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Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2006

11. What consultations the Government undertake with users of the health service before reforms are implemented. (95970)

The Government are committed to ensuring that there is a strong voice for the people who use the NHS, as well as for those who work in it. That is why patients and the public, as well as all other stakeholders, are involved in and consulted on changes to the health service.

I am grateful for that response, and I am grateful to Lord Warner for meeting two Longridge GPs and Councillor David Smith from Longridge last night, who was speaking up on behalf of the people of Longridge. During the changeovers with the primary care trusts, Longridge was moved from Preston into East Lancashire. Anybody who knows the area knows that Longridge people look towards Preston for all their services. That is where all the bus routes go. Already patients are being told that for diabetes care they need to travel many miles out of their way into east Lancashire. Lord Warner said that he would investigate and I look forward to that, but may we re-examine the processes in the consultation so that local people are listened to effectively?

I am aware of the meeting that took place. I gather that it was quite constructive, and that in the course of it there was even an exchange of Lancashire cheese. The issues that the hon. Gentleman mentions can be difficult. One reason for changing the boundaries to that of the local authority was to make them coterminous with the health service to ensure that some of the shared services between local government and health services could be delivered more effectively. For public health purposes, there can also be good reasons for coterminosity. However, I understand that there are some issues in relation to referrals and that Lord Warner has agreed to consider those and discuss them with the strategic health authority.

If consultations in Bedfordshire reveal anger and a rejection of the likely downgrading of Bedford hospital, annoyance at the unequal funding of rural and semi-rural areas, and an immediate demand to have fitted in the hospital an MRI scanner, which has been bought and paid for but which is gathering dust in a warehouse, will anyone on the Front Bench be listening?

May I reassure the hon. Gentleman that not only has there been extra funding in his area, but there have been increases in staff numbers and equipment? When there are changes to services, a clear pattern must be followed. There is local consultation and the matter can be referred to the overview and scrutiny committee, so that if there are issues about inadequate consultation or detriment to services, those can be referred to the Secretary of State. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will encourage his constituents to participate in consultation processes.