HC Deb 13 December 1999 vol 341 cc15-6
12. Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central)

When he plans to announce a decision on the future location of the Centre for Defence Medicine. [100964]

The Minister for the Armed Forces (Mr. John Spellar)

I am delighted to announce that, after careful consideration, the University Hospital Birmingham NHS trust has been selected as the host for the new centre for defence medicine. The three competing bids received from NHS trusts were all of a very high quality, but after rigorous evaluation, the University Hospital Birmingham NHS trust was found to meet our requirements most effectively.

The establishment of the Centre for Defence Medicine is an important landmark in our new strategy for the defence medical services. The centre will provide a very important professional focus for military medicine, and a prestigious place of work. The formal agreement with the trust is expected to be in place by 1 April, and the centre is expected to open by April 2001.

Mr. Cousins

Will my hon. Friend confirm that one in eight of the armed forces are recruited in the north-east of England, while only one in 100 jobs are located there? One of the three sites under consideration—an excellent site—was in the centre of the city of Newcastle. Does my hon. Friend realise that his announcement will be greeted with a good deal of dismay, disappointment and, indeed, anger in that area?

Mr. Spellar

I recognise that Newcastle, as well as Guy's and St. Thomas's, will be disappointed not to have been selected as the preferred host. I reiterate that all three bids were of extremely high quality, but we had to choose one, and the bid from the University Hospital Birmingham NHS trust was clearly the best and met the criteria. I fully understand what my hon. Friend has said. I understand the disappointment, but it was the best of three good bids.

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)

It is over a year since the Government announced the foundation of a centre of medical excellence, during which time a number of the prime candidates have dropped out, leaving only three. Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the level of dismay that will be felt within defence medical services that the Government are pressing ahead with the plan? Is he aware that, if they were to proceed, the effect would be to transfer doctors and nurses from an area of medical deprivation—South Hampshire—to one which I understand has sufficiency? I use the word "would" rather than "will" because I forecast that doctors and nurses who have chosen in the past five years to move their homes and families to South Hampshire to be near the only tri-service hospital at Haslar will not move to Birmingham. The result will be that the Government's inept and disastrous policy will not succeed.

Mr. Spellar

The hon. Gentleman has had a long and consistent record of representing his constituency on this issue. As he knows, I met him and his constituents at Haslar. The message that I got from people in the defence medical services was quite the reverse: they were asking for an early decision on the centre for defence medicine. They see that as an attraction and a key part of a future successful defence medical services. That is separate from the issue of the role of Haslar and the transfer to Queen Alexandra hospital, Portsmouth. They see the centre as an integral part of the defence medical services and a major attraction to young people wishing to be involved. All the messages that I get, not just from the chain of command, but from people on the ground, is that they are looking forward to the centre in Birmingham. They think that it is an exciting venture and prospect. When they become involved with the centre, they will find that that is what they joined up for, and what they will join up for.

Mr. Syd Rapson (Portsmouth, North)

Now that a decision has finally been made, may I have an assurance that there will be no reduction in Ministers' efforts to solve the problem for the constituency of the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) and my own?

Mr. Spellar

I say to my hon. Friend and to all Members who represent the South Hampshire area that we are working extremely hard to effect a smooth and satisfactory transition. That is moving ahead. I accept that it is not an easy period for them, but we have exceedingly good relations now with the health authority, the health trust, the secondary care agency and representatives of the local council, whom I met in Gosport.

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