HL Deb 11 May 1993 vol 545 cc1180-2

2.57 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their current plans for St. Bartholomew's Hospital.

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

My Lords, we outlined the three options for the future of St. Bartholomew's Hospital in the policy document, Making London Better. Those options are either to close the Smithfield site; to rationalise services between Smithfield, the Royal London and the London Chest hospitals; or to retain Bart's as a much smaller specialist hospital.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but does she not agree that Bart's has proved itself as the most famous casualty department in the country? During the recent bomb incident the staff at St. Bartholomew's were magnificent. Is it right that they should be apprehensive in regard to their future?

In addition, St. Bartholemew's has the most up-to-date operating complex in Europe which could suffer a great deal if it is not given government support. I believe that St. Bartholomew's Hospital has shown beyond peradventure that it is a magnificent hospital with magnificent staff. It would be a tragedy if in any way it was damaged or done away with.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, everybody in your Lordships' House would agree that the National Health Service is superb in a crisis. It always rises to the challenge and the Government would agree that in this situation it was magnificent. I refer not only to the staff who were at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, but also to those at the Royal London Hospital who also treated patients.

Lord Braine of Wheatley

My Lords, in view of the fact that advice was given before the IRA bomb disaster by the City of London police that there should be no closing down of the casualty services provided by that famous hospital, can my noble friend say what regard will now be given to that advice? Does not my noble friend agree that if the proposal to remove Bart's Hospital had taken effect before the disaster, there would be great sadness and in many cases great anger?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, no accident and emergency department will close in London unless the Government are satisfied, after full consultation, that alternative care is available.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, when the Government come to take their decision about St. Bartholomew's Hospital, will they bear in mind the very grave concern that exists about waiting lists, which are longer than they have ever been in our history, and, secondly, the fact that waiting times for seeing a consultant are also going up? Will these issues be taken into consideration when a final decision is taken about St. Bart's?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I am sure it is one of the factors that those who will be considering this decision will want to take into account. I remind the noble Lord that never before have we had shorter waiting lists. We have more people on the waiting list, but the important point is that they are waiting for a shorter period of time. More people are being treated. Half of all admissions to hospital are immediate. Of those admissions from waiting lists, half are admitted within five weeks; nearly three-quarters within three months; and 98 per cent. within a year. That is a tremendous achievement.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, what is the present position on the treatment of AIDS patients? Is it not a fact that because of the insecurity concerning what is going to happen to Bart's the ward for AIDS patients is now in a limbo situation?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, only three weeks ago I visited this unit. I was, as always, very impressed by the commitment of the staff and the work that is going on there. The Government recognise the important work but they have to await the results of the specialty reviews which the London Implementation Group is undertaking. However, it is clear that the local and specialised services for HIV and AIDS will be a high priority for health authority purchasers in East London.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, when reviewing the whole question of the London hospitals will the Government take into account traffic problems? These were brushed aside by the members of the Tomlinson Committee, hardly any of whom were London based. They had no idea of how slow it is to move about in London traffic. They seemed to think that one could get across London in 10 minutes.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, accessibility is one of the priority areas when one considers the future of the National Health Service.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I paid a very confidential visit to Bart's Hospital recently and that I have a younger daughter who trained at the Royal London Hospital? Can she give an assurance that there will be a very effective casualty department, particularly during daylight hours, either run by Bart's or the Royal London? Will she also bear in mind that the distance between the two hospitals is fairly considerable?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, at this moment consultation is being undertaken by the North-East Thames Regional Health Authority on the accident and emergency services at Bart's. I am sure that the authority will take into account all that has been said this afternoon in your Lordships' Chamber as it will other factors.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the Minister give an undertaking that the findings and plans of the London Implementation Group will be made public before they are acted upon?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, these proposals are out for consultation.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, is the Minister aware that those people concerned about the fate of St. Bartholomew's Hospital in the context of the general level of health services in London are alarmed by reports that the £170 million which was promised in the statement Making London Better to upgrade primary services as a compensation possibly for the loss of hospital beds seems to have disappeared? There are reports that this money is not to be new money but is to be taken from the already hard-pressed budgets of London health authorities.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the National Health Service received £1 billion growth this current year. Clearly, that is new money. It was very false of those who made the allegation that is was not. There is greater investment going into primary care in London, and we know that that issue has long needed to be addressed.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, may I press the Minister on the specific point about the new money, so described in the 14th February statement, for London primary care?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, it is part of the £1 billion that was allocated to the National Health Service as growth for the current year.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, does the noble Baroness not agree that St. Bartholomew's Hospital is part of our great history? It is respected throughout Europe and indeed throughout the Commonwealth. Created in the days of King Henry VIII, its name has been famous ever since and therefore it deserves the support of all parties in our Parliament.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, we all share the admiration for the National Health Service, particularly for the London hospitals.

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