Secretary of State for Health

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Commons Hansard
23 May 2007

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): No, I want to make some progress. Cuts have been made to mental health services in many parts of the country, including in my county of Norfolk. Public health initiatives have been cut.

Mr. Martlew: Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Norman Lamb: No, I shall not. Training budgets have been cut, with thousands of posts lost and newly qualified nurses unable to find work. Those are genuine cuts that affect patients and hit doctors' morale.

Mr. Martlew: Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point, then?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) has indicated that he will not give way. I also remind the House that time is ticking away and many hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. That should be borne in mind.


Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I was first elected a member of a health authority in 1974. In 1977 I was appointed chair of Cumbria health authority by a Labour Secretary of State, and in 1979 I was not reappointed by a Conservative Secretary of State. There was something honest about that. There were people chairing health authorities who supported the Government's views. Now I am afraid we have given that away. Now, the Healthcare Commission appoints retired civil servants. In my area it has just appointed a new primary care trust, not one of whose non-executive directors lives in a city or a town. They all live in a rural area, and I suspect that they all come from the middle class.

I do not think we have done very well in that regard, but I will say this. Since 1974, I have worked in one way or another - in the health authority or in Parliament - with every Secretary of State we have had, and I believe that the record of the Secretary of State we have today compares with that of the best of them.

Mr. Graham Stuart: You are joking!

Mr. Martlew: Certainly her record compares very well with that of the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell). I was a Member of Parliament during his time as Secretary of State.

I think the Secretary of State would agree that she has been greatly assisted by dedicated staff, and also by record funding from a Labour Government. As we have heard today, the NHS has been transformed. We have heard about the experience of patients, as opposed to that of politicians or the general public: we have heard that 90 per cent. are pleased with the treatment that they have received, which is excellent.

We have slashed waiting times. Members who have been here for a while will remember when their postbags were full of letters and their surgeries were full of walking sticks, because people were waiting for hip replacements or elective surgery. They were not waiting for 18 weeks or for 18 months; some were waiting for two or three years. As Members know, that does not happen any more. The hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr. Goodwill) is waving a piece of paper. I would like to think it was his resignation, but I suspect that it is not.

Deaths from cancer and coronary disease have declined, but it would be wrong of me to waste this short opportunity by saying that everything in the garden is rosy. Sorry, Rosie! I mean, I apologise to the Minister of State, Department of Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton).

Mistakes have been made. I happen to believe that the reorganisation of Cumbria PCT was wrong. It needed to be reorganised because it was ridiculous to have three PCTs for 40,000 people, but the creation of a unitary PCT for the whole of Cumbria was entirely wrong, because it has made the PCT too remote. I only hope that we do not make the same mistake in the local government reorganisation and end up with a unitary Cumbria.

At first there was great concern about clinics run by community action teams, but when we met the Minister of State he gave us assurances that the CATs would be tailor-made for rural areas like Cumbria, and would not take resources away. I hope that in the near future it will be announced not only that CATs will be complementary to services in Cumbria, but that one will be based at Cumberland Infirmary.

The out-of-hours service in my constituency is not satisfactory. We have an out-of-hours organisation called CueDoc, with a surgery at the top of the highest hill in Carlisle. As there is no public transport, I cannot imagine how the elderly and the sick manage to get there, especially in the middle of the night, but that could be altered.

However, let us compare that with how things used to be. My area had the first private finance initiative hospital in the country. I advise Members never to want to be the first at anything, because being at the cutting edge has its problems. My hospital had its problems, but they are being sorted out. However, the fact is that we had waited 40 years for that new hospital. The Conservatives cancelled it on four occasions. The previous hospital had been built a long time ago - during the time of Lloyd George - and the maternity service was dangerous because the district general hospital was three miles away from the maternity hospital and the consultants could not get to the maternity hospital and children were dying. That has now all been sorted out.

Finally, I shall talk about the dentistry service in Cumbria. In 2005, because of how NHS dentists felt about contracts, the vast majority of those in Carlisle opted out of the service. There were long queues in the streets of Carlisle - which was embarrassing and made the national news - as one dentist said that if people did not sign up immediately they would not get a dentist at all. Last week, it was revealed in The Cumberland News that we have provided 23,000 places for patients in Carlisle, and that there was no waiting list for dentistry there. When the Minister - my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central - visited and we went to a surgery, we came across people who had not been to a dentist for 10 or 15 years. Under the current Secretary of State, we have cured the problems of dentistry in north Cumbria, and they can be cured throughout the country.

That is not all that should be said on this matter. A headline in today's News and Star reads, "Smile! New dentists will treat extra 7,000". That is not about my constituency; it is a story about the market town of Penrith, where there will also be no waiting list.

It is wrong to say that the Secretary of State has failed. She has had a difficult task, but we are getting things right. One thing that we must do is ensure that the Conservatives never get another chance to decimate the NHS. They have never believed in it - they voted against it - and they still do not believe in it. Many of them do not even use it, so why should we trust them with it?

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB