HL Deb 12 March 2003 vol 645 cc1314-6

3.8 p.m.

Earl Howe

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the future of the Western Eye Hospital, Paddington.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the ophthalmology services at the Western Eye Hospital in Paddington are part of St Mary's NHS Trust. Plans for the future of those services are currently being re-examined to determine the best option for how they should be provided in future to patients in north-west London. One option is to keep services at the Western Eye Hospital; other options include moving the service to a more modern environment. A decision will be made following publication of a report at the end of March.

Earl Howe

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Was she as concerned as I was to read in Monday's press that that prestigious hospital may have to close because its new premises, being built under the private finance initiative, will not be big enough to accommodate it? Will she do everything possible to ensure that that does not happen because, if it does, it will result in the loss of an international centre of excellence and in the fragmentation of ophthalmology services across London?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I agree entirely that it is an excellent centre. It is used by 70,000 people a year and has a very high reputation. I can reassure the noble Lord that closure of the hospital is not an option. The intention is that the services will be reviewed in the light of the problems caused.

I shall explain my understanding of how the problems arose. When the outline business case for the Paddington basin, which is an exciting project bringing together Harefield Hospital, Brompton Hospital, St Mary's Hospital and so on, was given the go-ahead in October 2000, it was written to comply with building notes available at the time. They already took account of the need for single accommodation.

But guidance published later, in October 2001, proposed what it defined as consumerism, but it actually meant providing patients with more privacy and space. We have had that in mind for a long time. When it was published, after the outline business plan was completed, it was not taken into account, which was regrettable. It has had a significant impact on plans for the Paddington basin.

But the current review with the strategic health authority is looking at a different range of options. The object will be to keep teaching and research intact, and to continue to provide the excellent services offered at present.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me that the story as she recounts it, particularly the failure to take on board at a draft stage new requirements of space for patients, indicates a breathtaking level of ineffective, poor decision-taking? That is particularly the case because it puts in danger an extremely important facility. We have all been slightly reassured by her answers on the continuing work of the Western Eye Hospital itself.

But that leaves open another question: how will the financial problem be solved? As I understand it, the construction of the new hospital, in which there is not room for the Western Eye Hospital, depends upon the sale of the site on which the Western Eye Hospital is constructed. Can she reassure us that, despite that, the Government will be able to maintain the extremely important facility?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the noble Baroness asked whether I was in despair as to how the decision came to be taken. It is not a matter for me to judge. But the review will look at the circumstances that gave rise to it. We will have more answers when it reports. The NHS made clear in its plan that we were concerned that patients should have more privacy and space in new build hospitals. I know that all noble Lords support that. There is good motivation for it.

On funding, there is no reason why the services should not continue to operate and to flourish. But the missing millions of pounds that will result if the hospital is not sold will be a matter for the trusts and the project managers.

Lord Elton

My Lords, if the new building will not be big enough to house the whole present hospital, how will it be possible to continue without fragmentation of the service that it provides, as my noble friend asked?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, it will be for the review to examine that matter. Among the options will be to find another location. As I said, we shall have to wait and see what emerges from the review.

Baroness Noakes

My Lords, will the Minister comment on the effect of the loss of the sale proceeds of the Western Eye Hospital on the value for money of the PFI scheme at Paddington? Will not the loss of those proceeds mean that the PFI scheme will probably not deliver value for money, and, therefore, should not go ahead?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the decision was taken in terms of the planning of services. PFI has not yet kicked in. At present, the project is looking for partners. I am not sure that the noble Baroness's question is strictly relevant or one that I could answer. As I said, it is a matter for the trust itself and the able hands of those who will run it.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, is it correct that there are only two such eye hospitals in London, the other being Moorfields? Can the Minister assure us that, whatever happens or wherever the hospital is relocated, it will continue to cover that half of London?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. The hospital takes patients from all over London. I am sure that it will want to continue the service to the patients who depend on it at present. A diagnosis and treatment centre might be set up, for example, to make cataract services more swift and efficient. I am sure that it would want to serve exactly the same people as it does at present.

Baroness Northover

My Lords, does the Minister remember the debates that we had during the previous health Bill in which concern was expressed that specialised medicine might be lost under the new reorganisation? This strikes me as a case in point. Here is a national specialist centre, providing a service for not only London, which is in danger of being spread all over the site because nobody looked out for it.

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, that is exactly why I said that the intention is to keep the specialist teaching and research intact, and why part of the genius of the idea is that Imperial College London research is on site also. I think that that will be successful. We want to preserve that at all costs.

Baroness Hanham

My Lords, I am sure that the House is aware that I am chairman of St Mary's Hospital, so I listen to the debate with considerable interest. Does the Minister accept my assurance that the intention is to maintain the service at all costs? It is a valuable, well-run specialist service, with university teaching and research attached to it. There is no intention of disseminating the service beyond the borders of north-west London. It is a valuable part of the medical services within this part of London. Will the Minister accept those assurances?

Baroness Andrews

My Lords, I am absolutely delighted to do so.

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