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Maternity/Paediatric Services (Greater Manchester)

Volume 492: debated on Tuesday 12 May 2009

2. What recent progress has been made on the proposals to reconfigure maternity and paediatric services in Greater Manchester. (274099)

Service reconfiguration is a matter for the local NHS. The North West strategic health authority reports that the “making it better” reconfiguration of children and maternity services across Greater Manchester will see four new state-of-the-art hospitals open this summer in central Manchester, at a cost of £500 million. There will also be expanded facilities in north Manchester, Bolton, Oldham and south Manchester. Services will be transferred in stages to ensure a smooth and efficient transition for patients and staff.

I am sure that the Minister is aware that “making it better” is now over budget—the plan was for £60 million, but the figure is now £100 million—and over schedule. What assurance can he give us that it is still fit for the purpose?

The hon. Gentleman may not know, but over the next three years the NHS in Greater Manchester plans to invest more than £100 million in new buildings to improve facilities for women, children and babies, including new maternity units at North Manchester general, Royal Bolton, Royal Oldham, St. Mary’s and Wythenshawe hospitals. In-patient children’s and maternity services will be provided in eight new centres of excellence across Greater Manchester and the number of neonatal units will increase from two to three. The review was driven by clinicians, in particular the desire of doctors, nurses and midwives to improve safety. I commend them for the work they are doing.

The consultation on the reconfiguration of children’s services and the associated discussions has lasted for more than a quarter of a century. Obviously not everyone is satisfied with the outcome, but now that decisions have been made, it is important that the schedules set are kept to. Will my hon. Friend assure me that that will happen and that the decisions made will not be changed?

The local NHS bodies in Greater Manchester are responsible for implementing the reconfiguration. It has taken some time, but the results are now there for all to see in both the hospitals that are opening now and the plans for the future. These are exciting times for the Greater Manchester NHS, and all MPs on both sides of the House representing constituencies in the area will see their constituents benefit from the changes. I understand my hon. Friend’s desire to ensure that the changes are delivered on budget and on time. I shall make sure that the local NHS bodies in Greater Manchester are aware of the strength of his feelings on the matter.

The Minister may recall that when the proposals to shut obstetric units were made in January 2006, the consultation document said:

“The birth rate nationally is falling”.

That was not true when it was written, and since then, in the space of two years, the number of births in Greater Manchester has increased by 7 per cent. When facts change, so can conclusions. Will Ministers therefore reconsider the plans to remove obstetric services from Fairfield hospital in Bury and the Rochdale infirmary, the effect of which will be that, each year, well over 5,000 mothers living north of the M62 will be without local access to full obstetric care?

I always enjoy it when Opposition Members question the investment and reform being made under a Labour Government. I remember that during the 18 years of Conservative rule, hospital services in Greater Manchester were pretty much abandoned. A great deal of thought and planning went into deciding the size of the new maternity units. Account has been taken of the number of births, ongoing changes to maternity practice and projected birth rates. Taking all factors into account, all the new maternity units will have the flexibility for additional capacity, should it be needed. That will allow the NHS in Greater Manchester to give women choice over where they wish to have their babies, which they would not have had under the Conservative party.