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National Health Service (Improved Provision Of Services)

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1987

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4.29 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require improved provision of services in all aspects of the National Health Service.

If the Prime Minister's husband had cancer, would she see him die because the local hospital had overspent its quota for operations? If the Prime Minister had a grandchild who needed a heart operation, would she see that child turned away again and again because of the shortage of trained nurses? Heaven forbid. The Prime Minister would not want any such tragedies in her family, and neither would I in mine. I do not want them to occur in anyone's family.

The undeniable fact is that, in the Prime Minister's Britain, such tragedies are happening every day. Every day in our public hospitals more beds are lost, more nurses leave their jobs and more people suffer and die unnecessarily. Those people may be statistics, but they are also flesh and blood. Therefore, I have not come here today to bandy statistics—who believes them anyway?

Like a clockwork parrot, the Prime Minister squawks away, "We spend more; we have spent more. We, we, me, me." Who believes that? From every corner of the country and every level of the health profession comes the same lament — "The hospital service is in crisis." Even Conservative Members say so. It is in total crisis, but from Downing street the parrot simply screeches louder, "We are giving more, more, more." The offering of peanuts this afternoon is totally insufficient to meet the crisis.

The Prime Minister is not deaf. She knows exactly what the doctors, nurses and hospital administrators are so desperately trying to tell her. She knows perfectly well that our hospitals will be lucky to survive the winter without more shameful tragedies. Of course, they would not be the Prime Minister's personal tragedies, because people like her buy their urgent hospital treatment. However, they are tragedies all the same. They are the tragedies of those people who are too poor to jump queues, who are not quite rich enough to avoid the effects of Government policy. I repeat those words "Government policy" because in my opinion the current crisis in our hospitals has been deliberately created as an act of policy. Health care is being deliberately squeezed, purposely run down to undermine public support for the principle of the National Health Service itself.

Just after the second world war, Sir Winston Churchill implied that the Labour party's creation of the welfare state and the National Health Service would be the first step down the road to the concentration camps. "How absurd", one might think, "how paranoid", in the light of the vast public health achievements of the past 40 years. Yet deep in her heart, the Prime Minister still believes that, because she distrusts the whole philosophy behind our present hospital service. She loathes the very idea of collective provision for individual need, provided free at the point of that need and paid for, collectively, through taxation, graded to individual wealth. That is still the governing principle of the Health Service, and judging by all measurable evidence it is still the overwhelming preference of the British people.

However, it is anathema to the Prime Minister. If she is indeed determined to dismantle the whole structure of post-war social provision as she sees it, why should the Health Service be exempt? In fact, would not our hospitals be the most crucial target as they most nearly fulfil, in Britain, the hated "Socialist" ideal?

Make no mistake — the National Health Service is not safe in the Prime Minister's hands, because she is philosophically committed to its destruction. The early phases of that destruction are what we see today —hospital closures, ward closures, staff losses, inadequate funding and "industrial-style" management—all leading to lower standards of patient care, all calculated to ensure that the only people who believe that the National Health Service gives good value for money are those who can afford private care. It has all been consciously orchestrated to sap the nation's faith in community provision and is aimed ultimately at privatisation and handing over health care to private profiteers on the American model, with a two-tier system of health provision and with double standards: one for the rich and fortunate who can pay, and one for the unfortunate who cannot, who can be turned away from hospitals when they have got behind with their insurance payments.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Order. I am listening to the hon. Lady's submission, which I think will shortly come to an end.

We should not forget the old man with cancer or the little grandchild with a hole in his heart. In future, are their life chances to depend solely on cash—not on compassion or on the caring instinct, collectively expressed, but purely on the ability to pay? Heaven forbid. Indeed, heaven forbid that a grandchild of the Prime Minister, or mine, or anyone else's, should ever be weighed on the shameful scales of payment or pain. It would be shameful if the relief of pain and suffering were ever again a matter of politics in this country. However, without doubt, we are already on that slippery slope towards the politicisation of pain.

If I am wrong, let the Prime Minister deny it. Let her come to this House—

Order. I think I anticipate the point of order. The hon. Lady must tell the House what she wants her Bill to do.

How does the Prime Minister see our hospital and family doctor services developing, or otherwise, for the rest of the century? What exactly is the Thatcherite vision of the 21st century? In the current crisis, the British people are entitled to know what the cuts and the chaos are about. People have a right to know where the different parties stand on the central philosophical issue facing British society. Opposition Members have no hesitation in saying where we stand. We stand where we have stood for the past few decades and more. We stand for the elimination of waiting lists, charges and understaffing. We stand for adequate resources, adequate pay and adequate public provision—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With respect to the hon. Lady, is it in order for an hon. Member introducing a Bill to go on and on without mentioning the Bill?

I have already given that hint to the hon. Lady. I am listening carefully to what she is saying. I should like to hear her say what her Bill will do.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, when the hon. Gentleman interrupted me that is what I was trying to say.

The Bill is about sufficiently improving services covering all aspects of health care—this is what I was saying when the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jesse]) deliberately misheard me — to eliminate all waiting lists; provide sufficient resources to meet the ideals and practical requirements of the system; eliminate all charges, again to meet the ideals of the service; introduce an adequate programme of preventive health care, including provision for the training of staff, publicity and general education; end the exploitation of staff which is, at the moment, rampant in our Health Service and provide adequate rates of pay for those staff; introduce a realistic and enforceable grievance procedure for patients, to be provided by an ombudsman with real powers; introduce a democratic form of management as a matter of priority.

The National Health Service is being run down. I defy any Conservative Member to vote against the Bill unless he can put his clear alternatives to the House and the country. Why is the National Health Service being run down? If it is to disappear, how will it be replaced? Let the Prime Minister come to the House and answer that straight and simple question, not with figures or squawking like a parrot, but with philosophy. Let us see and hear the quality of the Prime Minister's care and compassion. Let this small Bill be the beginning of a great national debate on the most important social institution, the National Health Service, once a matter of great national pride but now, although it hurts me grievously to say so — [Interruption] I am absolutely—[Interruption.]

What is happening at the moment is a disgrace that the nation should take to heart. Let the Prime Minister come here to tell us what she has in store for the National Health Service in the 21st century; we have our vision and we want to know the Government's.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. Alan Meale, Mr. John Battle, Mr. Dave Nellist, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Ms. Dawn Primarolo, Mrs. Audrey Wise., Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Eric Illsley, Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Max Madden, and Ms. Mildred Gordon.

National Heath Service (Improved Provision Of Services)

Mrs. Alice Mahon accordingly presented a Bill to require improved provision of services in all aspects of the National Health Service: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 15 January and to be printed. [Bill 72.]

We have a heavy day ahead of us. Is it a matter that I can genuinely answer?

Mr. Speaker, will you confirm to the House that on ten-minute Bills it is the normal practice that people listen in silence to the presentation of such a Bill and do not interrupt with points of order? It is particularly deplorable for Conservative Members to interrupt a ten-minute Bill, when the purpose of the Bill is quite clearly stated on the Order Paper. People often present Bills which are difficult to understand, but on this occasion it was specifically set out on the Order Paper. It is deplorable that hon. Members should interrupt a speech on a ten-minute Bill, which by tradition should not be interrupted.

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said, but he will have heard what I said to the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon)—that, in making an application to bring in a Bill, it is necessary to describe what the Bill contains. That is all I was seeking to elucidate from the hon. Lady.