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The Westminster Hospital's Future

Volume 414: debated on Wednesday 29 October 1980

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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on to Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government on what date, after the decision taken by the University of London, they are likely to adjudicate on the future of Westminster Hospital.

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has asked the London Advisory Group to consider the future pattern of hospital services in central London. The group will be submitting its advice in due course, in the light of the University of London's decisions on the future of the medical schools.

My Lords, while thanking the noble Baroness for that reply, may I ask whether she is aware that she has not really answered the Question and given a likely date? Are the Government aware of the harm being caused by the uncertainty that hangs over this hospital's future, and is this uncertainty not bound to affect the morale of the hospital staff at all levels and likely to affect the patients as well? Would not the wisest course be for the Government to leave well alone and resist the temptation to make cuts in all directions at the risk of destroying a valuable and irreplaceable hospital?

My Lords, I am aware of the worry and anxiety that uncertainty causes in a situation like this, but perhaps I should make clear that there has never been any suggestion that the Westminster Hospital should close. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services has made that clear on many occasions. It is now clear that there is little or no support for the merger proposed with St. Thomas' Hospital, but the role the hospital will eventually play will depend on decisions about the future of the medical school, which has still to be determined, and on the advice of the London Advisory Group.

Yes, my Lords, but is not the Minister aware that a dismembered and truncated hospital is unlikely to maintain the standards it has proudly achieved in the past? Would it not be wiser to keep the hospital at its present standard and size rather than to inflict any changes on it in the future?

My Lords, I note what the noble Lord has said on this matter and I understand that the senate of the university is considering the matter now and that the court will consider it next week. In the meantime, I am sure the noble Lord will be the first to appreciate that a teaching hospital and a medical school are closely interdependent and that if one changes character so must the other.

My Lords, has my noble friend noted a recent speech by the Secretary of State for Social Services in which he said it was still the Government's target to recruit 4,080 doctors a year but that that target had not yet been achieved? In these circumstances, does it make any sense to close a medical school which is producing 100 doctors a year at low cost and with very high academic standards?

My Lords, I entirely recognise the importance of my noble friend's remarks, but the fact is that the Flowers Working Party, which is making recommendations about medical schools in the University of London, is an internal working party of London University, and decisions on its recommendations are essentially a matter for the university, which is responsible for its own internal organisation.

My Lords, I hope the House will feel it is proper for me to intervene in this matter, as I am a member of the London Advisory Group. Is it not a fact that everybody involved in this matter is fully cognisant of the tremendous contribution which the Westminster Hospital has made and realises that this is a matter which will receive every attention? And are not the Government fully aware of the fact that very careful consideration will be given to the matter which is the subject of this Question?

My Lords, I wish entirely to confirm what the noble Lord has said. I shall of course draw the remarks that have been made this afternoon to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that, while many of us in this country entirely support the Government's policy on the necessity of making cuts, we feel very strongly that they are tending now to make cuts that are not in the interests of the public?

My Lords, while noting what the noble Lord has said, perhaps I may make it quite clear that before a decision is taken on the Westminster Hospital a decision must first of all be reached on the question of the medical school; the matter will then be referred to the London Advisory Group and will then be considered by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. So there are a number of stages before the decision will be taken.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness to say whether the Habakkuk Advisory Group will be kept in being after it has submitted its report, in order to avoid a repetition of the disastrous results of the reorganisation which took place in 1974?

My Lords, my understanding of the position is that the committee under the chairmanship of Sir John Habakkuk will be reviewed and the continuing need for the group will be considered again in mid-1981.