HL Deb 02 December 1993 vol 550 cc657-9

Lord Auckland asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have for the future of the burns unit at Queen Mary's University Hospital, Roehampton.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State in her policy paper Making London Better asked the London Implementation Group and South West Thames Regional Health Authority to report on likely developments in the pattern of hospital services in South West London, including Queen Mary's University Hospital, Roehampton, Kingston, St. Helier and St. George's hospitals. Their report is expected by the end of this month. It will then need to be considered alongside the advice in the independent specialty review on plastics and burns.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her usual courteous reply. Is she aware, however, that it is a somewhat predictable reply? Is she further aware that I have a family interest in this matter in that our younger daughter nursed at that hospital for some years? The unit is just eight years old and it is a specialty unit. I visited it recently and spent some hours there. The team who work there, which comprises anaesthetists, doctors and nurses, will suffer greatly if the unit is broken up. This fine hospital covers a large geographical area.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, all those factors will be taken into account when decisions are finally reached, but I would like to say that we are looking at services and specialties, not just at institutions. I believe that some of those services can be transferred and teams can be kept together.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, is the Minister in a position to advise the House that there is no threat to Queen Mary's Hospital itself? I am sure she is aware that the hospital is a valuable asset in south west London and is close to the hearts of people who live in Roehampton, Putney and the whole of that area. I hope she can tell us that the hospital itself is safe. We also hope that the burns unit will remain attached to it because those two things go together. I leave the matter at that.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I know the hospital very well and I recognise the contribution that it makes to the local community. But as I said in my initial reply, it is one of the four hospitals that is subject to the review that the south west Thames region is undertaking at the moment.

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebon

My Lords, while declaring an interest as an inhabitant of Roehampton, dependent almost entirely for emergency services upon this hospital with such a wonderful tradition, may I ask my noble friend—of course, we have to await the final decision—whether she will take into account the acute anxieties of the people in the neighbourhood? The proposals which have been rumoured and discussed have caused a great deal of hostility.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I am very much aware of local opinion and particularly the opinion of the local MP.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the majority of the specialist support staff to the burns unit are women who, due to their family commitments, are unlikely to be able to move if the unit is moved to another location? Under those circumstances, how long does the Minister think it would take to build up another unit of similar skills, and what would be the cost of that?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, that is being studied as part of the work that is currently being done by the South West Thames Regional Health Authority. I understand the views that have been expressed about staff who work in the health service. I would like to pay tribute to their commitment and dedication. I think they do a fine job, but in the final analysis we run the health service for the population and for the patients who need it and not primarily for the staff.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, in so far as these decisions that are to be made are delegated to appointed bodies—government appointed quangos full of their own supporters—will the noble Baroness take some steps to ensure that a moderate degree of public confidence is reposed in these bodies?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the South West Thames Regional Health Authority is accountable and its staff are responsible for the services in the south west Thames regional area, which encompasses more than just London. The region is conducting the initial inquiry and that is absolutely correct as the staff in that region know the people concerned and they have detailed knowledge. But then they will report to the London Implementation Group, which will consider those recommendations in the wider context of all of London's services. The recommendations will then be made to the Secretary of State. If a change is being proposed, the Secretary of State will ensure that the. whole matter goes out to consultation.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, is it not a fact that there is a higher risk of infection with burns than with any other specialty? Is it not true that this unit at Queen Mary's covers the whole of greater London? What is the point of tearing the heart out of this skilled unit when it serves the whole of greater London?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, these are aspects that the specialty review team looked at but there are 14 units that serve London within the M.25 area.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Question that has been tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, follows closely the one tabled earlier in the week by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and indeed Questions that will be dealt with in the following weeks, all of which reveal there is considerable uncertainty about the state of clinical services in London? When will the Government give us their strategic view of their plans?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State produced her policy paper, Making London Better, in the spring. She recognised then that a tremendous amount of work needs to be done not only as regards looking at the services that are required for Londoners but also looking at the academic, teaching and research aspects. This is a complex area that needs to be examined. Therefore it is important that we look at these different pieces of the jigsaw and try to pull them together bit by bit. As I said to your Lordships earlier in the week, a number of things are happening at the moment. A number of different hospitals are coming together to form joint trusts and all those consultation periods are beginning to come to an end. I can assure your Lordships that a decision will be made very soon.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, the noble Baroness said in answer to her noble friend Lord Swinfen that ultimately the service is run for patients and not for the staff. But is it not in the interests of the patients that staff should be expert, should work as a team and should be happy with what they do? Surely that must be taken into account in this instance.

Baroness Cumberlege

Yes, my Lords. Of course that is taken into account. I was trying to get the right balance. One also has to consider the population. The services are primarily for the people of this country and not solely for the staff.

Lord Swinfen

My Lords, will my noble friend be kind enough to answer the final part of my supplementary question, which was: in the event of a specialist team being broken up by a move what would be the cost of training another team?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, it is impossible for me to tell at the moment. It depends on the unit, where it is going and who is involved. There are all sorts of considerations, and they are being taken into account by the South West Thames Regional Health Authority.

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