asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many representations he has received about the closure of hospitals in Derbyshire by the area health authority.
In the last six months I have received 63 letters or telegrams and a deputation, led by the hon. Member, about the Derbyshire area health authority's hospital closure proposals.
Is the Minister aware of the outrage in Derbyshire about the area health authority's decision to close five of those hospitals? Will he accept that that is largely due to over-spending because of the rate of inflation and the doubling of VAT? Will he give an undertaking to the House that, when his Department next discusses resource allocation for Derbyshire with the regional health authority, he will make it clear to the region and to Derbyshire that the provision of a comprehensive Health Service, by the re-opening of those hospitals, should be a first priority?
I do not accept the first statement. Following my meeting with the deputation on 28 January, I wrote immediately to the chairman of the area health authority, asking him to look again at some of the closures, particularly the closure of Etwall. He replied that he still regards it as necessary. I have now written again, asking what other economies might be made in order to reopen Etwall as soon as possible. I shall keep the hon. Member informed.
Is the Minister aware that local people are grateful for his intervention in favour of Etwall but that they are still in favour of the staff sit-in at the hospital and the fact that the hospital is still being picketed? Does he realise that they are hoping for more intervention from the Minister, even at this late stage?
I understand the hon. Lady's concern, and I share it. She may be pleased to hear that there have been no staff redundancies as a result of cash limits.
Order, before I call the next speaker, I remind the House that the question refers only to hospitals in Derbyshire.
Will the Minister place in the Library copies of the correspondence relating to hospitals in Derbyshire with the regional health authority and copies of the 62 letters that he has received, as guidance to hon. Members who may have similar problems?
Those are personal letters between myself and the chairman of the hospital authority. It would he improper to place them in the Library without first consulting him. I shall look into the matter.
If the procedure in regard to these hospitals does not turn out to be as the hon. Gentleman believes, does he agree that a community health council could oppose a closure as a means of getting it on to the desk of the Secretary of State? If community health councils are abolished, as the Government believe might happen as a result of their consultative procedures on "Patients First ", what method does the hon. Gentleman suggest for raising these matters with the Secretary of State?
Once again, the right hon. Gentleman is trying to pre-empt the discussions that are taking place on "Patients First". He has done that consistently in the Committee on the Health Services Bill. It is not the right way to proceed.