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9 Mar 2010 : Column 196
5.53 pm

Mr. Lee Scott (Ilford, North) (Con): I shall restrict my comments. I shall not be party political, nor shall I give a history lesson, because our constituents want and deserve more than cheap political point scoring, although it is unfortunate that this debate is happening at a time when a general election is to be held in a matter of a few weeks.

Let me start by talking about secrecy. Normally, the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) and I would be called in to the primary care trust for a meeting to discuss any proposals, but surprisingly on this occasion the trust did not want us together; it wanted us separately. However, when we went in, we both faced the same panel-a panel of doctors and clinicians-telling us why it was better for our constituents not to have services at King George hospital, and how that would benefit them. We were told that things would be absolutely fine, but let me say this to those bureaucrats. After a public meeting with hundreds of people, which I, like the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), held, we too had a march involving all the parties. The hon. Member for Ilford, South and I, together with other hon. Members in the area, worked together for what is best for our constituents-not what is best for the political parties, but what is best for the people who put us here.

Jeremy Corbyn: Don't point your finger at me!

Mr. Scott: I thank the hon. Gentleman for agreeing with me.

The proposals to cut A and E, maternity and other services at King George hospital will benefit nobody-not one constituent in Ilford, South, not one in Ilford, North, and not one in Leyton and Wanstead, or Chingford and Woodford Green-because believe me, if the services at King George are cut, Queen's hospital in Romford will not be able to take the pressure.

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Before A and E, and maternity services, could be transferred from King George hospital, which would be a negative move for his constituents, additional space would have to be created at Queen's hospital, which is already at full capacity. That could be achieved only by moving some existing services elsewhere, but there is no suggestion of what those services might be or where they would be moved to.

Mr. Scott: My hon. Friend is perfectly right. The biggest problem in this whole exercise is that Queen's hospital cannot cope even now. There are many occasions on which it cannot take A and E patients, who are diverted back to King George hospital, so how cutting the services there could possibly benefit anybody I do not know.

We have also seen another major problem. We heard earlier about the NHS and rewards for failure. This House has heard me say before that the previous chief executive in the Barking, Havering and Redbridge trust got a substantial pay-off for working up one of the largest deficits in this country, totalling more than £100 million, which is why the current problems exist.

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The most important thing that can be said is that we have to protect the services. I promise that I am not scaremongering, but lives will be lost, given the time that it would take for someone living in the west of my constituency-for instance, in Hainault, where I happen to live, or in Woodford or Woodford Bridge-to get to Queen's hospital in Romford. The proposals have to be stopped. That is why, whatever motion we have tabled, if it says, "We must halt this now," it is the right motion. We cannot have these ludicrous cuts. I have received more than 1,000 communications from my constituents. Surprisingly enough, not one has said, "We think it'd be a good idea to cut services at King George"-and that is true across the political spectrum; this has nothing to do with party politics or scaremongering. I have also received anonymous e-mails, but I am not even going to mention those because they were anonymous, and I do not know whether they were correct or not. However, I do know that many staff at the hospital are scared to speak their minds because they fear to lose their jobs. I understand and respect that.

I have one final point. At the public meeting that I held, I was told by the PCT and a doctor that if somebody had a heart attack outside King George hospital, they would be taken to another A and E unit. I have never heard anything so ludicrous. How could it possibly be better for anybody not to be assessed at the A and E unit closest to where they live? If we do not stop the proposals-not only the proposals for King George hospital, but those for hospitals across our area-we will be letting down the very people who elected us to this House last time, and who will or will not elect us here in a few weeks. We are here to represent them. Let us not forget that.

5.59 pm

Mr. Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): I welcome this opportunity to debate health care in London, primarily because there has been a lack of transparency and debate about alleged NHS London plans for my local hospital, Ealing hospital, and for other hospital trusts across London. Leaked reports from NHS London have caused great concern among my constituents about the future of Ealing hospital and its A and E, maternity, children's and acute services. The local paper, the Ealing Gazette, has begun a campaign, along with the local community, to save our services at Ealing hospital, and I have pledged my support for that campaign.

Since the NHS London report came to light, I have had meetings with Ealing hospital's chief executive, with representatives of Ealing PCT, and with consultants from the hospital. I have also had discussions and correspondence with NHS London and with the Secretary of State for Health. I should like to quote from the NHS integrated service plan for 2009 to 2014, which was drawn up by the north-west London commissioning partnership at the behest of NHS London. The following paragraph relates to the plans for Ealing hospital:

I agree with Ealing's consultants that any reduction in the level of acute services at Ealing hospital will inevitably lead to the closure of the A and E department at Ealing, and the loss of acute services at Ealing can only mean that it will no longer be a meaningful local acute hospital.

I agree with the British Medical Association's London regional council when it says that London's doctors and patients are being kept in the dark about NHS London's proposals. I also agree with its statement that

Stephen Pound: My hon. Friend is making a characteristically powerful case, and I know how much he cares for, and has fought for, the A and E department at Ealing hospital. Does he agree that of all the boroughs he has mentioned, Ealing has the largest population-nearly 330,000-and that those people have an extraordinary range of health problems and inequalities that are almost unique within the sector? Does he also agree that, if this glorious amalgamation-this great mélange of trusts-should come together, all that is special and unique about Ealing would be lost, including, above all, the ability of Ealing hospital to attend to those special needs and demands?

Mr. Sharma: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I agree with him, but I shall not repeat what has already been said by other hon. Members about this.

I recognise the need to develop more locally based primary care services at polyclinics, but they are as yet unbuilt and untried. Ealing hospital has approximately 100,000 A and E patients each year and, although many of those could be treated in a primary care setting, many could not, and those patients are dependent for their treatment-and, in some instances, their lives-on the acute services that are an integral part of the A and E department. With such large numbers visiting Ealing's A and E, which was originally designed to treat only 30,000 patients, we have to ask ourselves where they would all go if the A and E were to close.

I am still deeply concerned about the future of Ealing hospital. I live only five minutes away from it, and I am not planning on moving away from the area, so it will always be my local hospital. My children and grandchildren also see it as their local hospital. My grandchildren were born there, and my daughter-in-law received life-saving treatment there. Ealing hospital serves the majority of my constituents, many of whom are from ethnic minority groups and who do not have English as their first language. They are often disadvantaged, vulnerable and voiceless. They would have to travel much further if A and E and acute services were closed or downgraded at Ealing hospital. Their distinctive cultural and language needs are currently well met by the hospital, and I doubt that that would be the case elsewhere. Along with the consultants, I am also concerned for the safety of patients if there were no A and E and acute services at the heart of my community at Ealing hospital.

I am committed to speaking up for my constituents on this issue, and I have tabled an early-day motion that I ask other concerned Members to sign. I have also
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written to Mr. Speaker requesting an Adjournment debate on the same subject. I hope that these alleged plans never see the light of day, but if they are real, they must be brought out into the open so that local people can find out what is being proposed and make their views known. I for one want to make it very clear that I oppose any plans, real or otherwise, to downgrade acute services at Ealing hospital. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this debate and to put this on the record.

6.6 pm

Susan Kramer (Richmond Park) (LD): I particularly appreciate this opportunity to speak in the debate in defence of my local hospital, Kingston hospital. I am joined in my campaign by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey). We first learned of the risk to the hospital's accident and emergency and maternity departments towards the end of last year. We told NHS officials that we thought the plans were outrageous. Kingston's maternity department deals with nearly 6,000 births a year, and the A and E unit treats more than 100,000 patients a year. It is therefore busier than almost any other hospital that has been mentioned. We agreed that we would hold back from going public with our campaign until the documents had been published. However, we were told in January that the documents would be withheld until after the general election, so we went public with our campaign anyway.

I have heard about cross-party campaigns in every corner of London, but I am incredibly sad to say that south-west London is the exception, and accusations of scaremongering have been levelled against my hon. Friend and me today. Those who did so are well aware, however, that, on 8 February, we put into the public arena the document that was leaked to us confirming everything that we had said about the threats to Kingston hospital. That document-the "South-West London Strategic Plan: private and confidential: final draft"-is now on our website. It lists the 18 options under consideration, nearly all of which, unfortunately, involve the loss of services at Kingston hospital.

Those hon. Members will also be entirely aware that, on 24 February, Kingston's health overview panel held a five-hour scrutiny meeting, at which NHS representatives were questioned for almost the entire time. I will read the local newspaper's report of that meeting. It said:

That is from our very reliable Richmond and Twickenham Times. We have also put into the public arena today, through our website, the presentation to NHS Kingston's joint board and professional executive committee meeting, dated 15 January. That document unfortunately shows the situation to be even worse, involving a greater loss of elective surgery than we had feared. I am expecting a sincere-and, I hope, written-apology from those on the other Benches.

More than anything, however, I am here to ask for the disclosure of information. My local residents want to be part of this conversation in detail. They want to understand all the facts and issues now, when they can
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be part of the fundamental discussion, and not when they have been told that they can find out about them. At that point, three final options will be presented to them, and there will be a 12-week formal consultation, which can have an impact only at the edges.

We have put freedom of information requests in place, but the response to all of them was, "You are asking for too much information." But there is no such thing as too much information for the public, who need to be able to participate and make decisions. Although I intend to pursue those FOIs, let me show how bad things are by reading from the front of the leaked document, now on the website:

Even FOIs will not obtain the full range of information.

I am incredibly sad to say that the Conservatives do not join us in the wish for full information. The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) declared in the debate of 8 February that he would not have put into the arena the information that we have, which I find shocking. On 24 February, after five hours of questioning the NHS, Liberal Democrat councillors at Kingston council moved a resolution. It said that since the panel was now aware of the first of the documents, the south-west London strategic plan, it called

Every Conservative councillor present voted against that resolution. I am afraid that we are in a battle for information by ourselves.

The House will be interested to know that my Conservative opponent joined in a letter with my Labour opponent and the Green, all saying that our campaign had been invented and amounted to scaremongering. I envy the many others who have cross-party co-operation because that is what people in our area deserve and should have. I turn to the Government and ask them to provide the information so that our local people can be fully engaged and involved in absolutely key and critical decisions at a time when decisions should be flexible and are formulated. I also turn to the Conservatives and ask why they are singling out south-west London as place for which they do not demand information and why they will not join in the defence of the hospital, because it is time that they did, for the sake of all our constituents.

6.12 pm

Emily Thornberry (Islington, South and Finsbury) (Lab): Let me begin by putting the issues in the context of Islington. We have clearly benefited hugely, with the tripled budget, from the Labour Government's investment in the health service. We have the best cancer unit in Britain in the world's oldest hospital, at Barts. We have new doctor surgeries and more money is spent on health per head in Islington than anywhere else.

We also have the fantastic University College London hospital. My family, I am afraid, know the hospital all too well. The last time I went to its A and E department, my 10-year-old shouted rather loudly, "Mummy, this is normally where we sit." The A and E was built for 60,000 people to go to, but now 100,000 people go there. I understand that the A and E at the Whittington
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hospital has had £32 million invested in it. The reason we have all this money spent in Islington is because we die too early. Although the death rate has declined over the last few years, it is still very marked indeed, as about 46 per cent. of Islington residents die prematurely.

We have done well, but we now hear that the NHS in Islington has, after a dance of seven veils, a plan to close the Whittington A and E and the maternity unit, to which we say, "But why?" We are told that it is because we are going to be £560 million short, to which we say, "Well, why? Where did you get that from? What are you talking about?" Frankly, we get very little response that makes any sense. We then say, "Is this because you are anticipating a Tory Government? Because do you know what? There hasn't even been an election yet. Who knows whether or not we are going to have to suffer a Conservative Government? Why are you making plans in anticipation of those sorts of cuts?"

There has been, and still is, a great campaign. It was launched in Islington and is led by local MPs. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) said at a large meeting after a demonstration, saving the Whittington is one of the few things that unites Tottenham and Arsenal supporters. We have a great campaign, which has involved more than 10,000 people, half of whom were on the demonstration that marched up Holloway road last week. We have had packed public meetings, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn). The Islington Tribune has provided crucial support to the campaign, as has the Islington Gazette.

Let me assure the Islington PCT that we mean business; we do not expect the A and E or the maternity unit in the Whittington hospital to close. If decisions are to be made locally, the PCT should listen to local people. If it wants a consultation, all it has to do is ask, and we will tell it to leave the Whittington alone. If it thinks otherwise, it will have a fight on its hands.

6.15 pm

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry). We are part of the north central London sector, facing similar challenges from the 80 or so wise men and women who are determining the health care of the people in our areas.

We often say that our constituencies are unique and require special attention, and no more so than my constituency and Enfield more widely. Perhaps, however, that should not the case in this instance, as we are all concerned about secrecy and plans that are being meted out without proper public consultation or clinical input. In Enfield, we can peer into and go beyond the world of Darzi and see what the real world could be like. We are, in a sense, the leaders of the pack when it comes to health care for London. Plans were put in place three years ago, which in many ways have been mirrored across London, so let us peer in and see what has happened in Enfield.

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