendous tribute to the work of the health service in Wales?

I fully agree with my hon. Friend. When we came to power, people who needed orthopaedic operations, such as ex-miners and so on, had to wait years and years. That was what we inherited, but our investment in and reform of the health service in Wales have caused those figures to plummet. Moreover, since we came to power, we have been able to recruit 450 more consultants and more than 7,300 more qualified nurses in Wales. That is another sign that Labour invests in the NHS, and that the health service in Wales will be safe only under Labour.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Telford and Wrekin primary care trust board plans to withdraw from the process of re-providing Shelton hospital? The lack of mental health provision in mid-Wales means that cutting that vital facility would have serious consequences for the whole of central Wales. Will he make representations to the Telford and Wrekin PCT, which is an English health trust, to protect a service that is crucial and irreplaceable?

I fully accept that for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and for him this is a very serious matter and, of course, I am happy to make those representations to assist him and his constituents to see whether we can resolve the problem.

Sometimes I think that the Secretary of State lives on another planet and does not spend enough time in Wales. With the NHS in Wales £71 million in debt, the former chief executive of the ambulance service claiming that the service is in crisis and that lives are being lost, hospitals such as Withybush, Bronglais and Llandudno under threat, and 60 per cent. more people waiting for treatment than when the Assembly Government came to power, does the Secretary of State think that the Welsh Health Minister is fit for purpose?

That really takes the biscuit. The hon. Lady does not even represent a Welsh constituency. I live in Wales. I am in Wales every weekend in my constituency, so she should not make accusations like that. When she looks at the record of health investment in Wales, plummeting waiting times, extra nurses, extra doctors, improved health performance, and 10 new hospitals being built or already built in Wales under our Government compared with all the hospital closures that the Tories were responsible for, she will realise that people in Wales know that it is only under Labour that the health service is safe in Wales.