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The right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who is the Labour party chairman and the Minister without Portfolio, owned up to the decline last week. He told the BBC that, although there had been improvements in some parts of the NHS,
The reality is that people are being forced into paying for treatment in the private sector by this Government, because they are told that they will have to wait, in pain, for months before they can be treated. If they thought that six months would mean six months, they might be prepared to wait, but they have no guarantee about that. Six months can run into 12 months, and a cancelled operation may push the treatment even further away.
Patients have nothing that they can depend on, so they turn to the private sector. Some of my constituents have spent their life savings on treatment. For example, Mr. Hickson, a widower from Timperley, could wait no longer for his hip replacement, and spent everything that he had saved for his retirement on private treatment.
Another constituent, Mrs. Mary Kyng, was in severe pain following a fracture and needed a hip replacement. She was told, not that she would be operated on in seven months, but that she faced a seven-month wait before she could have an operation, and that that would be "at the earliest". After enduring pain for several weeks, when she
Another constituent wrote to me recently asking whether he could go to Germany for his knee replacement operation. He was told that he would have to wait a minimum of 12 months to have the operation done here, but he has been informed by the hospital in Germany at which his nephew is an orthopaedic surgeon that he could have the operation there as early as this week but would need the NHS to cover the clinical costs.
It should be possible for patients to seek treatment either in the private sector or overseas if the NHS has failed to treat them within a reasonable time. Although the recent ruling in the European Court regarding patients' rights brought that closer to reality, in practice patients are being prevented from seeking treatment elsewhere because they have to wait for health trusts to authorise it. A lucky few on the south coast can benefit from Government pilot schemes, but that does nothing for my constituents or for those of most right hon. and hon. Members up and down the country.
The Government set great store by targets. They have put pressure on hospitals, health trusts and health authorities to make waiting lists appear shorter, sometimes by distorting clinical priorities. In some cases, patients with life- threatening conditions are denied urgent operations so that those with less serious but more easily treatable illnesses can jump the queue. Hospital managers have been discovered removing patients' names from official waiting lists so that their hospital appears to be meeting Government targets.
Secondly, my Bill would give clinicians the power to specify a maximum safe waiting time for a patient on clinical grounds. If the new maximum waiting time was too long for a particular patient, if the condition would deteriorate through waiting or if there was a real danger that a patient would die on the waiting list, the consultant could recommend a maximum safe time.
I am pleased to have the right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) as one of the distinguished sponsors of my Bill. He has given a great deal of thought to the matter and has led the way with his proposal for what he described as "NHS International", whereby British NHS patients could seek treatment overseas. Indeed, hospitals in Europe, reading his original articles on NHS international, believed that the scheme was up and running. Inquiries flooded in from European hospitals asking how soon they could treat NHS patients trapped on long waiting lists. I am sure that I am not the only Member who received inquiries from constituents who saw a ray of hope in the proposed scheme.
The right hon. Gentleman has expressed fears that the private sector may be more expensive than overseas hospitals. I believe that if my proposals were adopted, the result would be an increase in competition to which private sector prices would respond. In any case, at a time when the health budget has been underspent, the cost would appear to be less of a problem than the structural and capacity constraints of the NHS.
Power in the NHS has to shift from the bureaucrats to the patients. Patients must have a right to be treated within a guaranteed time, and that time must be based on clinical, not political, priorities. If the NHS fails to treat a patient within that time limit, it must foot the bill for overseas or private treatment.
The Government have pilot schemes for overseas treatment and allow a limited number of people to receive treatment in private hospitals, but they are not moving quickly enough and they are not going far enough. To relieve the burden on the NHS requires radical solutions now. My Bill could ease the anguish and suffering of tens of thousands of people who are waiting for treatment, and I commend it to the House.
Mr. Graham Brady accordingly presented a Bill to require the National Health Service to provide a patient with treatment in a private hospital or in a hospital outside the United Kingdom in certain circumstances; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 18 January, and to be printed [Bill 61].