§ Mr. Kidney
Do I thank my hon. Friend for that answer? He is aware that there are some health trusts, such as the Mid-Staffordshire General Hospitals NHS trust in my constituency, whose finances are sufficiently precarious to need special monitoring by his officials. Does he agree that national health service staff in such trusts work in a dedicated and committed way and yet sometimes feel that the financial position is such that they are working with one hand tied behind their backs? Can he assure us that the monitoring is sufficiently robust to ensure that the full range and quality of services that the local populace, including trust employees, require will be available in those trusts?
§ Mr. Milburn
Of course staff in organizations that have been landed in debt as a consequence of the policies carried out by the previous Government are at the sharp end of dilemmas. When we came to power, two thirds of health authorities were in debt and the national health service as a whole was in debt to the tune of £450 million, thanks to the lacklustre and reckless performance of the Conservatives. We have halved that debt and are well on target to get the NHS back into financial balance. That is largely a consequence of the record levels of investment that we are now making in the NHS, including the extra £38 million that has gone into the South Staffordshire area.
§ Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove)
I am sure that the Minister is aware that the way he is tackling the funding problem in Worcestershire is to close Kidderminster general hospital and to downgrade the accident and emergency departments at Kidderminster hospital and at the Alexandra hospital, Redditch, to the status of glorified minor injuries units. That is the policy of the Labour Government, whereas, for 18 years under the previous Conservative Administration, those facilities remained open.
The Minister might not be aware that, during the last general election, his hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Lock) campaigned saying that a Labour Government would keep Kidderminster general hospital open; or that his hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith) campaigned on the basis that the accident and emergency department at Alexandra hospital would not be downgraded. However, both those things have come to pass under a Labour Government who promised to improve our national health service.
All we in north Worcestershire have experienced are cuts. I should be grateful if, instead of conversing with other hon. Members, the Minister answered the real concerns of the people of north Worcestershire who are finding that the Labour Government, who promised to improve the NHS, are cutting it.
§ Mr. Milburn
The hon. Lady must be the only person in Worcestershire who thinks that Kidderminster general 754 hospital is closing. It is not closing; it is staying open. Instead of condemning my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest, she would do better to praise him for the conscientious campaign that he has led to ensure that there is a high-quality, modern and dependable emergency centre at the hospital. Its existence is thanks to the decisions that we have taken, which are getting Worcestershire health authority and the good people of Kidderminster out of the mess in which the Conservative Government landed them.