HL Deb 09 May 1995 vol 564 cc10-3

3.8 p.m.

Lord Molloy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will convene a conference involving nurses, doctors and other medical specialists with a view to ensuring that doubts about hospital closures in London are resolved and that the Government's policy in this area is fully understood.

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

My Lords, the Government's policy in this area is clear and has been stated on many occasions over the past two years. It has been the subject of wide public consultation in those parts of London where change is moving forward. The Government have taken account of all views put forward, including those of medical, nursing and other healthcare professionals, before reaching decisions.

Lord Molloy

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. She must be aware that there are other aspects of the matter which are causing great concern. Is she aware that since the beginning of this decade the Greater London area alone has lost about 30 hospitals and that this has been reflected particularly in the number of older people dying earlier? Is the Minister further aware that the number of National Health Service beds has been reduced? What is harmful and hurtful is that those who can afford it can take private beds because there are now more of them than National Health Service beds. These factors are upsetting nurses and all members of National Health Service staff who give such magnificent service to our country.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, we have been over a great deal of this ground before. Perhaps I may just reiterate that it is not the beds which are important but the treatment which people get in hospital. That is changing very fast. Without the private sector, London and other parts of the country would be much the poorer. We should remember that 20 per cent. of the membership of the Royal College of Nursing is employed in the private sector.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is much concern in a good many hospitals that the threat of closure still hangs over them? Will she take speedy action to end that alarm by making it clear that no further closures will take place?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, my noble friend is right. Indecision is bad for staff. They need to go forward with certainty, which is the intention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health. We are doing something which should have been done decades ago.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, while discussions are taking place with the professional people involved, public views are being totally ignored. What is happening to the Patient's Charter? Has it been thrown on a bonfire? What is happening to the many millions of pounds paid in contributions by members of the public, including Members of this House, for the upkeep and survival of many of the hospitals they most care about? What is happening to that money and why are the views of the general public being ignored by the Government?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, the Government have to take into account a whole range of views. The noble Baroness is right; the Patient's Charter is an important principle and one of our major policies. Part of that charter is to reduce waiting times for treatment. I can announce today that over the past year the waiting time for patients in the Thames regions has been reduced. A year ago 3,000 patients were waiting more than a year for treatment, but today they are not. Increasingly, we are seeing more patients more quickly. We also take into account medical views. Dr. Chris Paine, the president of the Royal College of Radiologists, Professor Geoffrey Smith, president of the Society of Cardiothoracic Surgeons, Mr. Rab Hide, a distinguished Glasgow neuro-surgeon, Professor Norman Browse and Dr. Howard Baderman are very eminent professors and clinicians who have chaired our specialty reviews. They have all come to the view that if London is to survive as a world leader it has to consolidate its medical services into fewer specialist hospitals where it can build on its expertise. The last thing we want to do is to see London lose its place as a world leader.

Baroness Jeger

My Lords, I asked about the money.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, does the Minister agree that people are automatically and naturally fond of any establishment near them which they know? Is she aware of the report in today's newspapers that recovery from breast cancer is very much better in hospitals which have more specialised facilities? Does the Minister also agree that if she was involved in a severe road accident she would prefer to go to a hospital having a full accident and emergency trauma centre, with neurological and cardiological back-up, rather than a hospital with an accident and emergency department that was really more a casualty department for local people to attend?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend.

Lord Annan

My Lords, will the noble Baroness accept that we owe something to Dr. Jarman, who has questioned the statistics of the Department of Health? Does she agree that we do not need a large conference to sort out these matters? Could not Dr. Jarman, and perhaps a representative of the London Health Economic Consortium, meet with officials of the department to see whether the discrepancies between their figures can be resolved? When I try to do so, I cannot make head nor tail of them.

Perhaps I may ask a second question of the noble Baroness. There is a lack of nursing homes and other facilities for the elderly in inner London, and for that reason they are often occupying acute beds in hospitals. Is there any way of obtaining funds in order to increase the number of nursing homes etc. for the elderly and thus relieve pressure on the hospitals?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, perhaps I may deal with the first question asked by the noble Lord concerning Professor Jarman's work. That has been very closely studied by the chief executives of the inner London health authorities. Although there was some agreement, there was also some disagreement as regards the figures which Professor Jarman used. He was working from a different base both in time and in the area he covered. It is no good in looking back all the time; we have to look forward. The future undoubtedly lies in greater specialisation but with very strong community support for primary care. The noble Lord is right in saying that we have to invest more in services for the long-term care of elderly people. We are putting in £210 million over the next three years to improve those services and also to improve primary care, GP services and community nursing.

Baroness Rawlings

My Lords, having nursed for many years, I know that we all have our favourite hospitals and are loth to see any of them go. Does my noble friend agree that already in 1902 the newspapers were asking for London hospitals to move out of the capital and that that time is now overdue?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. All staff have loyalty to their institutions. But hospital provision in London has been a long-standing problem and it is time that it was resolved.

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, I believe that the fourth Question on the Order Paper is not to be asked. With the leave of the House, I ask the Minister this. If, in the debate in the other place tomorrow, the intended undertakings to be announced by the Secretary of State as regards certain London hospitals are not given, what will that mean about the London strategy? Will it have been shelved?

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, there is no question of that situation arising tomorrow.

Forward to