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Monday, January 11, 1999 Published at 17:49 GMT


Health

Dobson pledges action on beds and nurses

Frank Dobson blamed the Tories for the current NHS problems

Health Secretary Frank Dobson has promised action to tackle the current beds shortage and nursing recruitment crisis in the NHS.

NHS in crisis
Mr Dobson told the House of Commons on Monday that he would invest in more beds if a government survey showed there were too few to run an efficient service.

The beds survey will report back in the Spring.

A report published by the NHS Confederation last week puts bed shortages as the main reason for the flu crisis.


Frank Dobson: "The NHS has coped well"
Mr Dobson blamed the Tories for the state of the health service and said they had reduced the number of acute hospital beds by 40,000 and the number of general beds by 23,000.

He also promised:

  • A review of the Emergency Bed Service and the National Intensive Care Beds Register;
  • A review of child intensive care unit polices to ensure sick children could be transferred safely and promptly.

Better prepared


Ann Widdecombe: "This government has no magic wand"
He told the Commons the current pressure on the NHS, caused in part by the upsurge in flu cases, had been intense.

Some ambulance services had reported a doubling of patients requiring transfer to hospital.

He said: "The NHS is better prepared than ever before to cope with this illness and in most places most hospitals have coped well with the pressures they have faced."

Mr Dobson said the situation seemed to be easing, but warned an icy snap could easily increase demand for NHS services again.

"The NHS cannot be complacent, it is not complacent, and I am not," he said.

"I will not pretend that the NHS everywhere has coped as well as the public is entitled to expect. Such an increase in illness will always cause difficulties.

"But those difficulties have been made worse because of the serious underlying problems we have inherited."

Mr Dobson said under the Tories the NHS had been allowed to run down. There were serious staff shortages, equipment was old and unreliable and buildings were out of date.

The Tories had cut the number of nurse training places from 15,000 a year to around 13,000 a year, and put off many potential recruits by making nursing more academic, Mr Dobson said.

"The country is paying a heavy price for those years of Tory neglect," he said.

Mr Dobson said the government had already created thousands of new training places. It would now reform nurse training to ensure nurses had the practical skills required to work on a ward.

The career structure of nurses would also be reformed to create more flexibility and better job opportunities.

Government complacency


[ image: Ann Widdecombe said the government had no magic wand]
Ann Widdecombe said the government had no magic wand
Shadow Health Secretary Ann Widdecombe accused the government of complacency and said Mr Dobson's statement would not make the "slightest bit of difference" to people now waiting for treatment on trolleys in hospital corridors.

She said the government's "obsession" with driving down waiting lists had distorted clinical priorities and exacerbated the current crisis.

"Money for winter pressures in our health service is far too little and too late when it is issued in November," she said.

Miss Widdecombe called for a "slightly more mature debate" on the future of the health service.

Every government had struggled with the NHS, Miss Widdecombe said, and the Labour Party was wrong to pretend they had a magic wand to solve all the problems of the health service.

"Will he (Mr Dobson) admit the time has come for him to be a bit more humble in his approach?" she asked.



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