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Front-line Services

Volume 527: debated on Tuesday 26 April 2011

We are increasing funding for the NHS in each year of this Parliament, amounting to an increase of £11.5 billion over its course. Over the next few years, planned improvements in the efficiency of use of NHS resources, increasingly led by front-line staff, will support modernisation of the NHS to respond to rising demand and new technologies. Not least, we are cutting administration costs across the system by one third, saving £1.7 billion a year, every penny of which will be available for reinvestment in front-line services.

Will the Secretary of State join me in praising the work of chief executive, Glen Burley, and the excellent team of health professionals at Warwick hospital, who are improving community care while seeking to reduce management costs? Will the Secretary of State also take the opportunity to visit Warwick hospital to discuss how those things can be done at local level?

I am glad to endorse my hon. Friend’s congratulations to the staff and team at Warwick hospital. I hope to have an opportunity to visit that hospital at some future date. Across the NHS, we are setting out not least to increase productivity and efficiency, stimulate innovation, reduce administration costs and put more decision-making responsibility into the hands of those who care for patients, which the Labour party failed to do.

How can the Secretary of State convince people that he is protecting front-line services when a flagship Bill such as the Health and Social Care Bill is in such disarray? While he is pausing and listening and reflecting on that Bill, will he also consider whether the House will have a further opportunity to consider his reflections, because we are through the Committee stage? Will there be another Committee?

The hon. Gentleman misses the point that what matters to the public is the quality of services that are provided to them. When he asked his question, he might have reflected on the simple fact that the Labour party told us before the spending review to cut the budget of the NHS. We refused to do that, which means that this financial year, £2.9 billion more will be available for the NHS to spend than it spent last year.

A crucial front-line service is the provision of stroke care. Can the Secretary of State confirm that under his proposed reforms, local clinical practitioners will have much more influence over the location of those stroke services than in the current situation, when management can make somewhat arbitrary changes?

Yes, I can confirm that. We are looking for commissioning consortia not only to lead from a primary care perspective on behalf of patients, but to work on commissioning services with their specialist colleagues. Of course, the stroke research network has formed a strong basis upon which such commissioning activity can take place.

There have been many improvements in stroke care. Over the last year, we have seen a significant improvement in performance in relation to responses to transient ischaemic attack, and I hope we continue to see improvements in future.

Last year, the Prime Minister made a very clear pledge to protect front-line NHS services. Will the Secretary of State confirm that in the run-up to next year’s Olympics, which will bring around 1 million extra people to the capital, the London ambulance service is cutting 560 front-line staff? Will the Secretary of State also confirm that nationally, A and E waits of more than four hours are up 65%, that the number of patients waiting more than six weeks for their cancer test has doubled, and that more patients are waiting for longer than 18 weeks than at any time in the last two years? Will he now admit that the Prime Minister’s pledge to protect front-line care is unravelling even faster than the Secretary of State’s chaotic Health and Social Care Bill?

There were three questions there, but I know that the Secretary of State will provide a characteristically succinct reply.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. None of those questions reminded the House that the Labour party wanted to cut the budget of the NHS, nor that in Wales, a Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government are cutting the NHS budget in real terms—there is no increase at all.

Let me tell the hon. Lady that waiting times in the NHS are, on average, nine weeks for patients who are admitted and three and a half weeks for those who are not admitted. That is broadly stable.

The hon. Lady will know that the chief executive of the London ambulance service, Peter Bradley, has made it clear that the ambulance service, like the NHS, needs to maintain front-line services while continually improving efficiency. That will happen in the ambulance service and it will happen right across the NHS.