HL Deb 04 July 1995 vol 565 cc995-7

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have received any representations that persuade them to reconsider their decision concerning the future of St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London.

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

My Lords, the Government continue to believe that the decisions made by East London and the City Health Authority and confirmed by the Secretary of State are right for patients and for the future of health services in East London.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she aware that the threat to St. Bartholomew's Hospital has brought about the most amazing alliances? Is she aware, for example, that the gentlemen of the City are backed by and working together with the people of Stepney to try to save that wonderful hospital; that in the other place yesterday there was a massive revolt about the closing down of Bart's; and that the BMA has said that some of the reports that have been submitted are without fact or foundation? In short, I doubt whether there is anywhere in the country where there has been such opposition to the proposal to demolish that great, well-known British hospital.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, your Lordships are well aware of the reasons for the closure of the hospital. I accept that there have been some very useful alliances formed. The proposal for a community hospital on the St. Bartholomew's site is being actively pursued. It is one to which we give encouragement.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many people will not forgive the Minister if she closes down that wonderful hospital?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, time is a great healer.

Lord Strabolgi

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that Sir Bernard Tomlinson has been reported as admitting that if he had had in his possession the full statistics, he would not have recommended closures to that extent at Bart's or Guy's? In view of that, will she halt the closures, which I understand have numbered nearly 11,000 over the past four years in London alone and which have brought such suffering and distress?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I suspect that the noble Lord is quoting from the Evening Standard, which quoted Sir Bernard Tomlinson. He will perhaps have seen the next edition on the following day when Sir Bernard contradicted what the Evening Standard had reported him as saying. There is no question of going back. The Secretary of State has made her decision. The trust now knows what the future is. It is working towards that future. I believe that it is in the interests not only of the patients in London but also of the staff who work in the hospital.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the closure of the casualty department at St. Bartholomew's Hospital has put very great pressure on the casualty department of the Homerton Hospital, which has had to close several times because of lack of beds? Is she aware that that has put pressure on the London Hospital, which has had to stop its "cold" surgery so that it can take the casualties?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, there have been pressures on the Homerton Hospital. The noble Baroness is correct. However, she will also know that we are investing £2 million in that hospital and that there will be an extra 28 beds in the emergency department, which are to open quite shortly. We believe that they will reduce the pressure and the problem will not continue.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, although the population at large outside London regret the turmoil within London, those patients, doctors and hospitals are glad because of the enhanced services which they are enjoying as a result of what is happening in London?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right in what he says. Some of the closures in London represent the success of London in that the very distinguished consultants who worked in those famous teaching hospitals have gone to other parts of the country—to Liverpool, Newcastle, Southampton and all over the country—setting up departments with enormous expertise. It is those departments which are now treating the people who previously used to come to London. Also, we subsidise London to the tune of £28 million per year. That is money which should be spread to other parts of the country.

Earl Russell

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the future of Bart's has been threatened in other centuries? On those occasions, parliamentary action preserved it. If our representations should prove less successful than those of our predecessors, is that a mark of the declining importance of Parliament in our national life?

Baroness Cumberlege

No, my Lords.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, the Minister congratulates herself and others on the departure of consultants from London; but is she also pleased with the situation in London in which most hospitals now operate at 95 per cent. bed occupancy, whereas the most appropriate figure is about 85 per cent? Is she aware that in the recent period cancelled admissions in London were 17 per cent. higher than in any other place in England, and that the Thames regions have the highest percentage of patients on waiting lists waiting for more than one year than any other part of the country? Time may heal, but will she accept that these are issues for the present or even a future Secretary of State to consider?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I have heard the noble Baroness on other occasions tell your Lordships that it is time that we improved primary care because a lot of the pressures on London hospitals are due to the poor primary facilities that exist within London. The noble Baroness will know that we have made huge investments into that aspect and, once the services are firmly established, there will not be the problem that exists at the moment in London. In relation to waiting lists, it is interesting to see that over the past year there has been a reduction by 10 per cent. of the patients who have been waiting-more than one year. In the country as a whole we have reduced by half the number of people waiting more than one year. That is a tremendous tribute to the National Health Service.

Lord Rea

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that Sir Bernard Tomlinson, on whose report the Government's London decisions were based, recently said that had he had the information that is now available, he would not have made the recommendations he did in his report?

Noble Lords

Order, order!

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