HL Deb 04 July 1988 vol 499 cc4-6

2.45 p.m.

Lord Ennals asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they expect to take a decision on future health service provision in Riverside in the light of proposals both for the Riverside District Health Authority and the Westminster Hospitals Development Fund.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Skelmersdale)

My Lords, exactly a week ago the Government received the documentation from the regional health authority following consultation on proposals for future health service provision in Riverside. This runs to 719 pages. We will also receive shortly the approval in principle documentation for the proposed new hospital. It will take the Government a little time to digest all this material and reach a decision.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, there is very strong feeling in Westminster, including opposition by the Westminster City Council and the Community Health Council, concerning the plans to close the Westminster Hospital and the Westminster Children's Hospital. Therefore, will the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State is giving careful consideration not just to the proposal rejected by the Community Health Council but to the proposal from the Westminster Hospitals Development Fund? That has the advantage not only that it retains the Westminster Hospital and the Westminster City Hospital but also that it does so in a way that fits into the financial guidelines set down by the Secretary of State.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, most certainly we shall look at the fund's proposals, as we shall look at all representations made to us about the scheme. In our broader consideration of the health authority's proposals, the sort of issues Ministers will need to consider include the implications for patients—as the noble Lord would suspect—the building proposals themselves, their environmental consequences and. of course, the financial arrangements.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, however great the affection for Westminster Hospital among noble Lords in this House and right honourable and honourable Members in the other place, the regional health authority has responsibility for providing for the whole region and integrating into the development plans no less than six existing hospitals? The RHA's proposal is undoubtedly sounder both financially and technically, hospital-wise, than that from the Westminster Hospitals Development Fund.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am extremely interested in what my noble friend has to say on this matter. I should perhaps have added, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, that "implications for patients" means wherever they happen to reside either permanently or temporarily, within the district health authority's area.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is not Westminster and Riverside a slightly special case, bearing in mind the number of tourists and people who come to work in the areas? Those people have strokes and heart attacks; so, with those additional people coming into the area, should it not be treated as a special case?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, again, that is an interesting point of view. I am not aware of any evidence to suggest that in the day-time, or indeed the night-time, population of the Westminster area there is a higher incidence of spectacularly violent and unpredictable disease than in other parts of London, but I will certainly check that.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind that on the campus of Westminster Hospital there is a large nurses' hostel? The idea of dispersing patients into other hospitals without providing accommodation for nurses is a non-starter.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, we have discussed residential accommodation for nurses at various times in this Chamber over the past few years. I am very much aware of the problem, especially as it applies to London. Obviously I must be careful in what I say, but the closeness of any hospital to its nurses' accommodation would be a factor.

Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe

My Lords, as the noble Lord said that there is such a substantial body of evidence to be studied before a decision can be reached, will he undertake that his decision will not be announced during the long Summer Recess but will await the return of this House in the autumn?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I cannot give that undertaking. However, I shall certainly put the point to my right honourable friend.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, as regards the last exchange on the point raised by my noble friend Lord Cocks, does the Minister agree that, in view of the importance of the issue, it is far better to get it right than to rush into a decision? Further, does the Minister accept that the closure of accident and emergency units in other parts of central London is a snag as regards the closure of the accident and emergency unit at the Westminster Hospital? Does the Minister accept that from the patients' point of view there would be no provision whatever in Westminster whether for residents, those who work here or for visitors, if the Riverside proposals were to be carried through?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, as regards the last two-thirds of the comments addressed to me by the noble Lord, I note what he said. However, I should not wish to comment upon them at this moment. With reference to the first point raised by the noble Lord, he regularly chides me for not producing the Government's reaction to reports quickly enough and I note his change of view on this occasion.

Lord Colnbrook

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that not everyone on this side of the House agrees with my noble friend Lord Nugent? There are many of us who feel that the closure of the Westminster Hospital, particularly the accident and emergency unit, will be a major disaster.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, again I note what my noble friend says.