HC Deb 28 February 1995 vol 255 cc831-2
8. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when he expects to announce his decision on the locations of the new medical district hospital units.

11. Mr. Jim Cunningham

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what proposals he has to rationalise military hospitals.

Mr. Soames

There are no proposals to rationalise military hospitals further to the decision that I announced on 8 December last year to establish a single, tri-service core hospital with at least 375 beds in the United Kingdom at the current Royal Naval hospital at Haslar in Gosport. I expect to make an announcement shortly on the locations of the new Ministry of Defence hospital units.

Mr. Coombs

I recognise the need to reduce the medical capacity of the services as a result of other changes that my hon. Friend and his colleagues have made in recent months, but I hope that he will take this opportunity to pay a warm tribute to the staff of Princess Alexandra hospital at Wroughton for their excellent work over many years not only in caring for RAF personnel but many of my constituents and those of my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram), who is in his place. Will my hon. Friend assure me that he will bear in mind, when making his decision about the location of future MDHUs, that the presence of an MDHU in the Swindon area will make it that much easier for the Swindon and Marlborough health trust, which serves north-east Wiltshire, to continue to provide the same excellent service in the future?

Mr. Soames

I am happy to have the opportunity to confirm everything that my hon. Friend has said and to pay tribute to the robust and vigorous lobbying that was undertaken by him and my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) on behalf of the Princess Alexandra hospital at Wroughton. It is an outstanding hospital and has served our military personnel and the wider community very well indeed. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the changes are inevitable and are the result of slimming of the forces, and the requirement to deal with our medical requirements in an assessed operational way for the 1990s. I endorse his views about the Princess Margaret hospital in Swindon. I am not, I am afraid, yet in a position to give him a guarantee on that, but will let him know as soon as we come to a decision.

Mr. Cunningham

Is the Minister satisfied that, in a worst-case scenario—for example, a rapid withdrawal from Bosnia—medical resources would be available, bearing in mind the rapid cuts that have been made in medical services over the past three or four years?

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman asks an important question, and I am pleased to be able to give him an absolute assurance that resources would be available. Indeed, none of the alterations and cuts to the services has been made to do anything other than support the front line in all assessed operational scenarios for the 1990s. I am therefore happy to give him whatever undertaking he wishes in respect of a withdrawal from Bosnia should that be necessary.

Sir Michael Grylls

When my hon. Friend considers the siting of MDHUs, will he bear in mind the possibility of siting one at Frimley Park hospital, which is a real centre of medical excellence in Surrey and is ideally suited because it is surrounded by a large number of service establishments?

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend and to my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Mr. Critchley), who has been a doughty champion of Frimley hospital. I am afraid that we have not yet reached a conclusion. As soon as we do so—I note and am fully aware of the excellent facilities at Frimley Park hospital—we will report to the House.

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