Clinical leadership in the design of services for patients will deliver better outcomes and improve patient experience of care. In the last year, for example, NHS Dorset clinical commissioning group has worked to improve outcomes in cardiology, dermatology and muscular-skeletal services, and NHS Nene CCG has admitted more than 3,000 patients on to a proactive care scheme, which I have had the privilege of seeing for myself, to identify and reduce the risks of people needing an emergency admission. That is one reason why the number of emergency admissions to hospital in the NHS fell by 1%.
The Secretary of State will be aware of Chester’s location on the border with Wales and of the issues with cross-border health care commissioning. In order to ensure that there will be no financial shortfall for the West Cheshire CCG in relation to the treatment of patients who are registered with general practitioners in Wales but who receive treatment in England, will he confirm that the cross-border commissioning funding protocol between England and Wales will be fully implemented?
I would be grateful if my hon. Friend could convey my best wishes to the Countess of Chester hospital, which I visited just before Christmas, and my appreciation of the work of the West Cheshire CCG. I can confirm that discussions between officials in the Welsh Government, my Department and the NHS Commissioning Board are under way to extend and renew the protocol for cross-border commissioning for 2013-14 and beyond.
If the Secretary of State believes that the reconfiguration of hospitals is clinically rather than finance led, will he ensure that NHS North West London publishes full risk assessments of its decision to close four accident and emergency departments and replace them with urgent care centres?
As the hon. Gentleman will—I hope—be fully aware, the view of Ministers is clear: any reconfiguration of services must be driven not by cost but by a need to improve clinical outcomes for patients; must be in line with the commissioning intentions of the local commissioning group; must be on the basis of strong patient and public engagement; and must protect the choice available to current and prospective patients. To that extent, I hope that all the necessary information to support those four tests is in the public domain.
GP commissioners in Bromley have opened a consultation on the future of services currently provided at the Orpington hospital site. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the administrator recently appointed to South London Healthcare trust takes account of the consultation’s findings when drawing up his proposals for how best to put SLHT on a sustainable clinical and financial footing?
I hope that my hon. Friend is aware that when I appointed the trust special administrator and set a timetable for his work, I specifically added 30 days on an exceptional basis to the timetable for the production of his first report, one of the exceptional reasons being that an accelerated consultation should take place locally on the future of Orpington hospital.
The right hon. Gentleman needs to listen carefully to what I am about to say. Yesterday, he promised action to stop the restricting of cataract operations for financial reasons, if given evidence. How about this example? NHS Sussex has imposed severe restrictions that contradict the Department’s own guidance, “Action on Cataracts”, and this has seen the number of operations in Sussex fall from 5,646 in 2010 to 4,215 in 2011. Does the Secretary of State consider that fair to older people, and will he now take the action his Department has promised?
I have made it clear to the right hon. Gentleman many times, as has the Minister of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr Burns), that it is not acceptable and we will not allow NHS commissioners to impose blanket bans. I will gladly take note of and investigate that example, but I have to say that the right hon. Gentleman wrote to me with a document that purported to contain a series of examples from across the country, most of which turned out to be fictional. I shall respond in writing about NHS Sussex and put a copy in the Library of the House, but, as I have made clear, we, unlike our predecessors, will not accept any blanket ban on treatment. Any treatment must be clinically determined in the interests of patients.
Well, the right hon. Gentleman is accepting it, and he continues to dispute my evidence, but what does he say to the president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, who said yesterday of cataract restrictions:
“They are arbitrary and are a response to financial pressures, not clinical needs”?
The reason for the Government’s denial is that the financial pressures are greater than they care to admit. The figures released by the Treasury yesterday confirmed that he and the Government have now cut the NHS budget for two years running, but they also reveal something else: another real-terms cut planned for 2013-14. Do not their flagship promises on NHS spending now lie in shreds, and will this Prime Minister not be for ever remembered as the man who cut the NHS, not the deficit?
It is staggering, isn’t it? In 2010-11, the NHS budget was set by the right hon. Gentleman, not by us. The final accounts for 2011-12 will not be published until the autumn. I wish he would just get up at the Dispatch Box and admit that over the course of this Parliament the coalition Government will increase the NHS budget in England by 1.8% in real terms, which is £12.5 billion in cash, whereas the Wales Audit Office has said that a Labour Government in Wales will cut the NHS budget over the same period by 10% in real terms.