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NHS (Essex)

Volume 525: debated on Tuesday 15 March 2011

I am grateful to Mr Speaker for granting me the opportunity in Westminster Hall to draw directly to the Minister’s attention a number of important issues regarding the performance of NHS services in my constituency and in the county of Essex. I suspect that the matters that I shall raise and the constituents’ cases that I shall mention are by no means unique to my constituency or the county. However, the Government are developing the most important and, in my opinion, long-overdue changes to the NHS, and I want to ensure that the problems and challenges faced by my constituents are thoroughly and fully considered.

Throughout the endless reforms and reorganisations undertaken by the previous Government, the health needs of patients were never afforded the same priority as the expanding tick-box bureaucracy suffered by my constituents. One consequence of the waste that was created is that the money put into the health service never achieved the true outcomes that my constituents deserved and needed. That has led in part to my constituents suffering poor patient choice and health care services. However, we cannot change everything about the past.

The Minister, the Government and, most importantly, my constituents want an effective NHS for the British people; it should deliver value for the taxpayer, ensuring that the mistakes of the past are not repeated and that all receive the care and front-line services that are their due. It is therefore essential that as the NHS is reformed, the needs of local communities in my constituency of Witham are not overlooked or ignored. That is why this debate is so timely.

By way of background, I shall give the Minister some details about my constituency and some of the health care challenges faced by my local community and me that are specific to the area, and the nature of current NHS services there. I shall then highlight the excessive and overblown bureaucracy that affects the NHS globally, which demonstrates the scale of taxpayers’ money that is increasingly and wrongly being taken from front-line services. I shall also draw attention to some of the most serious and heart-breaking cases that I have come across in the 10 months since I was elected, which show that the NHS too often fails the most vulnerable. I shall conclude my remarks by putting the case for new NHS services being delivered locally under the Government’s planned reforms.

Witham is a new constituency, so I forgive Members for not knowing much about it. It is not far from the London commuter belt, and lies within the heart of Essex. We have tremendous public transport and road links to London. The ports of Felixstowe, Harwich and Tilbury are not far away, and we have some major industrial towns and centres. It is not surprising, therefore, that Witham has experienced significant population growth in recent years. It is an attractive area to live in.

The three local authority areas in my constituency are Braintree, Colchester and Maldon. Under the previous Government, they were required to build more than 27,000 new homes in the 20 years to 2021, and 60,000 new homes between 2011 and 2031. Throughout Essex, the current population of 1.4 million could easily grow by 14% over the next 20 years. Members will be aware from their own areas that population growth inevitably puts more burdens not only on infrastructure but on the local NHS.

The local plans, particularly those that affect my constituency, unfortunately give no serious consideration to ensuring that the quality and quantity of local health services can keep pace with projected population increases and changing demographics. Although top-down targets are being scrapped by the present Government, the attractiveness and desirability of my constituency inevitably means that more people will move to the area, so we can expect to see a significant increase in the local population. That will put demands on local health services that are already struggling to cope.

It is not simply the sheer quantity of people that NHS services will need to support; they will also need to adapt to the changing demographics of the area. Because our local communities attract young families, we need stronger maternity services and paediatric provision. However, the most significant demographic change will be an acceleration of the number and proportion of residents over the age of 65. In that respect, my constituency and the county of Essex are not unique, as health services across the country are responding to an ageing population. By 2021, the NHS in Essex, along with its partners in local government, will need to accommodate the health needs of 45% more people in the county living beyond the age of 65, and 75% more people living beyond the age of 85.

Some of the most significant increases in Essex are expected to be in the Maldon district, part of which falls within the Witham constituency. It is worth noting that about 10% of the Essex population provides assistance, caring for family, friends or neighbours, with higher than average rates in Maldon, where the number of working-age people available to care for older persons will have nearly halved by 2029. These demographic changes present serious challenges to the front line of the NHS in my constituency and in the county.

I am pleased to report that Essex county council is taking a strong lead in implementing the Government’s reforms to deal with the challenge. It has already established a health and well-being board, and the Department of Health recognises it as an early implementer. I would welcome the Minister’s reassurance that the Government, unlike the Labour party, which has made no commitment to NHS funding to support this work, will continue to increase resources when necessary to support the health needs of my constituency and Essex. I shall emphasise throughout the debate the need for the money to be spent on front-line care, not bureaucracy.

That brings me to NHS bureaucracy in Essex and my constituency, and specifically to our local primary care trusts. The Minister will be aware that the medical needs of my constituents are served by a number of NHS trusts and by the East of England strategic health authority. There is no general hospital in my constituency; local residents usually use the Broomfield hospital run by the Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust, which is based in the neighbouring constituency—that of the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns)—or the foundation trust hospital in Colchester for acute care services. Mental health services are provided by the North Essex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

My constituents are served by two of the five primary care trusts in Essex. Those who live in the Braintree district council or Maldon district council parts of my constituency fall within the area covered by the Mid Essex NHS trust, whose budget for 2011-12 has increased to just under £520 million. Those who live in the wards covered by Colchester borough council find themselves being dealt with by NHS North East Essex, whose budget for 2011-12 has risen to just under £547 million.

Later, I will give examples of cases in which constituents have faced unacceptable problems with those health trusts. In the meantime, it is worth looking at the obscene levels of bureaucracy, administration and management that have taken hold of those organisations. The number of managers and senior managers employed by the East of England strategic health authority doubled under the previous Government from 1,300 in 1997 to more than 2,700 in 2009. At Mid Essex Hospital Services NHS Trust, more than £10 million is spent annually on 29 senior managers and 79 managers. In the North East Essex PCT and its three predecessor trusts, the proportion of administrative staff rose from 19% to 33% between 2001 and 2009. The number of managers and senior managers increased from 25 to 84.

Finally, Mid Essex PCT, which serves the majority of my constituents, and its four predecessor trusts, saw administration and staffing levels rise from 17% to 33%, and the number of managers go up from 10 to 102. When we consider that those two PCTs were formed from seven predecessor organisations, it is fair to say that the growth in management and administration over eight years is quite shocking. The PCT now spends almost £13 million on management costs alone. That money, which my constituents and I view as hard-pressed taxpayers’ money, has been taken away from essential local medical care to staff a bureaucracy. Mid Essex PCT is also experiencing slippage in progress on its quality, innovation and prevention plan and, as a result, could now miss its year-end target by £2.7 million. On 16 November, the minutes of its remuneration committee, which have not been disclosed fully, indicate that performance bonuses were to be paid to the chief executive and its executive directors.

What concerns me is not just the vast sums of money increasingly flowing into the pockets of bureaucrats and managers, but the way in which the PCT is behaving and functioning since it embarked on its reorganisation. It seems to have no real idea as to what it is reorganising into. That is a cause for alarm. I hope the Minister is aware that last autumn, North Essex PCT and Mid Essex PCT decided to form a cluster with West Essex PCT under a new chief executive. The first I heard of that change was when I received a press release last September. In a massive blaze of glory, it was announced that the chief executive of the strategic health authority would form closer working arrangements with the PCT.

The hon. Lady has spoken at some length and with real passion about money being poured into the appointment of bureaucrats and managers. In her mind’s eye, a hospital bureaucrat is a man in a bowler hat with a brief case, but is she aware that many people who are dubbed managers in the health service are actually former senior nurses, such as her colleague, the Minister, who bring much of their clinical background and expertise to bear on their role? Nurses in particular get a little pained when politicians talk about managers and discount the fact that many of them are people with a very solid clinical background.

I recognise that NHS managers have a range of health care backgrounds and bring a number of skills to the table. Of concern to my constituents though is the fact that we are dominated by managers who tend to have administrative rather than clinical backgrounds, and they are making key decisions about patient treatment, and even about medical care and access to drugs. None the less, I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and her valid point.

This brings me to the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the reorganisation. I have been told that reorganisation will lead to a significant step forward in delivering greater efficiency for the people of north Essex. None the less, I constantly have to ask the PCT, “What does this mean? What will this look like? What are the costs of the reorganisation?” I was told last autumn that the PCT could not quantify the cost of reorganisation as the process of reconfiguration had only just started. I have been asking for updates, but as yet, have not received any. Each time I ask anything, I am told that my question cannot be answered “at this time”.

There is far too much uncertainty. I welcome reorganisation, efficiency drives and reductions in management and bureaucracy costs, but there are major implications for front-line services. The language of the PCT is constantly about reorganisation producing greater efficiencies, which I would not dispute, but the PCT still has no detailed plans to show what the greater efficiencies will look like and what the formation of the new cluster will mean for local services.

The merging of back-office functions to save money is to be welcomed and I have no issue with that. In this case, however, I have discovered that there is no forward plan in the form of a route map and details of how things will operate. I have been asking questions for six months, but I have not received any substantial details about the new cluster, the staffing arrangements and what it will all mean for patient choice locally. I have sent written questions to the Secretary of State about the reorganisation but, again, I have not had a response.

Will the Minister examine this reorganisation and ensure that more information is made available to the public so that they have some sense of what kind of decision making is taking place locally within the new cluster and the PCT, and what it will mean to them in terms of access to health care and local services? It appears that many of the decisions have been taken behind closed doors, with very little accountability and transparency. It is in the public interest to know what has transpired within the reorganisation, and what the new arrangements will look like as well as the costs and the benefits.

As the PCT should rightly be beginning its winding-down process prior to its abolition, I would like to hear from the Minister about the redundancy arrangements for senior PCT managers. I am sure that that is a matter that is naturally in their minds right now. In view of the colossal levels of waste caused by PCTs, my constituents will be very disappointed to see PCT chief executives and other senior directors receive golden goodbyes to boost pension pots or huge redundancy pay-outs. In the interests of accountability and transparency, all constituents across the country will be looking, during the NHS reforms, for some encouragement from the Government on that issue.

Before I move on to some individual cases, let me just say that I make no apologies for being critical of NHS bureaucracy. In my limited time as an MP, I have seen endless examples of red tape standing in the way of my constituents getting the best health care that should be available to them. I am overwhelmed by the whole culture of tick-box management that has pervaded my local NHS. It is something with which I have been battling, day in, day out, on behalf of my constituents. It is an alarming state of affairs.

Let me now draw to the Minister’s attention a couple of cases. I have been in touch with the Minister and the Department about the issue of Sativex. There have been two cases in my constituency in which the PCTs have refused to treat patients on the NHS with the drug Sativex despite their doctors’ recommending its use to help with multiple sclerosis. In both cases, the PCTs have been able to afford to pay more to their managers and to spend more on red tape and bureaucracy, but have refused to provide vital medical treatment to my constituents.

First, Mr Shipton from Tollesbury was recommended Sativex by four doctors, to help his condition. Those doctors are medical experts who have been treating him and who are aware of his condition and medical needs. However, last September Mid Essex PCT, acting through officials sitting on its area prescribing committee, thought that it knew best and decided that it would not accept a request for Sativex to be prescribed to Mr Shipton on the NHS. That left him in considerable pain and distress. It then took more than a month for the chief executive of the PCT to respond to my request for copies of minutes of the meeting at which that decision was made. The minutes stated that the PCT declined to prescribe Sativex to Mr Shipton

“due to a lack of evidence of significant long-term benefit. Clinical trials are of very short duration and do not compare with current treatment.”

Despite that, however, Sativex is already licensed—in fact, it was licensed last June—for use to improve symptoms in multiple sclerosis patients with moderate to severe symptoms, clearing the way for the PCT to prescribe it. Indeed, the PCT itself had made 31 previous prescriptions of Sativex in 2009-10.

My constituent, Mr Shipton, ended up sourcing Sativex privately, at the cost of £125 plus VAT per bottle, which is a course of treatment that lasts for only two weeks. Contrary to the conclusions of the area prescribing committee, the drug is having a hugely beneficial effect on Mr Shipton. If the bureaucracy of the PCT had not stood in the way, he could have received that treatment at a much earlier date and he would not have had to endure extreme suffering and pain, as well as what I would describe as an unnecessary bureaucratic process.

I have another constituent, Mr Cross from Tiptree, who has also experienced horrendous problems. In fact, his wife, Mrs Cross, is on the phone to my office on a weekly basis, updating us about the terrible position that her husband is in and the suffering that he is experiencing. He has had horrendous problems receiving a prescription of Sativex, although in this instance the obstacle has been dealing with North Essex PCT. Mr Cross is wheelchair-bound and in terrible pain, experiencing constant spasms. In fact, he has recently been in hospital. Given his condition, any treatment would be a welcome relief for him. There is double suffering for his wife, as it were, because she is now effectively his full-time carer. Once again, getting access to this drug has been terrible. He has had his consultant neurologist battling for him and making his case, and I too have battled for him and made his case. But North Essex PCT, despite issuing 16 prescriptions for Sativex in 2009-10, still refused to prescribe this treatment for Mr Cross and gave him a highly dismissive response.

When I took up Mr Cross’s case from September 2010 onwards, I began a process of constant correspondence with the PCT. All I received were evasive non-responses and the odd reference to Mr Cross’s “medical needs”, which were then just dismissed. I found that totally unacceptable. Mr Cross’s condition has since deteriorated and he has been in hospital again. There needs to be a recognition of the endless stress and strain that this process puts on his own domestic set-up, especially his dear wife who is now his constant carer.

There is a compelling case for action in both of those cases, to press the PCTs to provide this drug. Also, both of my constituents have made the point that they have spent their lives working hard, doing the right thing and contributing to society. They felt that in their hour of need the NHS would be there for them, but now they feel that it has not been there for them. That is unacceptable. Although I appreciate that the Minister cannot intervene in individual cases, I ask her at least to examine these cases if she possibly can.

There are two other cases that I want to touch on briefly. The first is that of my constituent Mrs Emily Wetherilt, and again I would welcome the Minister looking into it. It is another example of a local PCT failing to perform adequately to meet the medical needs of my constituents. Mrs Wetherilt is 96 years old and requires 24-hour care. However, despite her case meeting the published criteria for NHS continuing health care funding, Mid Essex PCT has refused to provide any care whatsoever. So there has been no support for her from the PCT. Mrs Wetherilt’s daughter has taken up this matter directly with the PCT’s panel twice and she has been declined on both occasions. The PCT categorically refuses to look into this matter again, because an appeal had not been lodged within the two-week window that was available to Mrs Wetherilt’s daughter.

Many of us recognise that in cases such as this one, when a constituent’s family is caring for them, the family’s priority is looking after their family member and it is not to follow an appeals process within a two-week window. People become very emotional and providing care takes precedence. That care is the priority. Consequently, the tone and the attitude adopted by the PCT are utterly bureaucratic and deeply unhelpful.

Mrs Wetherilt’s daughter has also offered to work with the PCT to find out whether it is possible for the PCT to part-fund her mother’s care, but that suggestion was dismissed by the PCT without even being addressed. That is another example of the inflexible bureaucracy that fails to put patients’ care and needs first. It is more about the process—ticking boxes and filling in forms—and that is wrong.

I have a final shocking case to highlight. It is one that I have raised previously in the House and it is that of my constituent, 14-year-old Bethanie Thorn. Last October, Bethanie was struck down with a terrible illness and left bed-ridden. She literally went from being a healthy teenager one day to being completely bed-bound two days later. The cause of her symptoms was unknown and she became unable to eat as her condition deteriorated. Nevertheless, she faced lengthy delays to get an MRI scan and the other vital checks that were needed to diagnose her condition.

It was only last November, when I raised this matter on the Floor of the House, that the Secretary of State looked into Bethanie’s case and appointments were made for her to have an MRI scan. People in urgent need of an appointment should not have to rely on the Secretary of State, local newspapers or their constituency MP to raise their case and sort appointments out. It shows how serious this case was that, shortly after her scan and check-up, Bethanie was admitted to hospital and she was only able to return home two months later, at the end of January. Her mother has effectively become her full-time carer and her family have had to battle at every single stage for care, appointments and treatment, which is appalling. I must say that, if Bethanie had received the appointment that she needed straight away, she would probably be in a better state of health today. The Minister will appreciate that this has been terribly distressing for Bethanie and her family.

When the NHS was pressed about this case, the only explanation given for the delays was something described as a “broken pathway”. I have no idea what a “broken pathway” is in NHS management talk, but the case has highlighted just how damaging poor performance and failures in NHS services can be to individuals. This girl’s life has changed beyond all recognition now. This case also demonstrates what can go wrong when there are endless layers of bureaucracy in the NHS; it was unclear throughout whether it was Bethanie’s GP, the PCT or the hospital services who were actually responsible for ensuring that Bethanie received the care that she needed. There was to-ing and fro-ing constantly—there really was.

Like all Conservatives, at the last general election I was absolutely proud to stand on a manifesto commitment to cut the waste and bureaucracy in the NHS, so that we could invest in the front-line services and give more powers to doctors and patients. I want to reiterate that in my short tenure—10 months—as a Member of Parliament, all I have seen are examples of how bureaucracy has got in the way. If nothing else, I will continue to battle to get the services for my constituents, in the face of adversity—that is, in the face of bureaucracy.

I welcome the measures that have been announced by the Government about the reforms and plans for the NHS. The purpose of mentioning these cases now is to highlight the fact that in Essex we have seen more of the non-medical side of the NHS in action locally than we have of the medical side, which shows the need for reform of patients’ treatment.

Finally, I want to draw attention to the fact that there is some hope for my constituents. That is the hope that they have placed in Government legislation to reform the NHS. As the Minister will recall from Health questions last week, Witham town is the most urban part of my constituency and Witham town council and others have put forward a very strong case for there to be more health care specialist services in our town. Although Colchester, Braintree and Chelmsford all have significant health facilities, including general hospitals and community hospitals, there is nothing for the people of Witham in our town, and there is nothing for the people from the surrounding villages. That gives the impression locally that there is a two-tier health system.

I mentioned at the start of my remarks that the Witham area includes some pockets of serious deprivation and has a growing population. Unfortunately, the PCT has not taken enough action to close the gap created by the changing demographics and local needs. Maltings Lane is a new housing development in Witham town. It has evolved over a number of years, and many more new homes and other facilities will be built there over the next 10 years, but it was begun with no plans whatsoever for additional health care services. That issue needs to be addressed in the long run, and I hope that the Minister can help my town council, along with our district and county councils, to work with the PCT and the forthcoming GP consortia to develop additional local services that seek to meet local needs. The issue is one of supply and demand, and there is a crying need but no provision.

As a starting point, the town council, to its credit, is working cross-party locally with all our councillors, and has put together a list of services that Witham needs, including an additional surgery, an out-of-hours walk-in clinic, minor injury, oncology and out-patient clinics and a diversity of medical-testing facilities. By adding some of those services to Witham and the surrounding communities, we will naturally see real benefits in the form of health care provision, choice and diversity, and we will enjoy the convenience of more local NHS services.

I am conscious that I have spoken for a considerable time and that many other Members wish to speak, so I shall conclude by saying that although I could raise many more health-related issues, I hope that I have given the Minister a real insight into the challenges that we face in Mid Essex, where we are surrounded by a lot of health activity but have had this bureaucracy that has stifled both the delivery of front-line care to patients, and the choice aspect of health care provision locally. I thank the Minister and colleagues for their patience in listening to my remarks, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) on securing this debate, and particularly on how she has raised concerns on behalf of her constituents. Witham is very fortunate to have her as its representative.

I served on the Health Committee for a decade; in fact, I was on it for so long that towards the end of that time we were repeating inquiries. We travelled to a number of countries and when we returned home, we always concluded that our health service was the best in the world. We did wonder, however, how on earth we would fund the service if we were starting it from scratch.

Since I first became involved in health matters, the needs and demands of the health service have changed dramatically. I am in a very good position to comment on such matters because when Ann Widdecombe was shadow Secretary of State for Health I was one of her troops, serving on the Committee on the Bill that brought into force primary care groups and primary care trusts. Although the right hon. Member for one of the Southampton constituencies got slightly irritated with my endless questioning and long speeches, if anyone is very sad and wants to read Hansard I recommend the speeches that I made then because everything that I forecast would happen, sadly, has happened. It has taken the present Government to reverse what happened 13 years ago.

I am very familiar with four hospitals: Newham General, the King George in Ilford, Basildon and Southend. I will not share my views of my experiences at those hospitals, because I was there not just as a politician but as a user, along with my family. I shall simply say that the experiences were very different from one another, and they are ongoing.

Let there be no doubt that I agree with everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Witham said. I have to be slightly partisan; I have to tell my hon. Friends who were elected last year that I feel very strongly that during the 13 years of Labour Government the word “deprivation” was not on the register at all for the south of England. There is no doubt that resources shifted from the south to the north. All I say to the Minister, who has a wonderful background, is that I hope we will now be treated fairly. I am confident that that will happen.

I am more concerned now about management generally, particularly that of our hospitals. Why is a school considered good? Because it has leadership from an excellent head. Why are transport facilities good? Again, because there is good leadership. Why is a country successful? It is because of a great Prime Minister. I am challenged on a number of fronts by leadership in our hospitals. I will not go on about matrons, but when people are anxious and have health problems, with which they need to go to A and E for example, they want to know who is in charge. It is not rocket science. Nor is cleanliness and all the rest of it. Leadership is so important, and I do not care if a leader is seen as a bossy boots, like Hattie Jacques. I am fed up with managers who have endless meetings. What are they meeting about? As MPs, we have to take full responsibility for how we represent our constituencies, and if something is not right it is down to a hospital’s chief executive—it is no good their blaming the troops.

My hon. Friend the Member for Witham touched on some matters concerning Essex, for example the demographic pressures and shifts. The council and the NHS have developed, and are continuing to develop, joint commissioning arrangements there. That is very good. In Essex, we are working hard to implement the White Paper, and are progressing well with putting into practice the Government’s flagship reforms. The Secretary of State has been criticised in some areas for rushing the reforms, but in my time in the House I cannot remember a shadow Secretary of State who was in post for as long as my right hon. Friend was, so he had a lot of time to think about the reforms. This is the only job that he wanted, so the idea that he is rushing is wrong.

In Essex, commissioning with the independent voluntary and community sectors is going extremely well, as is the scrutiny of health functions. As the changes—some of which are controversial and challenging—go through, will the Minister reflect on how our hospitals are managed? That is so important. In my previous constituency the fullest age profile was for young people and in my present one we have the most centenarians in the country, so the challenges are very different in different places.

I want to raise a number of quick points. I will not cause the Minister angst, but she will be aware that there is an issue locally with the Essex Cancer Network and the proposal for an increase from seven to 10 linear accelerators. I hope that any increase is in Southend, and that we do not look further afield. The Minister would expect me to say that, and I do not want to put her in a difficult position.

For the past nine months, all health and social care partners and representatives of patients, carers and care homes have been working in a formally governed partnership to deliver an innovative and integrated model of care for the elderly locally. Will my hon. Friend the Minister look at how we are dealing with that? Over the past year, partners have worked together to open a new “step up” intermediate care facility on the Southend hospital site. I wish that many years ago, managers had considered more carefully when deciding to close Rochford hospital. Unlike Basildon hospital, which has plenty of land around it, Southend hospital is landlocked and has nowhere to expand, and we are paying the price.

Demand for care of the elderly is increasing, and I am not entirely convinced that we have a solution at the moment. Children’s services in south-east Essex are doing well. We have been recognised as baby-friendly by UNICEF and have received a certificate of commitment. We are launching a new service for children and young people with disabilities and we are opening a new diabetes rehabilitation suite. Southend hospital has secured a patient safety award. Many good things are happening.

GPs are being asked to deliver health care reforms. When Bernard Ribeiro, who has now been made a peer of the realm, was the lead consultant at Basildon, it was clear where the leadership of consultants was. I am puzzled to know who leads groups now. Endless meetings are held, but we need ownership and someone to take responsibility for what happens when a patient arrives at hospital. Who sees them first? When they go to accident and emergency, are they seen quickly by triage? Who deals with their case afterwards?

We have many wonderful GPs in Southend— Dr Husselbee, Dr Pelta, Dr Lawrence Singer, the Zaidis; the list is endless—and they are all working hard to deliver what the Government want. I believe that my constituency has the only GP pathfinder consortium in south-east Essex, and it has one of only seven partnerships in the east of England announced during the first wave. The group covers a population of nearly 80,000 patients, mainly in the west of Southend.

The practices have been working well together for the past three years and have managed to set up out-of-hospital ear, nose and throat, gynaecology and urology services, which give rapid access to specialist care at less cost to the NHS than at present. The group has implemented a clinical gateway that enhances GP referrals, reduces waste and ensures that patients get to the right specialist first time, which is critical to reducing the amount of money spent and the stress caused to patients waiting for referrals. Practices co-operate closely, with patients attending other surgeries for minor surgical procedures.

As a result of such close working for the past three years, the group is moving forward and seeking to become a sub-committee of the primary care trust, which will not exist within 18 months, and to take greater control of the budgets delegated to it by the PCT. The group has ambitious plans to improve care for the elderly, which I salute, as well as the health of patients with long-term conditions.

When local authority work begins, close working relationships will be vital to align the health and social care budgets to enable—colleagues might be puzzled by this phrase—more integrated working. That will be better for patients and lead to greater efficiencies. Similar joint working is happening between community and mental health programmes. The Health and Social Care Bill clearly puts patients at the centre of the NHS. This is controversial, but when budgets are stretched it is vital that the public are part of the process for deciding how the commissioning budget will be spent. We must take people with us if they are to accept that resources are scarce.

I am delighted to say that our local group has a grant from the Department of Health to define what public involvement should look like. A successful meeting was held recently involving a wide range of stakeholders—that awful word—including patient voluntary organisations, special interest groups and representatives from the local involvement network, Southend and Essex hospitals and the community. It is expected from the initial meeting that an agreement will be reached on how the public can best be involved, both at strategic level and in making decisions about specific projects. One possible outcome involves forming a group of health champions who have received training on commissioned health services.

I will not take up any more of the House’s time, as it is not fair to the colleagues who are waiting to catch your eye, Mr Dobbin, but I say to my hon. Friend the Minister that it would be good for the Department of Health to take seriously any representations made by hon. Members for the great county of Essex.

I, too, congratulate my almost-neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel). She made an incredibly powerful case about the individual against the state and the powerlessness that people feel against state agencies, which is why we need to return power to the people. I thank her for securing this important debate. I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) has been to all the hospitals in Essex apart from Princess Alexandra hospital in Harlow. I strongly recommend it; it is a good place.

As has been mentioned, Essex is a large county, with five primary care trusts and more than 1.4 million people, which is roughly the same population as Northern Ireland’s. Some variation in such a large area is natural, but sadly, my constituency contains serious health inequalities, despite the best efforts of local staff and the Princess Alexandra hospital. Addressing them is not just about health and a stronger work force; to me, it is also about social justice.

I have three points. First, we suffer from significant health inequalities, as I said. Secondly, Harlow has a good hospital; it has its problems, but I strongly support its bid for foundation status. Thirdly, we have a history of funding problems, particularly in west Essex—I am glad to move from north Essex to west Essex—and they must be addressed.

On health inequalities, sadly, more men die from alcohol-related causes in Harlow than in any other district in Essex. The latest statistics show that there are 45 such deaths in Harlow every year, double the rate in nearby Uttlesford and about 50% more than the east of England average of 30 a year. I accept that Harlow is a major town, but families there are struggling with a particular problem, and the rate is higher than in similar towns in Essex such as Colchester and Basildon. Harlow also experiences some of the worst rates of child and adult obesity in Essex. Government statistics show that one in five 11-year-olds in Harlow is obese before leaving primary school. Some 55% of 15-year-olds in Essex drink alcohol, 19% are regular smokers and 13% use drugs, but the problem is particularly acute in Harlow. The rate of adult drug abuse in Essex is 4.8 per 1,000, but in Harlow it is nearly double, at 8.3 per 1,000.

I do not want to paint a negative picture of Harlow. I am proud of my town and constituency. There is some good news. Local faith and charitable groups are aware of the challenges and are responding to them. The organisation Open Road runs an SOS bus and does other anti-drug work, helping people access advice, information, support and more formal treatment if needed. Some other remarkable drug rehab charities do essential work behind the scenes. There are many walking groups, and I have been to a number of events organised by the Harlow athletics club, which is one of the most distinguished groups in the region. Projects such as Kickz work with young people, providing football, boxing and other fitness pursuits.

In that context, Princess Alexandra hospital has had problems, but hopefully it will become a foundation hospital. With a new chairman and chief executive, the hospital is making a strong bid for foundation status, which I support. I have found the chairman of the hospital, Mr Coteman, to be open, honest and straight-talking about the difficulties that we face in Harlow. He is also dedicated. On Christmas day, I visited the hospital wards with Harlow hospital radio and was astonished to see not only that the chairman was going around visiting patients, but that he had brought his whole family with him after travelling from Cambridge for the day. That shows a lot of commitment to the hospital.

It is not just Mr Coteman. I visited the cancer ward at Addison House with Robert Duncombe. The ward is very well run. We have talked a lot about waste and bureaucracy, and of course, we have those problems, but it is a completely different story at Addison House, where five staff share a small office, and when I say small, I mean really small.

The Princess Alexandra hospital is at the cutting edge of research, with its cellular pathology laboratories, for which I hope NHS support will continue. Having visited the laboratories, I know that the genius of their people and their technology is remarkable and bests anything in the private sector. However, the difficult environment means that the Princess Alexandra hospital needs the foundation status for which it has applied in order to take its work to the next level.

I want to touch upon the history of the funding problems in west Essex, which are all the more serious given the health inequalities that I have described. Under the previous Government, West Essex primary care trust struggled with the 20th worst deficit in the UK, and the black hole for 2009-10 was nearly £2 million. I welcome the coalition Government’s commitment to increase health spending in each year of this Parliament, but it is a question not only of getting the right resources, but of spending the money wisely.

When I was a parliamentary candidate, I found out, via a freedom of information request, about a £700,000 cut in funds to the NHS walk-in centre in Harlow. Finances had been mismanaged, so much of the investment was wasted. There have been serious problems with health management, as well as health inequalities, which we must address under the new ways of devolving purchasing power to GPs. I particularly welcome the pledge to remove strategic health authorities, because they seem to be a complete waste of resources and an unnecessary tier of bureaucracy. That money would be much better ploughed into the work of nurses, doctors and health visitors on the front line. I think that the Health Secretary said at the Conservative conference that managers have so far been cut by 2,000 and that front-line staff have been increased by 2,700. I am sure that the Minister will want to clarify that.

On NHS fuel and petrol allowances for workers, I was astonished to discover when I visited my mental health trust that NHS mental health professionals who use their cars all day for their work—this is not just about commuting, but about visiting patients—get tiny fuel allowances, some just 12p a mile. I have tried to investigate the issue, but there seems to be a spaghetti junction of authorities that decide what the rate is. It is unfair, when petrol is at £1.35 a litre, that their fuel allowances are so low. I urge that dedicated NHS professionals who use their cars all day for their work should get a decent fuel allowance.

We must deal with the health inequalities in Harlow. To coin a phrase, we must be tough on health problems, but tough on the causes of health problems, too. Ultimately, the evidence is that we need more early intervention and preventive work, but the cause of many health problems is social deprivation. It is jobs, a stronger economy, higher employment, and opportunity for the many and not the few that will give us a healthier society, which is why I welcome the Government’s economic reform, with lower taxes for lower earners and deficit reduction. It is about not just pure utilitarianism, but social justice.

We must do more. We need more partnerships with grass-roots community groups, such as the local Harlow branch of the Alzheimer’s Society and the Harlow athletics club, which I have mentioned. Hospitals should be the first, not the last resort, which is part of the problem that we face in the NHS today. To do that, resources must be directed towards prevention, and the best people at prevention are the small community and faith groups already in our estates, working with people. When we open up NHS contracts, we must make it easier for small charities and firms to bid for them, as well as the larger, “Tesco” charities. There is fear in some parts of my constituency that our health reforms will be monopolised by vast health conglomerates. I very much hope that we see more co-operatives. I understand that the PCT in Kingston has become a co-operative. If that is the case, I hope that it will be a model that other PCTs and GP commissioning bodies can follow.

I have always said that the big society will only work if we build the little society, too. We must bring real localism to our NHS. We have to give patients meaningful choice. Harlow struggled for years with top-down cuts under the previous Government. For example, the North Essex trust, which, as has been mentioned, supplies mental health services, suffered a £5.3 million cut in 2007.

Finally, why is it that whenever the previous Labour Government cut our services in Harlow, it was presented as a fact of financial management, but whenever the coalition Government are forced to cut spending, it is seen as an ideological outrage? That double standard must be addressed. I am glad that our NHS budget is guaranteed to rise in real terms every year in this Parliament, and hope sincerely that Harlow patients and residents will get their fair share. I look forward to the Minister’s forthcoming visit to Harlow to see for herself the NHS in operation.

Thank you, Mr Dobbin. Like my hon. Friends, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) on securing this debate and on giving an articulate exposition of the inherent tension between process and outcomes. I think that one thing that we are all looking forward to from the Government’s health reforms is a greater focus on achieving outcomes and rather less on the processes that she has outlined.

This issue is of great importance to my constituents in Thurrock. Frankly, considering recent years in particular, the performance of our local health services needs to be better. I pay tribute to the staff involved in the care and treatment of patients—they discharge their efforts with the best of intentions and commitment—but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) has pointed out, what is often lacking in the health service is leadership. In south-west Essex in particular, poor management at a number of levels has resulted in too many people being failed and in local people’s confidence in the local health provision being too low. We all need to work hard to improve that and give people the health services they deserve.

I shall give some clear examples. My constituents rely on services provided by Basildon hospital, and the primary care trust responsible for delivering them is South West Essex PCT, which is currently implementing a severe programme of cuts, following a significant overspend. I shall deal with the hospital first, but as hon. Members will realise from my remarks, the ongoing issues at Basildon are interlinked with the overspend in the PCT. Dealing with that overspend will have implications for the hospital, too, so there is a great deal of uncertainty among my constituents, and a serious lack of confidence in local health services at present.

Basildon hospital has had a difficult recent history. In November 2009, the then Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), made a statement in respect of Basildon hospital, following concerns about excessively high mortality rates there, which my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West will remember extremely well. The then Secretary of State said:

“There is still considerable variation in standards throughout the NHS, from one hospital to another, and in some cases the variation is unacceptably wide. That is the case in respect of Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.”—[Official Report, 30 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 855.]

[Hywel Williams in the Chair]

Since that time and despite various programmes to tackle poor performance at the hospital, my constituents and I are concerned that such variation is unacceptably wide. The hospital management tell me that things are improving, but my postbag tells a very different story. Although many constituents report excellent treatment at the hands of the hospital, simply too many do not. As I say, week in and week out, there are reports in the local press of new things that have gone wrong. The impact on my constituents is that they simply do not have confidence in the hospital and they do not want to be treated there.

It is true to say that there has been some improvement since 2009 but, returning to the then Secretary of State’s statement, that has happened from a very low base. The Care Quality Commission continues to find that there are serious deficiencies in patient care. Most recently, the CQC’s February 2011 report states that of 16 measures taken into account, four needed action and six received suggestions for improvement. Criticisms include a lack of consistent nursing care, a failure to check that equipment is safe, the need for improvements to care for patients with dementia, and issues with poor nutrition and weight loss going unreported.

The hospital’s management are taking rather too much satisfaction from the improvements reported by the CQC. It does no one any good that the reputation of Basildon hospital remains so low. However, there is an opportunity to achieve real change. The current chairman is due to depart and I hope that the Minister will take steps to ensure that the opportunity is taken to provide some decisive leadership to the board, so that the real challenge to improve performance can be dealt with.

On the state of NHS South West Essex, many treatments have recently been cut by the PCT—including in vitro fertilisation—and restrictions have been put on cataract operations. As a Government, we have promised to protect the NHS budget from cuts and we have held to our promise. However, in south-west Essex, people just do not believe us because they are faced with a cost-cutting programme to fix a black hole of some £50 million. How did the PCT get into such a mess? In the past two years, it has taken on 100 extra backroom staff. Those people were not involved in front-line delivery; they were working in the PCT headquarters. The PCT also spent money building a community hospital in Brentwood that is far bigger than required. When I visited that hospital, I went around switching on lights in redundant facilities. That service was commissioned under the private finance initiative, so it will be an enduring cost to the NHS budget. It is a classic example of complete incompetence in managing the commissioning of a service.

A further reason for the overspend brings me back to what has happened with Basildon hospital and the impact that that is having on the wider health provision in south Essex. As confidence in Basildon fell, patients were desperate to be treated elsewhere, which meant that the PCT had to buy services from other hospitals in Essex, London and Kent. The hospital was faced with a loss to its income because of the decline in demand, and it dealt with that by routinely booking additional out-patient appointments in the knowledge that the PCT would pick up the bill. Such a situation added to the financial pressure.

No one has been held to account for the PCT’s overspend. Patients therefore perceive what has happened to be a direct result of the Government’s programme. I cannot emphasis enough that that is not the case. The responsibility for that overspend rests firmly with the PCT’s management. It is disappointing and bad for public confidence that no one has taken responsibility. Unless someone is held accountable, how can we ensure that our constituents regain confidence in the system and trust what we say? When we say that we are ring-fencing the NHS budget, that sounds pretty hollow to my constituents. I pay tribute to Andrew Pike, the newly appointed chief executive of the PCT. He has grasped the nettle and is making the necessary painful decisions to turn the situation around. The price of that is an accelerated programme of redundancies and carefully managed demand for services. That means patients are not getting seen as quickly as they would have done, and my constituents are not getting the same standard of service they would if they lived elsewhere. It also means that the new hospital planned for Grays is likely to be delayed as we fill the black hole, which will lead to much disappointment locally.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments on those issues. Too often, poor performance in the NHS goes unchallenged. While ever-senior NHS managers continue to draw hefty salaries, the least we can expect is that when things go wrong, someone steps up to the plate and takes responsibility. It is galling for members of staff to receive redundancy notices when the people who are responsible for that overspend remain on the NHS payroll. I hope that the Minister will take action to improve accountability among senior management because that will go a long way towards rebuilding confidence.

The hon. Member for Witham (Priti Patel) is to be congratulated on obtaining the debate. Many of my constituents move to Essex as a kind of upward trajectory, so I listened with great interest to what she had to say about a part of the world with which I am not as familiar as I probably should be. The week after the Lib Dems have turned savagely against the Conservative-led coalition’s health care policies—the British Medical Association is debating them today and, as we know, doctors are very worried about what is proposed—hon. Members will expect me to touch on the health reforms generally and how they will affect the people of Essex.

I listened with some sympathy to the complaints of the hon. Member for Witham about bureaucracy. As I have been a Member of Parliament for 20 years, I have tangled with more bureaucrats than I care to remember. However, I always like to stop short of sounding as if I am dismissing people who work for the health service as a whole. My mother was a nurse. She was one of that generation of West Indian women who helped to build the health service after the war. We have to remember that however frustrating it is as Members of Parliament or even as members of the community to deal with bureaucrats in the health service or elsewhere, there are thousands and thousands of people without whom the health service could not work or function. They will tell us that they have survived more reorganisations than they care to remember. They are still there, getting their heads down and trying to provide a service for our constituents.

The hon. Member for Witham made an important point about the proportion of elderly people in our population. We do not have time to deal with that matter fully, but people are living longer and they are suffering from ailments such as Alzheimer’s and other things. Elderly people make up an increasing proportion of the population. A few weeks ago, I went to a nursing conference and a senior nurse said to me that, when she was on the wards, the mean age of elderly patients was about 80. The mean age of elderly patients is now 90 or 100. Elderly people now pose very different problems from those that the elderly posed a few years ago. It is important that we consider the question of how we secure high-quality care—I am reminded of that awful ombudsman report that was published a few weeks ago—how we pay for it and how health care interconnects with the issues of public health and social care. I hope that we will have a chance to return to those matters.

I remind the hon. Lady that, despite her letters to bureaucrats and her undoubted frustrations on behalf of her constituents, when my party left office, satisfaction with the health service was the highest it has ever been. Hon. Members can say that the population was deluded on that, but I do not think that that is correct. We are talking about massive MORI polls. People’s satisfaction was higher than ever. There had also been massive levels of investment, not least in Essex. She will be aware of the new unit at Colchester general hospital, which includes an updated children’s ward. It is fully open and operational, and that £20 million project marks the biggest investment in the hospital’s facilities since it opened in 1985.

Apart from general frustration with bureaucracy, there are specific issues in relation to health care in Essex that are worth mentioning in this short debate. The hon. Lady mentioned Broomfield hospital. She will be aware that, just a few weeks ago, it was highlighted that although the hospital takes more than £1 million a year in car parking charges, its car parks still lose money because it is spending £1.2 million on running costs, including on CCTV, attendants and capital investment—they must be extremely well paid attendants. We also know that the hospital’s move into its £148 million PFI wing was delayed twice before finally opening in late 2010. The opening day was pushed back because staff were trapped in faulty lifts. We also know that the same hospital spent £400,000 on art for its new wing, which was commissioned as part of the development and funded through PFI. PFI is expensive enough—we may debate that at another time. To spend the money on art, when we know how ridiculously expensive PFI can be, seems quite strange.

There have been all sorts of care warnings about hospitals in Essex, such as Queen’s hospital in Romford. We know that the Romford project will be the first of a number of pilot reviews of PFI contracts to see if the costs can be brought down, and anyone who cares about the health service must welcome that. We know that the Braintree community hospital has defended itself after paying out nearly £20 million in damages for clinical negligence. If we are focusing on bureaucracy, we have to focus on how those things happen. We know that the Southend University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, with which hon. Members will be familiar, has had to respond to concerns about safety, which were raised by the Care Quality Commission. We know that the West Essex primary care trust risks not being able to give an 18-week referral-to-treatment time. We know that NHS South West Essex has a very large overspend—its deficit has been improved, but it still has an overspend—in relation not to bureaucrats, but to acute hospital activity.

We also know, which I find alarming, that the Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is now trying to make savings by allowing waiting lists to extend. That implies a 14-week wait on first appointment, which is why an hon. Member on the Government side said that, when ordinary residents and voters are told that money on the health service is being ring-fenced, it rings rather hollow. Up and down the country, not just in Essex, they can see waiting times lengthening, and new hospitals and new health care facilities that have been promised being delayed. It is for the Government, who have made much of their protection of health care spending, to explain that. The real issue is this. The hon. Member for Witham spoke glowingly about the reforms, but sadly I have news for her. She seems to believe that those reforms will help with the issues that she has raised. As she would know, however, if she had followed the Health Committee, there is a real challenge involved in trying to introduce those reforms, whatever we think of them, while at the same trying to achieve unprecedented savings in health care. The Health Committee doubts whether that can be done.

No one argues with the notion that GPs could have a lot to offer in the commissioning of care, but as the president of the Royal College of General Practitioners has said, there are other ways to do that without subjecting the health service to a top-down reorganisation. I do not want to be unpleasant, but the Government promised, all through their time in opposition, that they would not subject the health service to any top-down reorganisations.

Time is against me, because I want to give the Minister plenty of time to respond. That is what we were promised—no more top-down reorganisations. As for waste of money, one problem with letting all those PCT bureaucrats go is that they have to be paid redundancy. The hon. Lady said that she hopes that they will not be paid big redundancy packages. I am afraid that they will be, and many will be re-employed. GPs will be less accountable to patients and the danger that many people, including GPs, see is that the big American health maintenance organisations will be able to get inside and act as commissioners for GPs, who, after all, joined the health service to heal and not to be managers.

I feel sorry for Government Back Benchers. They believe that the issues that they find so challenging about bureaucracy, cuts and patient accountability will be solved by the reorganisation. I can say with complete confidence that, if anything, the reorganisation, which is too fast and at the wrong time, will make those problems worse. It gives me no pleasure to say that, but anyone who has analysed the so-called reforms can see that they are a car crash in slow motion.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Williams. I do not believe that I have had the pleasure before. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Witham (Priti Patel) on securing the debate. The fact that she has attracted so many of her fellow Essex MPs is a testament to the importance of the issue. The health services in any MP’s constituency are always of major concern and it is fantastic to have an opportunity to raise some of those issues in the Chamber.

I must add to the comments made about the staff in the NHS. The staff in Witham, and across Essex, should be congratulated on their work. I trained as a nurse, like the mother of the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), and worked in the NHS for 25 years. I understand, therefore, some of the complexities of their job, and their dedication and expertise in driving benefits for my hon. Friend’s constituents on a daily basis is valued greatly. As a Government, we want to ensure that we support all staff and give them the framework to provide the highest standards of care for everybody they treat.

Before I go further, the hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington need not feel sorry for Government Back Benchers at all. She does them a disservice by suggesting that they do not see the reforms for what they are. They are an opportunity, for the first time, to bring patients and their clinicians closer together in shaping the services that they need. She is right to say that the previous Government put untold investment into the NHS. Spending on health doubled, if not more, in the time that they were in government. It is important to realise, however, that just chucking money at services does not mean that they will get better—we need to have value for money. Taxpayers expect and deserve that, and for every pound of taxpayers’ money that goes in, £1-worth of services needs to come out at the other end, and that is central to the debate.

We have set out proposals to free the NHS from bureaucracy and central control. My hon. Friend the Member for Witham eloquently set out her concerns, as did a number of other hon. Members, about those levels of bureaucracy and about her constituents receiving the health care that they need, with the choices that they want and with the highest standards that they deserve. Like all members of the public, we want to end the overbearing top-down oppression and give front-line professionals the freedom to innovate and make decisions based on their clinical judgment and the needs of their patients, rather than centrally dictated, process-driven targets that have dogged the NHS in the past 13 years.

Responsibility for budgets and commissioning care will transfer from bureaucrats to consortia of clinicians, so that we can drive up the very highest standards of health care and achieve the highest outcomes that are specific to local communities. My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) raised the issue of inequalities in health. It is critical to have outcomes that are consistent for everybody, not just a few, and a much simplified system—without two layers of management, the strategic health authorities and PCTs—which is, actually, reorganised in a way that is less top-down and more bottom-up. Why are we doing that now? Now is the time to do that, because now is the time that we are determined to drive down the overall administrative costs to the NHS, and achieve a better dialogue and partnerships with health and care professionals in all sectors.

Pathfinder consortia are now in place across all five Essex PCTs, involving a total of 146 practices and serving a population of almost 1 million people. The Essex commissioning consortia pathfinder in the area of my hon. Friend the Member for Witham consists of seven practices and serves a population of 70,000—debates are often an opportunity to demonstrate that we know all about the figures. I understand that the Witham practices are in negotiations about forming a mid-Essex consortium.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West (Mr Amess) raised a point on funding. As part of our desire to improve the standard of NHS care up and down the country, we are consistently increasing the amount of money that we provide. Total revenue investment in the NHS in 2011-12 will grow to more than £102 billion a year. The allocations announced on 15 December will provide PCTs with £89 billion to spend on the local front-line services that matter most—that is an overall increase of £2.6 billion, or 3%. Of that, Essex will receive £519.6 million, which is a cash increase of 3.2% above the national average. From 2013-14, the NHS commissioning board will allocate the majority of NHS resources to consortia, and funding will be arranged so that every area gets its fair allocation, based on the burden of disease and disability, which, again, is a point that my hon. Friend raised. Details of that will be announced shortly.

My hon. Friend the Member for Witham discussed population growth and demographics, and the pressures that they will bring to bear. I am pleased that the county council is taking a proactive approach—that is the thing to do—to get ahead of the game and make improvements to public health. With an ageing population, it is critical that people stay healthier for longer.

On redundancy and staff, there is, in fact, a great deal of natural wastage in the NHS already, and there are schemes such as the mutually agreed resignation scheme, which is intended to help the process. To some extent, redundancy is dictated by legislation and locally agreed terms and conditions of service. Some good staff will move on to assist the consortia.

The clusters that my hon. Friend spoke about are an important part of the transition, gradually moving upwards through the PCT organisation. The new consortia come in at the bottom. I suggest that she arrange monthly meetings with the PCT because, clearly, there are many issues that she wants to raise, in particular individual cases. She discussed the problems of Mr Shipton and Mr Cross not receiving Sativex. Of course, that will change when we have consortia, and clinicians make commissioning decisions. That will change things, and it will increase the opportunities for patients and their families to affect decisions.

My hon. Friend spoke about the case of Mrs Wetherilt, which sounds absolutely dreadful—no one should have to battle away like that—and she has raised the case of Bethanie on several occasions with the PCT. I do not know the details of it, and, as she recognises, I cannot intervene, but it is important that systems work for people who have complex needs or diagnoses. It is critical that we get that right.

On that point, I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr Newmark) would have liked to mention the new community hospital in Braintree. It is a good example of a community hospital that serves the local community, which is what people want. I know that he campaigned long before the present Parliament on getting the right services for pregnant women who need maternity care.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend West has a long and distinguished career on the Health Committee. I could say that I learned everything I know at his knee. Having sat on the relevant Bill Committee, his frustration over the formation of the PCTs must at times be unbearable. Being a prophet of the unwelcome consequences of legislation is not necessarily any comfort, albeit it is to his credit. His comments about leadership are so important, and it is not just clinical leadership but leadership across the board. Something that does not often get a mention is political leadership. Politicians and people in government have to be clear, when they are talking about health services, that nothing but the highest standards and quality of care will do. We have to keep saying that and be unrepentant about doing so. What the Government can do is set the right framework and outcomes. We get what we ask for, and if we ask people to wait more than four hours in accident and emergency, that is what we will get. Whether or not that is measured does not necessarily determine whether anyone gets better. Therefore, the Government have to be clear about exactly what they want, and not chase headlines.

Linear accelerators: does not everyone want one? Everyone would like a linear accelerator. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Southend West is right in saying that we have to take the public with us when we make such decisions. “Consultation process” is a hackneyed phrase now. I do not think that anyone has much confidence in consultation processes. What we have to do, and what I feel we will be able to do through the health and well-being boards and the involvement of local authorities, is get a real and democratic voice for local people. I share my hon. Friend’s dislike of the term “stakeholder”. We are taxpayers; it is our money.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harlow discussed inequalities, and was right to say that they are a matter of social justice. For instance, it is outrageous that in Westminster there is a 17-year difference in mortality: people born in some parts of Westminster may live 17 years less than those born elsewhere in the borough—that is truly shocking.

My hon. Friend raised the issues of alcohol-related deaths and obesity, and discussed the fantastic work done by many local organisations. Again, health and well-being boards will be an opportunity to put public health right at the heart of local authorities, which have a long and proud history of improvements in public health and bringing together all the organisations that do so much.

My hon. Friend was also right to say that there is tremendous social capital in our communities. In my travels around the country—I try to get out a lot, for fear someone might say that I do not get out enough—I have been fascinated to find in some of the most deprived areas the greatest social capital, innovation and response from local communities to do something about their problems. They want a way out of poor health outcomes and the crime in their area, and their resourcefulness is outstanding.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) discussed variations between Thurrock and Basildon. She was right to say that they are completely unacceptable. We cannot interfere from the centre with appointments, but she was right to reiterate the need for first-class leadership, and it was good to hear her positive comments about the new chief executive. The organisations around the country that do well have good leadership, and it is not about driving a coach and horses through something, which is what I fear the previous Government tried to do. They tried to dictate from the centre and tell people what to do. Actually, what good leaders need is inspiration and enthusiasm. They need to gather people up along the way and have a clear vision of what everyone is working towards. Such skills are hard to define, but we recognise them when we see them. I hope that Essex will get the leadership that it clearly deserves, and for which all Members of Parliament in that area have been fighting.

I agree 100% with my hon. Friend on getting accountability right. As a constituency MP who has a PCT with one of the worst financial records in the country, I know that, sadly, it is the public who suffer as a result of poor management. We are determined to get accountability right. Again, that comes to setting the right outcomes.

I believe that GP consortia, health and well-being boards and public health in local authorities will result in the kind of joined-up planning that all Essex Members want, and that we will see the improvements in health care services and public health that we want. I have outlined some of the ways in which we intend to transform the delivery of services and ensure that, in the transition from the old system to the next one, we get a patient voice that is loud and clear, and that patients get the services and the care that they need and deserve.