§ 15. Mr. Damian Green (Ashford)
If he will make a statement on the future of hospital services in East Kent. 
§ The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Frank Dobson)
The future for hospital services in East Kent is bright. On 22 December I ended the years of uncertainty about the future of acute services in Canterbury, Ashford and Thanet. On 1 April a new single NHS trust was established to deliver the necessary changes and improvements, and a new chief executive has been appointed. In this financial year the trust will receive £221 million. It will also receive £2.2 million to be invested in accident and emergency services in East Kent. As the hon. Gentleman represents Ashford, he will be interested to know that a new MRI scanner will come into operation at the William Harvey hospital in Ashford.
§ Mr. Green
The Secretary of State is aware that the East Kent health authority had a budget deficit of £1.7 million this year and had to consider the option of closing one of the community hospitals in East Kent. As members of the local community health council are sure that the deficits will recur, can the Secretary of State give a guarantee that none of the community hospitals will close over the next few years as a result of such deficits?
§ Mr. Dobson
When we came to power, the national health service was running a deficit of more than £400 million a year. Last year it was down to about £20 million.
§ Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet)
When we in East Kent were debating the rationalisation of hospital services, I promised my constituents that, as a result of the change, they would get the best possible standard of care for everyone in East Kent, everywhere in East Kent. The investment announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State shows that he, too, is committed to that. Does he accept, however, that because of the delays in appointing a chief executive to the new combined trust, some of the clinicians in that new trust have started to believe that people are dragging their feet and are not fully committed to implementing his recommendations? Will he ensure that they know that he expects them to get on with the job of implementing those recommendations and improving standards for everyone as quickly as possible?
§ Mr. Dobson
If the members of the new board can read, they should be perfectly clear that they are expected to implement the changes that were approved, because they were told that by me. I assume, therefore, that the new chief executive, whom they appointed, also understands that that must be the priority. We are determined to ensure that the health services in East Kent are first-rate for everyone in East Kent, not just at individual hospitals. After widespread public consultation and a proper decision, we cannot allow people to think that they can go back on that decision. The uncertainty is over. Progress must now be made.