Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Health in West Cumbria

There was an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on Monday of this week about NHS Services in West Cumbria.

Adjournment debates provide a half hour slot for a backbench MP to raise with a minister an issue of concern to him or her, usually something affecting the welfare of people in the constituency he or she represents. Time is strictly limited: the form is that someone proposes “That this house do now adjourn,” then the MP or MPs raising the debate gets 15 minutes to explain what they are worried about, and the relevant minister gets 15 minutes to reply. Then the motion is carried and everyone goes home.

I was pleased to learn that one of these debates had been allocated to discuss the serious problems affecting healthcare in West Cumbria and looked up Hansard (the record of everything said in parliament) the following day to see what came up in the debate.

This was a valuable opportunity for the MP for Copeland to raise the many concerns affecting health in the constituency. The one thing I can say to his credit about the way he used this time is that he showed a much less complacent attitude than he did during the election – at least now he recognised some of the problems which he dismissed in April, as when he claimed that there is no threat whatsoever to West Cumberland Hospital.

Sadly however, Mr Reed wasted some of the time he could and should have used to spell out more of the problems affecting health in Cumbria by making untrue comments about my election campaign !

During the run up to the election I and my colleagues collected signatures on petitions to support local hospitals, stressed at every stage that we wanted to support services at West Cumberland Hospital and Millom Community Hospital, and attended public meetings supporting those hospitals. We set out clear policies for better dental care and to fight hospital acquired infections such as MRSA. We brought the shadow Health secretary, Andrew Lansley, to West Cumberland Hospital. Our policy was to switch resources from administration, the bureaucracy needed to support the government’s 400 health targets, and bodies such as the Strategic Health Authority into front-line services for patients. Every penny we wanted to save on NHS administration would have been ring fenced and ploughed back into health care.

Despite the fact that Copeland Conservatives have strongly supported local NHS services both before and since the election, Copeland’s Labour MP had the cheek to claim that we had campaigned to cut health spending. Now it would have been one thing for Labour to offer another opinion about whether our policies would have worked, but it was totally dishonest to claim that we were campaigning to cut health spending. This is the sort of disreputable smear tactics which gets politics and public service a bad name.

I was very pleased by election of David Cameron yesterday as Conservative leader, and one of the many things which I welcome in his statesmanlike acceptance speech was the wish to move away from playground yah-boo-sucks childishness. As he put it

“I'm fed up with the Punch and Judy politics of Westminster, the name calling, backbiting, point scoring, finger pointing.”

Exactly, and making false claims about what your opponents stand for is not something which should have any place in grown-up, modern politics. So let me suggest what would have been a better use for the parliamentary time which Jamie Reed spent doing so: he could instead have raised another concern about health care in Cumbria which was not covered in Monday’s debate and which I have not yet seen mentioned anywhere in the press, but which deserves attention.

One of the potential side-effects of Diabetes is blindness. It is a good idea for diabetics to get their eyes checked regularly: if eye damage starts to develop as a result of the disease and is not caught at an early stage, it is not always reversible.

For this reason, until now sufferers from Diabetes have been exempt from the £10 charge for eye tests. However, this facility is being withdrawn from at least some patients in Cumbria with effect from 1st February 2006.

On the same day as the Adjournment debate, I was shown a letter which was recently sent to a diabetic in West Cumbria by her optician, advising that eye tests for sufferers from diabetes on or after 1st February 2006 will cease to be free. The letter strongly advised her to make an eye test for an appointment before the end of January.

So if anyone reading suffers from diabetes, or knows someone in your family who does, and has not recently had an eye check, I strongly advise you to contact your optician urgently and check whether this applies to you: if it does you need to make an appointment quickly so that you can you be seen before the charges come in at the beginning of February.

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