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9. Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): What action he is taking to increase the supply of radiographers. [26368]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): Measures are being taken to improve the recruitment and retention of radiographers. They include improvements in pay and cost-of-living allowances, increased provision of child care and of other means of supporting flexible employment, and increases in the availability of training courses. We are also working closely with the Society and College of Radiographers, running recruitment and return-to-practice campaigns. There are now over 700 more radiographers working in the NHS today than in 1997, an increase of 6 per cent.

Mrs. Campbell: I welcome the improvement in radiographer services at Addenbrooke's hospital. The provision of brand new linear accelerators has been very welcome, as they are much more efficient. They take longer to set up, however, which has increased the need for radiographers at the hospital. Will my hon. Friend

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consider using trained staff to administer radiotherapy? Such staff, being less than fully qualified, would work under the supervision of fully trained radiographers.

Mr. Hutton: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's words of support, and the answer to her question is yes. Addenbrooke's is one of the 13 pilot sites that are currently helping shape new roles for what we call assistant practitioners in radiography. They can make a powerful and important contribution to dealing with some of the problems that my hon. Friend has identified, and to improving the service available to NHS patients.

Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there are variations in the recruitment of radiographers and nurses both within and between regions? That has a lot to do with the uncertainty about the continued existence of certain hospitals. On two occasions, the right hon. Gentleman was unable to see a delegation from Lichfield and Burntwood to discuss the future of hospitals in the area, where there is real uncertainty about the future of day surgery. We met the Under-Secretary of State in the other place, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in November. He promised to respond rapidly, but we still have not received a reply. When will we get a reply? When will we be able to recruit the nurses and radiographers that we need? This matter goes back to November.

Mr. Hutton: The fact that I was unable to meet the delegation was not for want of trying, nor because I had no desire to meet the hon. Gentleman. The hon. Gentleman knows why I was not able to attend those meetings. On one occasion I had to travel to Ottawa to attend an international forum dealing with issues connected with bioterrorism. I hope that hon. Members would regard that as a pretty good reason. I shall write to the hon. Gentleman soon—

Michael Fabricant: Soon?

Mr. Hutton: Today. The hon. Gentleman will get the letter later this afternoon. However, he may be interested to know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is to hold a meeting on expanding access to day surgery tomorrow. I shall keep the hon. Gentleman informed of progress.

Lymington Community Hospital

10. Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East): If he will make a statement on the future of the Lymington community hospital. [26369]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears): New Forest primary care trust, which manages Lymington hospital, is developing proposals for a new hospital and plans to submit its outline business case to the NHS regional office next month.

Dr. Lewis: I thank the Minister for that reply, although it is slightly uninformative. The existing health authority is to be wound up at the end of March, and replaced by a new strategic health authority. Is the hon. Lady aware of the New Forest primary care trust's concern that there is

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a risk that the funding allocated for the new hospital under the existing health authority might not be carried forward as a commitment by the new health authority? The trust is also worried that what might be termed planning blight will add to the hold-ups that have bedevilled the project for so many years. Can the Minister give a reassurance that the New Forest will not lose out in funding and suffer further delays as a result of the changeover to the new health authority?

Ms Blears: I am aware that it has taken time for the project to reach fruition, but I am delighted at another example of delivery. I am aware also of how much the hon. Gentleman's constituents will value that facility. I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the matter has been brought to my attention and that I will follow it through. The plans are well advanced for 113 beds, two theatres, an endoscopy suite, outpatient services, X-ray facilities, dental services, pharmacy and pathology. It will be a wonderful enhancement to the hon. Gentleman's community and I hope that this Government will be able to deliver it.

Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring): What will be the implications for Lymington hospital and other building projects of the south-east region being overspent by £60 million, which will have to be paid for out of next year's allocation?

Ms Blears: No, it will not. Hon. Members have become a little excited at the prospect of the south-east's financial position. The deficit that the south-east region is facing is about 1 per cent. of its budget and one eighth of 1 per cent. of the overall NHS budget. Such matters arise from time to time; they will be resolved. The majority of the deficit—some £51 million—is the result of increases in prescribing. Many drugs are being prescribed to prevent ill health in the first place.

Warrington, North (Appointees)

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Question 11, please.

11. Helen Jones (Warrington, North): What progress has been made in appointing more people from the Warrington, North constituency to serve on health authorities and trusts. [26370]

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. Is there a Minister willing to answer Question 11?

Ms Blears: Sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The National Health Service Appointments Commission aims at ensuring that board membership reflects the geographical areas served by the bodies concerned. The criteria issued by the commission state that it is essential that candidates must live in the area served by the health authority or NHS trust—or in the case of a patient care trust, be registered as a patient of a general practitioner within the PCT area.

Helen Jones: My hon. Friend is possibly looking for the word "none" in her answer. The health service cannot meet the needs of those whom it is meant to serve unless people in the most health-deprived areas are represented in decision making. It is nonsense for the commission to

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argue that it cannot find suitable candidates to serve on NHS bodies from a constituency of more than 72,000 voters. My constituency and others like it have been badly let down. Most of the commission's recent appointments were from the wealthier areas of Warrington, South. It is a case of good chaps appointing other good chaps, and the golf club rules. What will the Minister do to redress inequality?

Ms Blears: My hon. Friend raises an important point. If the health service is to be redesigned around patient needs, it is crucial that a proper cross-section of the public serve on boards. The new Commission for Patient and Public Involvement in Health will be charged with finding people who want to serve on health bodies, patients forums and panels—and in the governance of future health service bodies—to make sure that people from a much wider range of social backgrounds become involved. I am concerned about that matter and mean to make progress. Considerable progress has been made in recent years in appointing not just women but people with disabilities and from a range of ethnic backgrounds, but there is much more to be done.

Mr. Oliver Heald (North-East Hertfordshire): Is the pattern of appointments to health bodies that serve Warrington, North the same nationally? The commission has appointed five times more Labour supporters than Conservatives or Liberal Democrats to NHS bodies—140 Labour, 30 Conservative and 31 Liberal Democrats. Those are the Minister's own figures, given in a parliamentary answer dated 8 January. What will the Minister do about the culture of Labour cronyism?

Ms Blears: The commission does indeed appoint people on merit—people who properly represent their communities. The Commissioner for Public Appointments has just reviewed the appointments to primary care trusts, and she said that there was

She concluded that there was

I am afraid, therefore, that Conservative Members will really have to do better and ensure that the appointments that are made on merit perhaps include some people with the ability to represent their communities.

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