Stephen O'Brien

25 Mar 2009 11:17:54

Andrew Lansley says Government should have intervened over Stafford Hospital

Andrew Lansley MP Health questions were put in the House of Commons yesterday.

The situation at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust, which has been slammed by the Healthcare Commission for "appalling" emergency care at Stafford Hospital, stood out. Between 2005 and 2008 about 400 more people died there than would ordinarily have been expected.

Stone MP Bill Cash expressed his profound concern:

"Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Will the Secretary of State take account of the fact that I am repeating my call for an inquiry into this whole matter under the Inquiries Act 2005? Will he also make it clear that all those in that trust who are culpable, as set out in the Healthcare Commission report—that includes other senior management besides the chairman and the chief executive at the time—must be removed and not merely suspended on full pay?

Alan Johnson: As I just said, the investigation will involve everyone who has any position of authority within that trust—the whole board and all the executive directors. It will be a proper investigation and it will be fair, and the action taken will result from that inquiry, not from any knee-jerk reaction by me or anyone else."

Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley (above right) went on the same topic:

"On 15 October 2007, after the terrible events at Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, the Secretary of State said that

    “we should be spotting these issues much earlier and getting rid of incompetent chief executives or chairpersons who, fortunately, are in the minority, rather than waiting for a report such as this, by which time, frankly, most of the damage has been done.”—[ Official Report, 15 October 2007; Vol. 464, c. 571.]

The Secretary of State knew about the failings at Stafford in May 2008, so why did he not intervene then and there?

Alan Johnson: I ask the hon. Gentleman to look at the Healthcare Commission’s report carefully. The difference between what happened in Stafford and in Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, and the fact that the Healthcare Commission took into account those words and what others said at the time, is that as soon as commission staff went into Stafford and saw the problems—in May 2008—they immediately called the chief executive to a meeting, put their concerns to him, and started to see the process of improvement. That is the job of the Healthcare Commission while it carries out its inquiry. The staff cannot say at that stage that they have come to any conclusions, and it would be unfair, one day into an inquiry, to reach conclusions and say that heads must roll and recommendations must be made. We made that specific point to the Healthcare Commission at the time of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells, so in Stafford staff immediately introduced measures to put things right, rather than wait for the end of the process and the report to be published—as I said they should do in that quote.

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16 Mar 2009 11:44:48

Stephen O'Brien opposes presumed consent for organ donation

Stephen_obrien_mpShadow Health Minister Stephen O'Brien spoke on Friday on a Bill from Lib Dem MP Jeremy Browne to bring in presumed consent for organ donation.

(The Prime Minister once opposed presumed consent, but now supports it.)

Highlights from Mr O'Brien's speech follow:

"To discuss organ donation is literally to discuss life and death. We must recognise that, and I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to all those who are donors, whether of blood, plasma or bone marrow, and all those on the organ donation register— 15.8 million people, according to NHS Blood and Transplant. I am glad to note that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) who, in his first debate in the House after he was elected in 1979, sought to move forward the donor campaign. We must pay tribute not only to all those who have given up their organs in death so that others might live, but to their friends and families who, in their moment of grief, were prepared to take or support that step.

When contemplating those who have not, for whatever reason, registered for organ donation—and the hon. Member for Taunton mentioned this—I would say that it is probably not a matter of laziness, although there is certainly a lack of knowledge and education on the part of some. Often, people are worried not so much about themselves, but about the turmoil for those they leave behind, and whether it would be an extra stress for them to face the idea of their loved one’s body having an organ taken from it. When talking to those who have been through this process, we find that some families, oddly enough, found the process helpful because the fact that their loved one was useful to the future life of someone else gave them a focus. Although that would not apply to all, it is useful to bear it in mind when seeking to persuade people that they ought to consider being on the organ donation register.


As of today, 7,981 people are waiting for transplants, but only about 3,000 transplants are carried out each year. Tragically, that leads to more than 1,000 people a year dying for want of a transplant. The chief medical officer has stated that others are dying silently because doctors who know that there is no hope of their getting treatment are not putting them on transplant waiting lists. In Britain we have about 13 donors per 1 million people in our population. Spain is the best in the world in that regard, with 35 per million.

As hon. Members will know, this issue was last raised in legislative terms during the passage of the Human Tissue Act 2004, with the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) pushing for a system of presumed consent. Then, as now, the issue was one of conscience. It is therefore free vote territory for the Opposition and, I believe, for all parties. As the Conservative spokesman on health, and on this matter in particular, I emphasise that my words today do not constitute a party line. I believe that that is also true of the words of the hon. Member for Taunton, although I know that he has been able to attract the support of some of his colleagues. Hon. Members will know how they voted in 2004. For my part, I voted against introducing a system of presumed consent, as did the current Prime Minister.


We cannot escape the fact that this subject touches on people’s notions of what is appropriate in death and on the sanctity and ownership of our bodies, through either any form of living will before death or next of kin after death. The primary hurdle to overcome before legislating is the existence of evidence that any change in the law would lead to an increase in organ transplants and universal access to them across the country. There is no evidence to suggest that.


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6 Nov 2008 12:44:23

Stephen O'Brien on the buses

Bus_2Shadow Health Minister Stephen O'Brien has received the following answer about buses.

"Mr. Stephen O'Brien: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what progress has been made towards achieving the target of increasing bus passenger journeys by 2010 by 10 per cent., as stated in his Department’s Transport 10 Year Plan of 2000; and against what benchmark progress towards achieving this target is being measured. [232013]

Paul Clark: The target to increase bus passenger journeys by 10 per cent. by 2010 has now been superseded by one of a set of public service agreements (PSA) published in the cross-Governmental Spending Review 2004.

The new target outlines our aim, by 2010, to increase the use of public transport (bus and light rail) by more than 12 per cent. in England compared with 2000 levels, with growth in every region in the last three years.

With bus and light rail patronage already at 19 per cent. above the baseline, we are already on track to meet this target. London is largely responsible for the achievement.

While we are on course to achieve the national patronage target, the target for growth in patronage in every region remains challenging."

It would be interesting to see just how responsible London is for the "achievement". Many parts of the country have little bus service to speak of at all.