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Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): I shall not delay the House, except to rise in support of the Bill and to say that, despite the United Kingdom's rich maritime history and in contrast to what happens in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, English Heritagethe lead agency for managing physical remains and the historical environment in Englandis not responsible for marine archaeology; the Bill will redress that situation.
At the moment, we are failing to act to protect our national historical heritage, and the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) will correct that. I am delighted that the Government and all the hon. Members who have spoken so far in this brief debate wish the Bill well and hope that it receives its Second Reading. I hope that the House will allow the Bill to be debated in Committee.
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst): I want to add just a brief word in support of the Bill, which my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) has so skilfully steered to this stage of its proceedings. It is now pretty obvious that he has persuaded the House of the Bill's merit, and time has fortunately permitted a debate to take place. The Bill was considered fully in another place, as he said, so we can look at it from our perspective in the light of that knowledge.
Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden): I am pleased to have secured this debate on an issue that is very dear to the hearts of my constituentsthe future of the former Mitcham cottage hospital, the Wilson. It is no exaggeration to say that I speak for virtually all my 70,000 constituentsno matter what their politicswhen I say that they would dearly love the Wilson to re-open its doors as a hospital. It is also no exaggeration to say that the people of Mitcham had, and still have, a strong and proud affection for the Wilsonit was, and is, cherished.
I can do no better to sum up the feelings of Mitcham people than to quote from a handful of the huge number of supportive but unsolicited letters that I have received since I took up the issue in December. Mr. John Brett of Imperial Gardens, Mitcham wrote:
As a local councillor for 16 years in the 1980s and 1990s, I was involved in the campaign to keep the Wilson open. It was a strong and determined campaign, and we achieved a marvellous amount with next to no resources. In spite of initially being successful in preventing its closure, in the end we failed. We were let down by false promises from Conservative Health Ministers. It has been a constant regret to me that we failed.
Towards the end of last year, I took up a campaign in my constituency to urge Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth health authority, and the new south-west London strategic health authority, which is poised to replace it, to find alternative office accommodation to clear the way for the re-introduction of clinical services at the Wilson. Not only is the transition from the health authority to strategic health authority the perfect moment to restate the case for the Wilson, but it is crucial to me that the people of Mitcham are not elbowed to the back of the health queue again.
My campaign includes a petition signed by a large and increasing number of constituents that I plan to present to the House early next month. The campaign has gained eager support from local people of all ages and backgrounds. They include local GPs, and speaking to them has brought home to me the fact that Mitchamwhich is part of the East Merton and Furzedown primary care groupis very much a victim of health inequality.
East Merton primary care group is some £4 million over target compared with Balham, Tooting and Wandsworth primary care group, which is £3 million under target despite similar levels of deprivation. The extra spend comes from the greater use of secondary care services by GPs in East Merton, as there has not been the investment in infrastructure in primary and secondary care from which Wandsworth has benefited so much.
Mitcham has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies and low birth weight pregnancies in the area covered by Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth health authority. Sadly and probably amazingly, Merton has the highest number of children put up for adoption in London. According to 1996 figures, Phipps Bridge ward, in which the Wilson stands, had the highest adult mortality rate in the borough.
Clearly, as well as crying out for the restoration of hospital facilities, there is much to be done to address the very real and disturbing health inequalities that people face in this area of my constituency. I understand that the public health department has been encouraged by local GPs to investigate the inequity between East Merton primary care group and Balham, Tooting and Wandsworth primary care group but, over the last two years, it has been unable to do so. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister would offer some help to hard-pressed GPs in my constituency on this point.
My main objective in this debate is to ask my hon. Friend to offer an undertaking to my constituents in Mitcham and Morden that an option appraisal of intermediate care services in Merton can be carried out to assess the viability of reopening the Wilson as an intermediate care centre and as an extension to the intermediate care service, thereby serving the elderly and the infirm in the Mitcham area who are in need of hospital care.
All hon. Members are aware of the colossal pressure on our large NHS hospitals, such as St. George's in Tooting and St. Helier in Carshalton, both of which serve my constituents. The Wilson is equidistant between the two and could ease the pressure on acute beds in both. Indeed, many former cottage hospitals nationally could be pressed back into use to ease the pressure on acute hospitals and to provide care for the elderly who cannot be cared for in their homes.
I fully realise that there is an on-going debate on how best to deliver intermediate carewhether it should be in the patient's home or in dedicated beds at a resource such as a cottage hospital, which the Wilson has the potential to be. I understand from talking to local GPs that current evidence indicates that care at home with intermediate care nursing teams is probably more effective and better liked by the user of the service. I believe that encouraging independence by providing care in the home is absolutely right.
There are circumstances, however, when respite beds are necessary, for instance when a patient's home circumstances may be unsuitable, or when patients are suffering from dementia or some other severe infirmity that means that they need clinical care 24 hours a day. The Wilson could come into its own in those circumstances, relieving pressure by relieving bed blocking.
Considerable work has been done in the Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth area on intermediate care services. A domiciliary provider team currently managed by South West London Community NHS trust and five residential home beds with rehabilitation services attached are available to support the discharges of Merton patients from St. Helier hospital.
There are between 40 and 55 delayed transfers of care each week from St Helier, the split between Sutton and Merton residents being approximately two thirds and one third respectively. The most significant group that experiences those delays in both boroughs is composed of patients who are waiting for long-term nursing home or residential care. Intermediate care services in their current form would not provide an appropriate level of service for that group of patients. Additional intermediate care beds, with the appropriate rehabilitation input, would, however, undoubtedly allow the trust to discharge some patients much more speedily. That could happen at the Wilson.
In respect of intermediate care needs at St George's, a recent study on such care identified a need for 60 to 70 intermediate care beds across the Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth area. For the area that St. George's covers in Battersea, at least 16 intermediate care beds are needed and the hospital has forwarded a proposal to the Department of Health to expand the intermediate care provision at the Bolingbroke hospital. Such intermediate care provision could also be provided at the Wilson.
On alternative offices for the health authority, I certainly would not want to hound the new strategic health authority out of Mitcham and Morden. I am pleased that such an organisation wants to have its base in my constituency. I acknowledge the good work done by the health authority and the work that its successor body will no doubt do. This is not about the individuals who have their office at the Wilson, but about the fact that that should not be at the expense of a hospital to serve the people of Mitcham.
I have done some research into the office accommodation available in Merton that is of a sufficient sizemore than 1,000 sq ftto house the new strategic health authority, its support groups and the primary care trust that will be co-located with it. With a bit of imagination and, more importantly, the will to move, the health authority could find office accommodation within a few miles of the Wilson. I hope that Merton's Labour council will assist the health authority to find a new home, just as it has made strenuous efforts to help Wimbledon football club find a site for a new stadium. For instance, the partially empty Brown and Root tower in Colliers Wood, just opposite Colliers Wood tube station, has more than enough space for the health authority. More controversially, perhaps, there is space in the soon-to-close Rowan school in Longthornton, which is a fine building in need of a new use. There are others, too.
I ask the Minister to give an undertaking to my constituents, the people of Mitcham and Morden, that an option appraisal of intermediate care services in Merton will be carried out to assess the viability of reopening Wilson hospital as an intermediate care centre. I further ask her to take steps to deal with the inequity between local primary care groups.
I have spoken a lot about the feelings of the people of Mitcham. As someone who has lived in the constituency all my life, I share their feelings. Mitcham has suffered over the years as its facilities and its civic pride have taken a battering. Reopening the Wilson would be a tremendous boost for Mitcham. It would give an entire community great pleasure to see it reopened for the purpose for which it was intended. Sir Isaac Wilson never intended to endow an office block. I therefore strongly urge the Government to respect his wishes, and the wishes of my constituents in Mitcham.