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Suffolk PCT

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2006

3. What steps she is taking to ensure that more health services are delivered in the community in the Suffolk Primary Care Trust area. (95962)

Last week, we announced a new project to shift ear, nose and throat services in Ipswich closer to people’s homes. A senior audiologist will run a clinic three times a month from a town centre GP practice with good public transport access and parking. That will mean that far more ENT patients will not need to go to hospital for their treatment, which I believe will be welcomed as part of a much broader programme to shift services closer to people’s homes.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that care closer to home projects such as the primary care audiology clinic established in a GP centre in my constituency offer patients better health care, make better use of resources and should allay people’s concerns about whether changes in acute hospital set-ups are matched by the introduction of community-based health services?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Partly thanks to advances in medical practice and modern medical technology, it is now possible to give patients care in a local GP surgery, health centre or, indeed, in their own homes, which could until recently be provided only within an acute hospital. What we found in the huge public engagement that led up to the “Our health, our care, our say” White Paper in January was that where it is safe and right, people prefer treatment to be given to them in their GP surgeries or, if possible, in their own homes.

Does the Secretary of State think that there is a greater likelihood of an increase in spending and better health service provision in an area such as Ipswich, represented by a Labour MP, than in an area such as North Wiltshire?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. There is more money going into the NHS in every part of the country than ever before—funding that was of course made possible by an increase in national insurance contributions, which the hon. Gentleman and his party opposed. In deciding how much money should be allocated to each local primary care trust, we take into account the age of the population, especially the proportion aged 65 or older, and the burden of disease, including the fact that in some communities life expectancy is far lower and the death rate from, for instance, cancer and heart disease is far higher. We believe in fair funding; it is a pity that the hon. Gentleman does not seem to do so.

It is clear that in Suffolk, as elsewhere, community services are being run down. The number of district nurses has fallen by 15 per cent. since 1997 and we need at least a third more podiatrists, instead of the present savage cuts. At the same time, acute services are being cut in Ipswich and, across the country, 81 community hospitals are under threat, including Walnut Tree, Hartismere and Aldeburgh in Suffolk. However, the Royal College of Nursing said that 71 per cent. of newly qualified nurses cannot find jobs—nurses who were recruited and trained at vast expense to the taxpayer on the basis of Labour’s cack-handed work force planning. How does the Secretary of State expect to build up the delivery of health services in the community when she is overseeing cuts in district nurses, specialist nurses such as those caring for people with Parkinson’s disease, community hospitals—

The hon. Gentleman referred to services in Suffolk. I find it extraordinary that he did not refer to the fact that the NHS is investing nearly £1.5 million in Felixstowe to turn an old general hospital into a modern community hospital, with a day-treatment centre, 16 in-patient beds and a range of clinics and services that will provide better care for people in that part of Suffolk. I am surprised that he did not mention the investment of £600,000 in the Mount Farm surgery in Bury St. Edmunds. I am surprised that he did not mention Bluebird Lodge and Ravenswood, which opened in April this year, or the fact that Suffolk PCT, which is reviewing community services, has £3 million of revenue and more than £2 million of capital to invest in other community services and buildings. It would be absurd to say that a pattern of community and cottage hospitals that were built—