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Maternity/Paediatric Services (Hartlepool and Teesside)

Volume 456: debated on Tuesday 6 February 2007

4. If she will make a statement on the recommendations made by the independent reconfiguration panel on maternity and paediatric services in Hartlepool and Teesside. (118587)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agreed the recommendations of the independent reconfiguration panel as regards building a new hospital accessible to the people of Hartlepool, Stockton, Easington and Sedgefield and improving local community services.

Two and a half years ago, the Prime Minister was quoted in the Hartlepool Mail as saying, with regard to the University Hospital of Hartlepool:

“There is no question of the hospital closing or services being run down. John Reid is saying it won’t close, I’m saying it won’t close, I don’t know what the next authority is you go to.”

Given that, as my right hon. Friend said, the Secretary of State has accepted recommendations from the independent reconfiguration panel that will result in the closure of the hospital, can she advise me as to what authority I go to next?

I should remind my hon. Friend that in terms of the independent reconfiguration panel recommendations, we are talking about opening a new hospital. I recognise that changing the way in which health services operate is a very emotive issue, as he has indicated. However, it is also important to say that the panel looked at the best way of ensuring that maternity and paediatric provision met high-quality care and safety standards and concluded that centralising consultant-led maternity and paediatrics on one site would make the best use of staff and ensure patient safety.

May I support the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) in the concern that he expressed? I declare an interest as an honorary vice-president of the Royal College of Midwives. Midwives are deeply concerned about the reduction in paediatric and maternity services that will occur throughout the country if the Government’s proposals are carried forward. Will she listen to the RCM, which represents mothers, babies and mothers-to-be? Its views are important, and it believes that the local provision of paediatric and maternity services is essential for the safety and well-being of mothers and children.

Midwives are always deeply concerned to ensure that the services offered are safe and of high quality. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the report that has been published today, which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has put together with input from the Royal College of Midwives. It talks about the importance of those services but also recognises that things sometimes have to change as regards the way in which they are delivered, particularly when demographic changes and changes in medical technology and staffing patterns mean that there needs to be a bringing together of services if they are to be safe and of high quality. That is the best thing for patients and for midwives as well.

Will my right hon. Friend assure the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) that there is no threat to maternity services in Hartlepool and never has been? The residents of Hartlepool—I am a Hartlepudlian by birth and upbringing—are worried about reports in the press that the hospital at Hartlepool will be demolished. That cannot be so. As the new hospital is established and begins to function, it will provide specialist services, but Hartlepool General hospital will remain as a secondary form of medical provision—hard-nosed clinical provision for the community.

My hon. Friend is quite right to say that and to point out that there is a consultation process on how to put together a package to examine existing facilities, improve services in the community and prepare for a new hospital with high standards of safety and care.

Will the Minister consider favourably requests to refer cuts in community hospitals to the independent reconfiguration panel? My constituents refuse to believe that the closure of every NHS bed in our community hospitals will serve their needs and they hope that the panel will intervene. I look forward to an answer from the Minister.

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows about the process that has been established to make referrals to the independent reconfiguration panel. Consultation is undertaken with the local community; overview and scrutiny committees can examine that and refer the results to the Secretary of State, who decides whether to take them to the independent reconfiguration panel.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the consultants of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Trust made a statement to the independent reconfiguration panel that the maternity and paediatric services are not safe enough or of sufficiently high quality? Will she explain why a new hospital would ensure that we have safe services that are of sufficient quality for the constituents whom we represent?

My hon. Friend is right to say that the clinicians showed strong support for the independent reconfiguration panel’s conclusions. A consultation is taking place on them, but she can be assured that the outcome will be high quality, safe services, which are best for her constituents.

As the Minister knows, the independent reconfiguration panel’s conclusions in December 2006 are similar to those of the Tees service review, which reported in December 2003. Will she therefore tell the House why, in August 2004, the Department instructed the strategic health authority to conduct its own review to revisit the Tees service review?

The future of maternity and paediatric services in the area has been controversial for many years. Opinions have differed. Emerging standards were set when we considered the way in which paediatric services should be delivered. The Darzi review was undertaken, but when the Secretary of State examined the issues that the joint overview and scrutiny committees raised, it was decided—straightforwardly—to refer the matter to the independent reconfiguration panel.

I wish that the Minister would be honest and say that, in July 2004, Peter Mandelson said that he was off to Europe to be a Commissioner and a by-election was held. The Department held a review with the intention of maintaining the fullest range of services at Hartlepool hospital so that the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister could promise the people of Hartlepool that their hospital would be maintained. That is now all over. How can the Minister justify the fact that three years have passed, during which money was spent and people in Hartlepool and north Tees did not know what would happen to them, only to arrive at the same position? How can she and her ministerial friends have the effrontery to accuse us of standing in the way of change when, during the by-election, her right hon. Friends, including the Prime Minister, objected to change?

The hon. Gentleman has to make up his mind whether he is interested in a future for patients and people who work in the health service or whether he wants to go around nit-picking about every decision that is made. The process has been clear and decisions have been taken in the best interests of patients in the area. It is about time that the hon. Gentleman got behind the decision-making process and the improvements that we are making to the NHS in the local area.

I empathise with my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright). Will the Minister and the Secretary of State deal with an issue that I raised last month—whether the decision of the Greater Manchester PCT should be referred to the independent reconfiguration panel?

Order. The hon. Gentleman informed me before the business of the House started that this question related to his hospital, but this question is about Hartlepool.