Skip to main content

Bed Closures

Volume 453: debated on Tuesday 28 November 2006

A constituent of the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Geraldine Smith) suffered a suspected heart attack earlier this month, but instead of being rushed to his nearest heart unit in Lancaster, he was redirected to the heart unit at Westmorland general hospital in Kendal in my constituency, because there were not enough beds at the Royal Lancaster infirmary. Does the Minister therefore share my horror that the trust is planning to close Westmorland general hospital’s excellent heart unit? Will he intervene to save it?

I understand the concern that the hon. Gentleman expresses, but the Liberal Democrats seem continually to advocate devolution, and decisions being taken as locally as possible. To then suggest that a Minister ought to intervene in local decision making is nonsense. Decisions on patient safety and quality of care must be made locally. Those must be the guiding principles that determine such decisions. I urge the hon. Gentleman to make representations on behalf of his constituents, but to accept that those decisions are responsibly made, and best made, locally.

At a cost of only £250,000 a year, my primary care trust is treating 400 drug addicts, thus reducing accident and emergency hospital admissions and the use of beds by drug addicts by more than 400 per cent. Should we not be looking throughout the NHS to see where else we can remove the unnecessary use of NHS beds by drug addicts and others?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. We want exactly that kind of best practice to become mainstream. The difficulty is that when there is local advocacy to shift resources, quite rightly, from acute services to community-based and preventive services, the Opposition parties irresponsibly proclaim that that means cuts, when those changes will in fact lead to better services for patients and more rehabilitation, thus preventing such conditions from deteriorating. Surely that is the responsible way to develop a modern national health service.

Those of us with community hospitals and other health care assets that are being shut down on the back of sham, tick-box consultations will agree with the new NHS chief executive, who wrote to MPs last week in the following terms:

“The NHS certainly needs to improve how we listen, engage and respond to the genuine concerns of the public, patients, clinicians and other stakeholders.”

Developing that statement of the glaringly obvious, will the Minister say specifically what shortcomings Mr. Nicholson has identified during his short tenure, and what improvements in listening, engaging and responding our long-suffering constituents can look forward to?

The Opposition really must think that the British people are stupid. This is the first Government to announce a £750 million programme over five years to develop a new generation of community hospitals, which will shift resources from acute health care to preventive and community-based solutions. It is not true to say that we are going backwards in terms of community hospitals. This is the first Government to say that we need to modernise and improve community hospitals. As for consultation, when we proposed the reconfiguration of primary care trusts, the consultation process took note of what local people said, and as a consequence, many of the proposed reconfigurations were changed. We will take no lectures on consultation from the Opposition.