Gummer unamused at choice claims

ALTHOUGH patient choice is the battlecry of both Labour and the Tories as they square up on the National Health Service, for a Suffolk MP the centralised cost of bureaucracy inflicted by the Government is having a key impact on the services being offered at one of the county's hospitals.

ALTHOUGH patient choice is the battlecry of both Labour and the Tories as they square up on the National Health Service, for a Suffolk MP the centralised cost of bureaucracy inflicted by the Government is having a key impact on the services being offered at one of the county's hospitals.

John Gummer (Conservative, Suffolk Coastal) intervened in a Commons debate to urge Health Secretary Dr John Reid to consider problems being faced at Ipswich Hospital.

Dr Reid had told MPs that the question of choice "goes much wider than hospitals. It is about giving people power. When it comes to decentralisation and targets, I want local decision making.

"Personalisation is about . . . accepting that there are groups in our society –ethnic minorities, working-class people and people from the north of England – who have suffered a widening gap in health outcomes over the past 60 years. We are committed to tackling those inequalities."


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This was too much for Mr Gummer, most of whose constituents who need emergency and elective treatment are admitted to Ipswich Hospital.

"Does the Secretary of State not accept that all waiting times are personal, as they affect individuals?

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"I failed to discover from his statement whether he could meet the considerable concern about the amount of bureaucracy, control from the centre, and the fact that people have to wait six months to get a hearing aid, would not have to raise private money to provide accommodation for children with diabetes in Ipswich Hospital, and would no longer have to wait all day on trolleys in hospital."

Dr Reid said he was changing the system so that patients had more power, choice and information. "Gradually, 80% of the money and 80% of the driving of the system will be controlled by patients themselves." But it would be "crazy" to drop all efficiency targets and put in £90bn into the NHS without any efficiency objections.

Mr Gummer said later that having raised with Dr Reid his concerns about Ipswich Hospital – trolley waits, children's diabetes, and hearing aids – the Health Secretary should now understand why people did not believe the Government's promises.

"Suffolk has had money siphoned from its health care and given to the north of England. Our people don't complain – perhaps it's time that families and individuals started making a fuss about under resourcing of the NHS in this county."

Dr Reid also failed to impress delegates to the British Medical Association's conference this week. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a London GP, said the Government's initiative was a "political scheme confined solely to elective surgery.

"It offers patients who have waited six months the choice of being treated in other units, and by December 2005 will offer patients the choice of four or five places for their operation. But while offering a semblance of choice to the one million awaiting elective surgery, this initiative offers no choice whatsoever to the 17 million patients with long-term illnesses, or those receiving cancer care,' he said.

Delegates voted for the motion that they supported choice for patients but believed the Patient Choice initiative did not deliver choice, was wasteful of NHS resources and was contributing to the "creeping privatisation of healthcare."

And Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy weighed in on Tuesday with a sideswipe at both Blair and Howard. "Without quality and capacity, choice is empty rhetoric. Our approach recognises that choice is only relevant when quality and capacity are enhanced so that choices become meaningful...

"When it comes to the public services, choice is just one element in the debate. We Liberal Democrats would say that there should be `choice for all.' But what I believe people really want is quality public services available locally, not false `choice.'"

MPs showed their support this week for the valuable work of Macmillan Cancer Relief – and about a dozen women took the opportunity to promote the Wear A Hat To Work campaign to help cancer patients.

They were sponsored to wear eye-catching headgear to Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday in a stunt arranged by Labour's Margaret Moran, an MP for Luton, historic home of Britain's millinery industry.

The Macmillan Cancer Relief Week Of Hats runs until July 4 during which many milliners will be making donations to the charity for each hat purchased and it is hoped the event will raise £25,000 for Macmillan's cancer care services.

Fortunately West Suffolk MP Richard Spring decided against wearing a nice little pink pill-box in the Commons but he did visit the charity's drop-in centre which was set up in the Palace of Westminster.

"I was delighted to meet Macmillan's London, Anglia and South East team and find out more about its work helping people with cancer in my constituency. Most of us have heard of Macmillan nurses, but the charity helps fund many other cancer care services including cancer treatment and information centres, health professionals like speech and language therapists, and carers' schemes to support the family and friends looking after a loved one," said Mr Spring.

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– President George W Bush

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