HC Deb 02 November 1998 vol 318 cc550-1
18. Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

If he will make a statement on the future of the Royal hospital, Haslar. [55895]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. Doug Henderson)

The future of the Royal hospital, Haslar is still under review. We shall make an announcement when final decisions have been made.

Mr. Viggers

Is the Minister aware that it is not only my constituents who are aghast at the threat hanging over Haslar? Many hon. Members from both sides of the House, members and former members of the Defence Committee and service personnel are horrified that the Government cannot confirm that Haslar's role will be continued. Does he realise that we must have a centre of excellence in the defence medical services, and that even Government publications have said that uncertainty would be the worst of all options? Will he confirm Haslar's role soon?

Mr. Henderson

I hope to be able to confirm Haslar's role soon. However, as the hon. Gentleman is aware from our previous correspondence, a major gap in medical provision in the armed forces was identified during the previous Government's period in office. We have been trying to put that gap right, so that we can guarantee that we have the back-up support necessary when our forces go into battle. We have to have the right number of consultants, nurses and ancillary staff based in centres of excellence—to which staff are attracted, and at which they receive the right training and provide essential services. I have an implementation team examining the matter, on which I hope to be able to make an announcement soon.

Laura Moffatt (Crawley)

Is it not important that we get the issue absolutely right? The defence medical services suffered an enormous blow under the previous Government. Although there are great difficulties at Haslar, and there will be much discomfort until the issue is settled, is it not crucial that, this time, we get it right?

Mr. Henderson

I agree with my hon. Friend, who clearly makes her point that the problem has existed for a long time. I am not saying that the previous Government did not attempt to address the issue. However, they were unsuccessful in making long-lasting proposals to meet the well-identified shortcomings. It is crucial that, this time, we get it right, which is why I have asked an implementation team to examine the options.

Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough)

As other hon. Members have said, the problem with the Royal hospital, Haslar exemplifies the difficulties generally with the defence medical services, and specifically with Territorial and reserve medical forces. What will the Government do about preserving the strength of the Territorial defence medical services?

Mr. Henderson

Again, the hon. and learned Gentleman raises an important issue. Shortcomings in our medical provision were identified under the previous Government, one of the main areas being the Territorial Army. By any estimate, the TA is thousands short in the necessary provision. One of the central features and guiding principles of our review of the TA is that we should try to put that right. The hon. and learned Gentleman makes a key point, and he will find that, when a statement is made to the House, it will have been well taken into account in our proposals.