Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I agree with what my hon. Friend is saying. Does he, like me, welcome the Healthcare Commission's report, because of which we actually know what the situation is now? However, the problem is that we do not know what we are comparing it with, because this sort of survey was never done before. The real answer will tell us whether it has improved next time.
Harry Cohen: I hear my hon. Friend's point. That will be a factor, but I do not think that it is the only factor, because the report clearly shows a service that is under strain and that a significant number of trusts, including in the capital, appear to be underperforming and are below the approved standard. The Healthcare Commission review stands on its own in the present as well as being a factor for the future.
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Harry Cohen) on initiating the debate and on the quality of his speech. We sometimes forget - we should say this because there will be women watching the debate who are anxious - that the United Kingdom is one of the safest countries in the world in which to give birth.
The point that I want to make is that things can change. Hon. Members have been going on about the problems in their constituencies and I can understand that. I made a similar speech about 15 years ago. In Carlisle, the maternity hospital was on the site of the old workhouse. The consultants worked at the district general hospital 2 miles away and they had to travel through congested streets if there was an emergency. An independent inquiry at that time concluded that, because of the facilities and the split site, babies were dying. I brought that point to the attention of the House. I shall not go into the politics of it and which Government were responsible; in fact, probably both Governments - Harold Wilson's Government and the previous Conservative Government - take some of the responsibility.
However, the situation is transformed. We had the first private finance initiative hospital in Carlisle. I can tell the Minister that that was not without its problems - one never wants to be at the cutting edge on such matters. One of the advantages of the new hospital was that we got rid of the split site and provided an excellent maternity facility with birthing rooms for mothers. The Healthcare Commission now says that the quality of maternity care in the North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust area is excellent; in fact, it is the third best in the north of England. Dr. Gwyneth Lewis, the medical lead in maternity services, has been to the area recently, and she said that the service is exemplary.
There are problems with the service, but I cannot understand why Members say that we should have a uniform NHS. It will never be that way because provision depends partly on the quality of staff and buildings, for example. We need to bring standards up everywhere. Obviously, Cumbria is a rural county. We have community midwifery services from the north at Brampton down to Millom in the south, and another excellent maternity unit at West Cumberland hospital. Those things have been achieved because of the commitment of the staff in Cumbria, and not only the maternity unit staff. I should like to place on the record my appreciation to the work force in Cumbria, and to the Government, who provided the investment so that we could move forward.
Hopefully, I shall be going to the maternity unit on Friday to congratulate the staff on their good work. I am sure that the Minister will agree that they should be congratulated.
The full maternity debate may be read http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmhansrd/cm080130/halltext/80130h0001.htm#08013060000001
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