The criteria are the same as those used by non-foundation trust hospitals. Any changes to be made to services must be for the benefit of patients locally and led by doctors and health care professionals locally.
In Rushden, an out-patients facility is being closed. Some 6,000 constituents have written to me demanding that a replacement facility be built in Rushden. The NHS’s weighted criteria state that it should be built in Rushden, but in fact it is being built in an adjoining constituency, in a small town. That constituency already has a minor injuries unit and is getting a new hospital. What is the difference between the two constituencies? One is the Conservative marginal seat of Wellingborough, and the other is the Labour marginal seat of Corby. Are not this miserable Government making decisions about health facilities based not on need, but on political advantage?
I am advised that no such decision has been made. The hon. Gentleman has been involved in detailed discussions with health care managers on the ground, who are considering the matter. I am sure that he recalls that we had an Adjournment debate on the subject. Kettering hospital and Northamptonshire primary care trust want to expand the out-patient provision in his constituency or for his constituents because they believe that the current provision in Rushden does not cover the numbers that they want to serve. Ultimately, what they are trying to achieve will mean that tens of thousands of people who must currently travel from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency to Kettering hospital for treatment will no longer have to travel so far. I therefore urge him to continue his discussions with his local health service managers. I understand that they have not ruled out alternative locations if one can be found that provides his constituents with the health care that they deserve in the 21st century.
My hon. Friend is right. People who should know better often misunderstand—I hope accidentally—how the system works. Any changes to services, whether to a foundation or a non-foundation trust, are matters for the local health service. If the proposals are sufficiently significant for local authorities’ democratically elected overview and scrutiny committees to think that they should be consulted, they must be consulted. If those committees remain unhappy, they can refer the proposals to the national independent reconfiguration panel. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made it clear that he will respect and has respected all the IRP’s recommendations, which include two recent ones in Conservative areas, where the IRP recommended against the local health service’s proposals and its recommendations were upheld.