HC Deb 26 June 1979 vol 969 cc266-7
5. Mr. Newens

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services how many hospital beds in the Essex area are at present unused owing to lack of funds.

Dr. Vaughan

Regrettably, 10 mental illness beds at Princess Alexandra hospital, Harlow, were temporarily closed last year. These beds are due to reopen on 1 July.

Mr. Newens

Is the Minister aware that the number of unused beds in the district is much greater than his answer indicates? Is it not a disgrace that wards and beds lie unused while waiting lists for operations lengthen and while facilities for geriatric, psycho-geriatric, mentally handicapped and young chronically sick patients are most inadequate, particularly in the Harlow area? Will he take steps to ensure that adequate money is made available and that there are no further cuts?

Dr. Vaughan

I greatly sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's feelings, although not with the way in which he expressed them. We are deeply concerned about the standard of care of patients, since those standards have been falling steadily in the past four or five years. We now have an appalling situation in which beds are empty but waiting lists are steadily lengthening.

Mr. Neubert

How many hospital beds are unused in the metropolitan Essex area as a result of area health authorities closing wards in small cottage hospitals in advance of statutory consultations? Is he aware that the children's ward in the Victoria hospital, Romford, has been closed for more than a year, presumably to pre-empt a decision on the future existence of that hospital?

Dr. Vaughan

Hospitals cannot be closed in advance of statutory consultations, except on a temporary basis. But we are clear that many people wish to keep their local hospitals. If there are no major medical reasons against this, why should these hospitals not be retained? Therefore, unlike the previous Government, we shall, wherever possible, keep open the small hospitals.

Mr. Ennals

Is it not likely that the cuts referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) are likely to happen all over the country, not only as a result of sticking to the rigid cash limits established by the Labour Government, but because of the VAT increase? With the level of inflation as high as it is, does this not amount to about a 3 per cent. cut in real terms for health authorities? Will not this produce disastrous results? What does the Minister intend to do about the position?

Dr. Vaughan

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman's analysis of the financial position, although it is an appalling one and one which we have inherited from the previous Government. Is he not referring to examples of what he and I would like to see but which we now cannot afford nationally because of the financial chaos left by the previous Government?