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Heatherwood Hospital, Ascot

Volume 533: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2011

7. What recent representations he has received from Berkshire East primary care trust on the future of Heatherwood hospital in Ascot. (74853)

My constituents are shocked to discover that yet again, the future of Heatherwood is under threat. I have had sight of a major petition, and I am actively campaigning with hard-working local councillors, activists and residents to uncover why Heatherwood’s future is under threat when the funding from the Government to the region has increased. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Berkshire East PCT must cut its bureaucracy costs and introduce efficiencies before threatening the money to Heatherwood hospital and other local services?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and completely understand what he is saying. In this financial year compared to the previous one, revenue available to Berkshire East PCT increased by £16.3 million. That is just one part of the £3.8 billion increase in revenue resources available to the NHS this year compared with last year.

Although I very much welcome the shadow Secretary of State to his new position, we will miss his predecessor. We welcome the new shadow Secretary of State not least because he might begin to explain to the NHS why he thought it was irresponsible to increase resources to the NHS in real terms by about £3.8 billion—

Order. I am grateful to the Secretary of State, but we have a lot to get through. He will resume his seat—and I know he will do so happily.

One reason for those increases in resources is the growing birth rate in that part of Berkshire. Slough mums who want to use the Ascot birthing centre at Heatherwood have been locked out since the end of September because of a lack of midwives. If the Government had provided the 3,000 midwives they promised, that centre would not be shut. What does the Secretary of State say to that?

As the hon. Lady knows, I am very familiar with Heatherwood, because I have two daughters who were born there in the days when it had an obstetrics service, which disappeared under the previous Government. She also knows that I visited Wexham Park in September last year to announce support to the trust in the form of loans, based on commercial principles, totalling £18 million. There is no shortage of midwives under this Government compared with the previous one. Since the election, 522 additional midwives have been recruited, and we are maintaining a record level of midwifery training places.

Decisions made locally are a matter for local commissioners. If they seek to change services, they must meet the four tests that I set out shortly after the election.

The hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie) is absolutely right to raise concerns about the future of Heatherwood hospital, as are Members on both sides of the House who raise such concerns about their hospitals, such as Chase Farm.

The Health Service Journal reports that the Department of Health is discussing a hospital closure programme, and yet the Prime Minister has promised to fight bare knuckled against any hospital closures. Will the Secretary of State tell us today categorically—yes or no—whether it is still his policy to have a moratorium on hospital closures? If so, for how long will the moratorium last?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his position. The Government are rebuilding his hospital, so it is slightly ironic that he attacks us on that point.

The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that the Government are pursuing no plan for hospital closures. We are doing precisely what I said we are doing: we are working with hospital trusts across the country to ensure that before they reconfigure their services, they must meet key tests on patient access and choice, local authority support, commissioners’ views, and the clinical safety and evidence base. We are working with many of the NHS trusts that the previous Government left in a serious position to ensure that they reach quality and financial sustainability.