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2.23 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): As one of the Bill's supporters, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) on introducing it to the House and on being given the opportunity to start the debate. Obviously, the Bill in its present form is not the one that will end up on the statute book. However, it is part of the debate for which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has called and to which he contributed significantly in his recent announcement.

Let me say from the beginning that I have never used cannabis. I have no moral objection to its use; it is just one of those things. During my youth, I seemed to be completely untouched by drugs—and also, regrettably, by sex and alcohol. Subsequently, I have been able to make some progress in the latter two areas, but I have still not used cannabis. I make those remarks because we are considering a matter of personal freedoms for individuals. This is not special personal pleading on my part.

I first raised the issue of legalisation in the House more than 10 years ago. I remember the fallout—no one wanted even to discuss the proposal and it was made clear that it was not official Labour party policy. The Government of the time kept trying to make mischief by saying that it was our policy. It was a difficult time to raise the issue in the House, even if it was not necessarily difficult to raise it in the country. In the House, it was being treated as an issue of law and order rather than of personal freedom or health. I even tabled an early-day motion in 1993 calling for a royal commission to study the whole question of the law on cannabis.

I make those points because, as my hon. Friend said, a certain imperative is now driving this matter. Although the Home Secretary has made it clear that the Government are just carrying out a revision, I believe that we are progressing towards the full legalisation of cannabis. It is

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right to do so because it is a matter of personal freedom. It is the duty of Governments not to tell people what they should smoke—or, indeed, what they should sniff up their noses—but to intervene where third parties are affected by people's habits.

Mr. Rosindell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Banks: No, I am not giving way.

As my hon. Friend said in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Rosindell), there is no suggestion that people should be encouraged to smoke cannabis. I have never taken cannabis and have not the slightest intention of doing so because I do not want to inhale anything into my lungs. I do not smoke cigarettes either. As for the impact of cannabis as a drug, nicotine and the smoking of cigarettes is far more harmful. Given the impact on the health of individuals who use cannabis compared with that on the health of those who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol, there is no sense whatever in maintaining a law against the use of cannabis. My hon. Friend mentioned the plight of one of his constituents. Doctors can prescribe all sorts of drugs but cannot prescribe cannabis as a means of pain abatement. What nonsense.

What is happening on the ground is also nonsense. If one is waging a war against something—in this case it is a war against drugs—and not winning, the generals should call a halt and re-examine the strategy and tactics. To continue to proceed with them makes no sense. I am glad that the Conservative Opposition are examining their policy in respect of drugs and that a number of prominent Conservative Members have bravely spoken out. We are now having a proper debate and the taboos are dropping away. Once again, Parliament is falling into line with what is practised outside of this place, which makes a great deal of sense.

As I said earlier, what is happening on the ground is that the police are rewriting the law themselves, so that it is being applied differentially throughout the country.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East): Is it not significant that probation officers, at their conference last week, changed tack from decriminalisation of just cannabis to decriminalisation of all drugs? They are the people in closest contact with the criminal elements.

Mr. Banks: Precisely, because they are charged with carrying out the laws of the land. It is not just a question

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of Members of Parliament passing laws in this place; we must ensure that the resources are there to enforce the law and that the law itself is enforceable and has not been turned into nonsense.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central should proceed as firmly as he possibly can with his measure. It will not make the progress today that it merits, but this is part of a process which I firmly believe will eventually lead to the full legalisation of cannabis.

Mr. Rosindell: The hon. Gentleman talks about personal freedom. Will he examine what personal freedom is left for those who lose their lives through drug-taking and whose families lose a loved one? Does he accept that the taking of cannabis can lead to the taking of other drugs, which can devastate people's lives?

Mr. Banks: Let me answer the last point. The rationale of what the hon. Gentleman has just said can equally be translated into saying that if someone has a dry sherry—the hon. Gentleman looks rather acetic, so perhaps he has done so in the past—that will lead to the individual becoming a total alcoholic. It does not work like that with alcohol and it would not work like that with drugs.

I commend the Bill to the House.

2.29 pm

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): My hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) has not given due weight to the Home Secretary's announcement in a Select Committee meeting only a few days ago. It suggests a new approach—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 25 January.

Remaining Private Member's Bill


Read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).

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Mrs. Mary Kelly

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

2.30 pm

Helen Jones (Warrington, North): I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the case of my constituent, the late Mrs. Mary Kelly, and the treatment that she received at Whiston hospital. I take no pleasure in doing that because it is very distressing. However, I owe it to Mrs. Kelly and her family to outline the appalling treatment that she received at Whiston, and the cavalier way in which the hospital dealt with complaints about it.

I raise the matter at the request of Mrs. Kelly's family and because I believe that the case gives rise to serious anxieties about some of the operations at the hospital. I do not believe that the hospital has learned lessons from the case or that it is making any attempts to learn them. It is the earnest wish of Mrs. Kelly's family that those lessons are learned so that no one else has to suffer in the same way. I pay tribute to the late Mrs. Kelly's husband, her son and her daughter-in-law, who have said that that is their only motivation for raising the matter. Their conduct has been exemplary throughout, and I hope that outlining what happened to Mrs. Kelly will prevent another family from undergoing the same experience.

Mrs. Kelly first saw her general practitioner in April 1998 because she was experiencing chest pains. She was referred to Dr. Ball, a cardiac consultant at Whiston hospital. She met the first obstacle when she was told that there was a 12-month wait even to be seen. She paid for a private consultation, and it will be no surprise to my hon. Friend the Minister that the same consultant who could not see Mrs. Kelly at Whiston hospital was able to see her quickly at a private hospital. That is one of the best arguments for reconsidering consultants' contracts.

After paying for a consultation, Mrs. Kelly was seen again at Whiston hospital where she underwent an ECG in November 1998. The case then began to get complicated. After the ECG, Mrs. Kelly was referred for an angiogram but she and her family believed that she was waiting for surgery. I appreciate that some confusion might arise because angiograms are often described by medical staff as a "surgical procedure". I know the Kelly family; they are intelligent and sensible people. The confusion therefore suggests that communication at Whiston was poor from the beginning.

The problem was compounded by the fact that when Mrs. Kelly rang to ask for the date of the operation, she was always given the standard answer that the wait was 18 months. No one bothered to check what she was waiting for or to explain the position to her. She was an elderly lady, who did not like to make a fuss and so she went on waiting. While she waited, her family saw her transformed from being an outgoing, lively person.

Mrs. Kelly also suffered from osteo-arthritis. She experienced severe chest pains on several occasions and she began to deteriorate. Once she went to the accident and emergency department at Whiston hospital because she was in so much pain, and her family told me that she waited from 5.30 pm until 2.45 am before she was admitted to a ward. During most of that time she was left by herself on a chair in a corner of the A and E department.

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That is absolutely appalling. Friends who have worked in A and E tell me that those suffering from chest pains are always a priority, and one of the key procedures is to calm and reassure the patient. Mrs. Kelly was not calmed and reassured by being stuck on a chair in the corner of a busy A and E department on a Saturday night with all the problems that we know such departments are subject to at such times. She was so distressed that on three or four subsequent occasions when she suffered severe pain she refused to go back to Whiston. Ironically, had she done so, she may have increased her priority for the procedures that she was waiting for, but the system worked against her from the beginning.

Mrs. Kelly waited, and while she did so she continued to get worse until she finally had her angiogram in April 2000—two years after she first raised the problem with her GP. Only then was she placed on the waiting list for surgery. It was hoped that she would be operated on within three to four months, but she was not.

Mrs. Kelly went on waiting, and while she was waiting the hospital discovered that she was also in need of an urgent hip operation. Of course, that could not be done until she had had cardiac surgery. It should have increased her priority for that cardiac surgery, but it did not, and the reasons why are hard to discover. The hospital told the family at a meeting in January this year that it was because the rheumatology department had not communicated with the cardiac department.

When the hospital wrote to me on 30 March, it said that it had unified case notes, and that the relevant rheumatological correspondence was available to doctors in the cardiac department. Which was it? Either the two departments did not communicate, or if they did, it did not make any difference.

Mrs. Kelly still waited, often in acute pain. She sometimes suffered vomiting and stomach pains because of the combination of different drugs she was taking for her various conditions. She was admitted to hospital again in August last year. She was issued with a wheelchair, and a once lively, outgoing person became almost completely housebound. She died on 7 October last year, still waiting for her operation.

Mrs. Kelly's case is most distressing. It is the worst that I have encountered since I came into Parliament. It was compounded by the fact that when complaints were made about her case it was difficult to get the management at Whiston to take them seriously. Only Mike Murphy, who became the acting chairman of the trust for a time while this was going on, tried to resolve these complaints, and I pay tribute to him for his efforts.

When Mrs. Kelly's son contacted me in August last year, I wrote to the hospital on 25 August, having followed my usual practice, which most hon. Members follow, of checking first with Mrs. Kelly to see whether she wanted me to take up her case. I received an acknowledgement from the chief executive dated 30 August, and then nothing until 29 September, when I was told that the hospital needed Mrs. Kelly's permission to correspond with me. I understand the need to be cautious in dealing with clinical information, but every other hospital I have ever communicated with knows that MPs do not take up cases unless they are asked to do so, and that in doing so there is implied permission for the hospital to discuss the case.

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We still heard nothing, so my office wrote again on 26 October informing Whiston hospital that Mrs. Kelly had died and asking for a reply. We still had no reply, and we wrote again on 6 November. On the same day, my staff rang the chief executive to tell the hospital once again that Mrs. Kelly had died. There was still nothing until 10 November, when we received a fax, which, by a strange coincidence, was a copy of a letter dated 6 November. That letter is instructive about the way in which Whiston hospital was dealing with complaints. I should like to give the House a flavour of that letter. In fact, it was so distressing that at the time I did not dare show it to Mrs. Kelly's family. It said:

It went on to give the standards paragraphs telling me that I had the right to an independent review. Of course, those standard paragraphs are given to a patient who complains, not to a Member of Parliament. The letter was signed by the chief executive, and if that response is sent to a Member of Parliament, I shudder to think what other members of the public receive when they complain.

Since then, there has been much correspondence. Indeed, the regional office of the NHS carried out a review into the complaints, and it sent me a copy, which arrived yesterday—presumably, after I had applied for this Adjournment debate. Meetings between representatives of the hospital and the family have also taken place, but Whiston hospital has still failed to address the real issues in the case, and I hope that my hon. Friend will deal with them in her reply.

Why did Mrs. Kelly wait so long for an angiogram even when she was presenting with increased symptoms during that time? Why did she wait so long in A and E? What is the hospital doing to address the problems there? Why does there seem to be no proper communication between departments treating people in the same hospital? I have seen no attempt to address those problems in all the correspondence that I have received. Indeed, I am forced to conclude that the hospital is concerned with spin rather than substance. Believe it or not, the hospital employs someone called a patient and public relations manager. I do not want hospitals to be concerned with public relations—they are there to treat sick people, but Whiston hospital significantly failed to do so on that occasion.

When I asked why Mrs. Kelly was not told she was on the waiting list for surgery when she rang the hospital, I was given the answer that

First, that was not what she was told and, secondly, I could describe the answer using a completely unparliamentary expression, which I would not be allowed to use here.

I asked what priority Mrs. Kelly was given for her angiogram, and I was told:

But Mrs. Kelly was not routine; she was presenting with further symptoms as time went on.

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The trust has no intention of addressing those problems. Even in its response to the review of its complaints procedure, in which 12 recommendations for change were made, the chief executive said that the investigation had found that the trust had satisfactory complaints procedures. Well, if the complaints procedures are satisfactory, I am Dutch! They are certainly not satisfactory.

The tragedy is that the NHS is not like that in most of its manifestations. Recently, two of my very good friends, one of whom my hon. Friend the Minister will know, have been treated for life-threatening conditions in the NHS. They could not have received better treatment or better care. What has happened is not a failure of the NHS; it is failure of the management at that hospital and a complete failure of its communications procedures.

Ironically, yesterday, another report on the hospital was published, dealing with the Michael Abram case. In that report, too, it is clear that the communication and record keeping was not of a sufficiently high standard and that, in many cases, procedures were not followed. That is exactly the same problem, but it will be of no comfort to the Kelly family if those problems are allowed to continue. The problems and the management of the hospital need to be addressed urgently.

The Kelly family believed in the NHS, and they still do. Mr. and Mrs. Kelly worked hard all their lives. They paid their taxes, paid their dues and made no claim on the welfare state. The remaining members of the family have to live with the uncertainty of not knowing whether Mrs. Kelly would be alive today if the hospital had treated her better.

The hospital let her down from the moment when she walked through the door, and continued to let her down even after she was dead. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will ensure that it will not be allowed to let down other people, and other families, in the same way.

This hospital must learn the lessons of what has happened, and it must put things right. So far, it has shown no intention of doing so. I hope that the Department will ensure that it does in future, so that there are no more cases like that of Mrs. Kelly.

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