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Mr. Brazier: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time, but I seek clarification on a further point. The outcome of this will have a profound effect on cancer services, but they are not part of the consultation process and Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells trust was not among the consultees and did not sign the document. Do the community health councils have the legal power to refer those matters to the Secretary of State?
Yvette Cooper: If the matters under consideration as part of that consultation are referred to Ministers by the community health council, Ministers will take account of the points that hon. Members have made in this House about cancer and related issues when they come to consider those subjects.
The Kent cancer network has looked at the national cancer plan in order to determine the future vision for the delivery of cancer services in Kent. It is clear that cancer services will continue to be provided at a number of hospitals, including the Kent and Canterbury. I am advised that the vast majority of patients requiring cancer services will continue to be treated in Canterbury under each of the four options. The few patients in Kent who need specialist cancer services will continue to be treated in centres that are able to provide the specialist care that they require. That is entirely appropriate and follows good practice and is the most effective means of offering access to high-quality care for all patients.
Cancer services at Kent and Canterbury hospital are part of the Kent cancer network and it is important that they remain so as part of the national cancer plan, the standards of which ensure high-quality care.
The cancer strategy for Kent is currently being developed. It will set out the current arrangements and the priorities for future investment. The East Kent Hospitals Trust is working effectively with the Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells trust and the cancer network towards this aim.
I am advised that in none of the options is it stated that Canterbury will lose its ability to care for cancer patients. The consultation document has given East Kent residents the undertaking that the majority of cancer patients who currently receive treatment there will continue to do so.
Hugh Robertson: Is not the crucial point that even by the trust's own estimates ambulatory or out-patient treatment will account for only 80 per cent. of those currently treated at the Kent and Canterbury? That leaves a significant 20 per cent. of in-patients who will have to go all the way to Maidstone or to other hospitals in London for specialist treatment. That is a significant proportion of patients who will be worse off under this plan at a time when Maidstone, at the other end of my constituency, is telling me that it cannot cope.
Yvette Cooper: Again, I have to say that the issues around the options need to be taken into account first and foremost by the local boards. They must make their decision. It would be wrong for me to pre-empt that process.
When it comes to cancer patients and cancer care people want to be sure that they are getting the highest quality care, especially for life-threatening conditions. We need to consider issues around access, but also issues around the quality of care. That in the end is what the
Whatever option in the re-configuration is chosen, the adoption of the national cancer plan will continue to influence and improve the final pattern of services to be delivered. As part of the cancer plan we need more nurses, doctors, radiographers and equipment, and we need to ensure that new drugs are available to those who can benefit from them and that people suffering from cancer get the highest possible quality of care.
Although many views on reconfiguration issues are being discussed in east Kent, I understand that there is agreement that the issues must be fully discussed and in an informed way. All parties recognise the important need for modernisation and for investment in the area. It is important that the debate has been aired widely and fully, and I know that the hon. Member for Canterbury has striven to do that at every possible opportunity.
I assure the hon. Gentleman, my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey and other hon. Members that Ministers do not take the turbulence that the different views have created lightly. We consider it seriously and