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Minister replies with 'propaganda' to Leicester MP question... and gets told off by speaker

February 24, 2005 7:41 PM

In an extraordinary scene on Tuesday, the Secretary of State for Health was warned by the Speaker of the House, to desist from raising 'propaganda issues' when replying to other Members questions. Business of the House of Commons came to halt during Oral Health Questions, when the Minister failed to answer a question put to him by Parmjit Singh Gill, Member of Parliament for Leicester South. The Minister was cut off by the Speaker and forced to sit down when he continued to list unrelated statistics.

The Speaker interrupted once it was clear the Minister had gone completely off subject.

Parmjit Asked:

§ When will his Department publish waiting time lists for all Cancer treatments?

The Minister Replied:

§ His Department published waiting time lists for referrals (not treatment!) for people with suspected cancer.

§ The Ministers only hint towards cancer treatment was that the current situation for cancer treatment 'did not represent perfection'.

Parmjit raised concerns over waiting times for people requiring cancer treatment following the publication of a report last year by the Royal College of Radiologists. Worryingly, they found that waiting times for cancer treatment had got longer across the country. The report concluded:

"Waiting times have increased since 1998"

("Re-Audit of Radio Therapy Waiting Times 2003", RCR)

DESPITE REPEATED CALLS FOR THE DEPARTMENT FOR HEALTH TO PUBLISH WAITING TIMES FOR ALL CANCER TREATMENTS, THEY HAVE REPEATEDLY REFUSED.

Commenting, Parmjit said:

"With a growing body of evidence indicating that waiting times for cancer treatment are getting longer, it's crazy the department responsible for health continues to refuse to publish these figures.

"The public have a right to know what the current situation is but they are being deliberately kept in the dark.

"I sincerely hope the Minister will change his mind and publish the information relating to treatment waiting times."

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

1. The story has received National coverage:

a. Speaker criticises the health secretary

The Speaker, Michael Martin, slapped down the health secretary, John Reid, for responding to questions from MPs with long-winded "propaganda". Mr Reid replied to a question from the Lib Dem Parmjit Singh Gill on cancer waiting times with a long list of government achievements in tackling the disease.

Mr Martin, who earlier warned ministers to keep their answers brief, said: "I'm going to say that the propaganda issues are going to stop at health questions." (The Guardian, 23.02.05) www.politics.guardian.co.uk/commons/story/0,9061,1423412,00.html

b. Speaker Warns Reid to Stop Spewing 'Propaganda'

Speaker Michael Martin today slapped down Health Secretary John Reid for responding to questions from MPs with long-winded "propaganda".

Mr Reid replied to a question from Lib Dem Parmjit Singh Gill (Leicester South) on cancer waiting times with a long list of Government achievements in tackling the disease. (The Scotsman 22.02.05) www.news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=4164487

2. The full record of what was said can be found in the Official Record of the House of Commons (Hansard):

Mr. Parmjit Singh Gill (Leicester, South) (LD): What assessment he has made of waiting times for cancer treatment. [216978]

The Secretary of State for Health (Dr. John Reid): In 1997, 63 per cent. of people with suspected cancer were seen by a specialist within two weeks of urgent referral by their GP; today, that figure is more than 99 per cent. Treatment for certain types of cancer-breast cancer, for example-is now provided quicker than ever before. Some 97 per cent. of women start treatment within two months of an urgent GP referral. We are now ensuring that, through improved diagnostic and treatment services, this standard will soon be reached for all cancer patients.

Mr. Gill: A Royal College of Radiologists report published last year found that waiting times for treatment had actually increased across the country. Ministers often cite the two-week wait for diagnosis, but it is still difficult to get a picture of how long constituents such as mine have to wait for different types of cancer treatment. When will the Secretary of State's Department publish all the waiting times for the different types of cancer treatment?

Dr. Reid: I think that I answered most of those points earlier. It would be churlish of me to point out that if this matter were left up to the hon. Gentleman's colleagues, targets for waiting times would be abolished completely, which would cause such times to rise again. People are now seeing GPs more quickly than ever before. People with suspected cancers are being referred to consultants more quickly than ever before; indeed, 99 per cent. are seen within two weeks. However, I accept that that means that we now have to tackle the backlogs and bottlenecks in diagnostics and radiotherapy, which is why we are putting in so much extra money and introducing so many extra diagnostic tests. I have just announced another £1 billion for 2.4 million extra scans, all of which will be free on the national health service.

22 Feb 2005 : Column 149

I do not pretend for one moment that we have perfection, but the hon. Gentleman should find, even in the limited time that he has represented the people of Leicester, South, that there have been huge and significant improvements in all cancer treatments. If he wants the proof of the pudding, the reality is that we have now seen 12 per cent. fewer deaths-

Mr. Speaker: Order. I want to make it clear that the propaganda issues at Health questions are going to stop.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) (Lab): What about them over there?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman says, "What about them?". When they are out of order, I will deal with them. When Ministers are out of order, I will deal with them as well, and the hon. Gentleman will not tell me how to chair the proceedings of the House of Commons. I put out more than a hint that I wanted to move through Health questions at a reasonable pace, and I am being ignored. It will not happen again.

This is available online at:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200405/cmhansrd/cm050222/debtext/50222-05.htm#50222-05_wqn2

3. The full report by the Royal College of Radiologists (which Parmjit cited in his oral question to the Minister) is available online at:

http://www.rcr.ac.uk/upload/ClinicalOncology/RTWTarticleFINAL.pdf

4. The report gained nation coverage, which can be found at BBC Online, "Cancer patients 'waiting longer'" http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/3784175.stm