HC Deb 26 April 1991 vol 189 cc1341-3

11 am

Ms. Harriet Harman (Peckham)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of which I have given you notice. Will a Health Minister make a statement to the House about the cut of 600 jobs at Guy's hospital? Will anyone take responsibility for that, or is the Government's attitude, "Guy's? It has opted out and is nothing to do with us any more"? Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, use your influence to bring a Minister to the House to answer for the shortage of funds that has led to the jobs being axed, or is it the case that now that Guy's has opted out, the only accountability is to the balance sheet, not to the patients or the local community? The Prime Minister is to have a health summit tomorrow. Scrapping the national health service changes must be at the top of his agenda.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It would be helpful if you could tell the House whether you have been given any idea of the Government's response to the knowledge that they were given this morning that requests were being made for Ministers to come to the House to answer the complaints about the sudden announcement of the cuts at Guy's hospital, which is in my constituency.

The case raises an issue for the first time. It is the first such announcement since self-governing hospital trusts came into operation on 1 April. The constitutional problem may be that Ministers are reluctant to come to the House because they are suddenly saying that they are no longer answerable for self-governing hospital trusts. If that is why the Secretary of State or his Ministers are not here—I understand that although the Secretary of State may not be in London, Ministers are in the Department today—it cannot be right.

The argument for self-government is that the hospital is now directly accountable to the Government and that the local health authority has been cut out. The House needs an assurance that at the least on Monday if not today, because we must give the Government the opportunity to get their argument together, given that they will meet at Chequers tomorrow to discuss health service policy, the Secretary of State will come to the House to explain how it is possible for 600 jobs, one eighth of the work force, to go from the local hospital without a reduction in care for the community.

I am often in the hospital——

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is raising a point of order. He cannot go into the merits of the case, especially during private Members' time.

Mr. Hughes

I will be brief. Ministers need to come to the House because the statement made on behalf of the hospital yesterday—not publicly, as there has been no communication with elected representatives and no alerting of local Members of Parliament—is that there will be no reduction in care. It has even been said that the cuts are being made to advance the care of the patients. That cannot be true. Someone must explain to the House how it is possible for employees of the public health service to make what is clearly a misleading statement from which many people are likely to suffer. If we can have an announcement today that there will be a statement on Monday, it will at least be possible to question the Secretary of State on what could be a matter of precedent affecting many people, many hospitals and many workers in the health service throughout England and Wales.

Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford)

The self-governing trust to which hon. Members have referred is Guy's and Lewisham, so the cuts affect Lewisham hospital in my constituency. I have had no notice of the cuts and I have not been consulted. I wish to add to the call made by my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Ms. Harman) for a statement in the House so that we may question Ministers.

In Lewisham, we face the closure of Sydenham children's hospital and the moving of its facilities to our site. Will that be placed in jeopardy? Will phase 2 of our hospital be placed in jeopardy? We cannot tell, but we are told that the cuts are across the board. A 10 per cent. cut in staff at Lewisham hospital would be extremely deleterious to our health services. As my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham said, Ministers must be made responsible for the action. I beg you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to use your good offices to ensure that Ministers come to the House either today or another day to answer for what will be, I am sure, a severe reduction in the health services available to my constituents.

Mr. John Townend


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Is the hon. Gentleman speaking on the same point of order?

Mr. Townend


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Please speak very briefly because we are cutting into private Members' time.

Mr. Townend

Further to the point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. These things happen all the time. One should not always accept the idea that because staff are cut, services will be cut. One might consider the catering side of hospitals—

Ms. Ruddock

This is not a point of order.

Mr. Townend

It is a point of order.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We cannot debate the matter now. If the hon. Gentleman has a point of order for me, I will hear it.

Mr. Townend

It is quite unreasonable for the Opposition to demand on a Friday that a Minister should come to the House. There is no urgency in the matter. A Minister could easily make a statement next week. There is no urgency for a statement to be made before the weekend. Ministers are supposed to be running the country, so it would be inconvenient for them to come to the House today. The demand is unnecessary.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I speak as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. I recall that the trusts were established by delegated powers. As far as I can recall, there were no provisions in that delegated legislation for the removal of parliamentary accountability and the responsibility of Ministers to make statements to the House when there were such enormous, cataclysmic and catastrophic announcements of 600 redundancies at a given hospital. I thought, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that if you were making inquiries on behalf of the House, which is anxious to have a statement from the Government, it should be borne in mind that Ministers still have responsibility for the catastrophe.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

There has been no request for a statement on the matter, but no doubt what has been said will have been heard by members of the Government Front Bench. The hon. Members concerned will be able to seek other opportunities to raise the matter.