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Whittington Hospital

Volume 559: debated on Tuesday 26 February 2013

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Whittington hospital on the proposed disposal of its assets and reductions in medical and non-medical staff. (144340)

This is a matter for the local NHS, in particular the Whittington Hospital NHS Trust. Neither the Secretary of State nor the ministerial team have met with the trust recently on this subject.

That is a disappointing reply from the Minister. Is he aware that the Whittington is a successful, popular, local district general hospital, yet, as part of its application to become a foundation trust, it is proposing to: sell off a quarter of its land; make 500 of its staff, including many nurses, redundant; and reduce the number of beds to 177, roughly half the current figure? This is, apparently, to provide a better service to the community, a point totally lost on the thousands of local people who are angry at the reduction in their hospital services. They see it as a prelude to its ultimate closure as a district general hospital with an A and E department. Will the Minister take an interest and perhaps intervene to protect a very good local hospital from this not very sensible plan?

The hon. Gentleman is right to highlight the fact that the trust has handled this issue badly at a local level, but, as he will know, decisions about local health care reside with local trusts. The point is this: if we look at the plans, the trust is talking about selling off land that is mostly not used for clinical purposes and reinvesting that money in front-line patient care: investing £10 million in improving the maternity department, which has already benefited from £750,000 from the Government only this year; £2.9 million in the same-day treatment centre to support A and E and treat patients faster; and £1.9 million for a new undergraduate education centre and library. Those assets are being sold off to directly influence and improve patient care, which has to be a good thing.

Is the Minister aware of how angry and concerned Londoners are about the threats to their health service—not just about the £17 million property sales at the Whittington and the drop in bed numbers, but about the threat to four A and Es in north-west London and, of course, the A and E in Lewisham? Ministers have accused campaigners of overstating the case. Is that not a complacent attitude? Surely doctors and residents on the ground know the value of these services better than Ministers in Whitehall. Is he aware that Londoners came out in unprecedented numbers to fight for Lewisham hospital and will continue to fight for the best possible NHS services in our region?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to highlight the fact that service changes have to be clinically led, meet the tests we have outlined and engage with communities effectively, but the point is that the previous Government also redesigned and changed services, very often for the benefit of patients. When the redesign of services is clinically led and services are better delivered for patients, that has to be a good thing so let us look at these proposals. If they are clinically led, let us see whether they deliver improved care for patients, and if they do, it is the right thing to do.