The North West strategic health authority reports that work is progressing as planned on the Making it Better reconfiguration, which aims to improve the quality of maternity services across Greater Manchester.
Does the Minister accept that in the current economic climate, closing two maternity units—at Rochdale infirmary and Bury Fairfield hospital—that are less than 10 years old and spending £15 million on a brand new unit at the Royal Oldham hospital does not represent best value for money? Does she agree that the money could be better used elsewhere?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Manchester proposals are overwhelmingly supported by local clinicians and backed by a clinical and quality-based case for change. Making it Better will provide safer, higher-quality care for the residents of Greater Manchester, and the nearby Royal Oldham site will become a centre of excellence for maternity and neonatal care.
The Minister may recall that I made it clear during Health questions in May that the birth rate in Greater Manchester was rising, contrary to the predictions on which the reconfiguration proposals were based. We now know that something like 5,000 more babies were born in Greater Manchester than had been predicted. If the assumptions on which the plan was based are no longer true, will she act on the evidence and reconsider the plans to shut obstetrics services at the Fairfield hospital in Bury and at Rochdale infirmary? Otherwise, 5,000-plus mothers living north of the M62 simply will not have the choice to access obstetrics services close to home.
It is for local commissioners to keep that always under review. As the hon. Gentleman said, the birth rate has risen, but local commissioners are in touch with their clinicians. During the consultation, which was extended over four months, the matter was examined in detail and it was decided that it was safe practice to reconfigure services as has been done.
The Minister will be aware that one of the biggest challenges facing maternity services in Rochdale and elsewhere is the enormous shortage of midwives. All the signs are that the Government will miss their target of recruiting 3,400 more midwives by 2012, so will the Minister support the Lib Dem plan to scrap the health and maternity grant, which is completely untargeted, and invest the money instead in recruiting 3,000 more midwives and health visitors to give every woman the support she needs during pregnancy?
I am saddened that the hon. Gentleman raised the issue in that particular way, because we are on target. We have checked with the strategic health authorities—[Interruption.] I must contradict the hon. Gentleman. After checking with the strategic health authorities in England, we know that the target for 4,000 extra midwives by 2012 will be met. We are working closely with the Royal College of Midwives and very positively with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: the target will be met. As for the comment about the grant, I am sad that the hon. Gentleman feels that way, because I believe every woman is entitled to be healthy through pregnancy, and to have a safe pregnancy.