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11.52 pm

Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle): I shall be brief. I share the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). The annual report of the NHS executive, which has just been published, states:

"The NHS is accountable through Parliament for the effective and efficient use of taxpayers' money."

I want to concentrate on that in the two minutes available to me. I want to know a bit more about the pay-off to the former chief executive Maggie Aikman and to ask the Minister the simple question: why did she go? Who decided that she should go? Was the rest of the board involved? The code of conduct and the code of accountability for NHS boards suggests that they should have been involved. If they were, should they not take collective responsibility and resign, like the former chairman James Rawson?

What reasons did Mr. James Rawson give to Maggie Aikman for requesting her resignation in the first place? Is it true that the pay-off amounted to £250,000? What about her pension arrangements? If the £250,000 figure is accurate, how can that possibly be justified? If Mrs. Aikman's performance was lamentable, why did she receive such largesse? I asked Mr. Rawson those very questions and he refused to answer. Will the Minister answer them?

Astonishingly, the Minister for Health told me last week that the Department keeps no records of trust chief executives who resigned or who were dismissed, or of the reasons for their dismissal. Will the Department do so in future? Did the Secretary of State ask the chairman, James Rawson, to consider his position? If the right hon. Lady did so, why?

I do not want to rake over the coals but it is as plain as a pikestaff that the community is mortified by what has occurred. An independent inquiry is needed so that lessons can be learnt for the future. We must avoid a repeat of the astonishing, tragic farce that is Burnley health care trust.

11.54 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Tom Sackville): I congratulate the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) osecuring this Adjournment debate and on the assiduous way in which he has followed the regrettable events of the past few weeks. I cannot say other than that I deeply regret that they occurred. I assure the hon. Gentleman that they are not typical of the national health service or of trusts, and such a series of events is probably unique in modern times.

I join the hon. Member for Burnley in paying tribute to the staff, management and everyone else involved at the hospital for continuing to offer a fine health service to the hon. Gentleman's constituents. Patients must come first, and I am glad to report that there is no evidence that patient care suffered as a result of the events in question. The district health authority is closely monitoring the quality of care in the hospital. The events must not detract from the trust's record and its achievements. They include increasing the number of in-patients and out-patients treated; achievements in the learning disability field, for which it won a prestigious award; a reduction in waiting lists and waiting times; new

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consultant appointments; and new facilities in general surgery, gynaecology and other specialties. The trust has achieved an overall improvement in health facilities for the people of Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale.

The course of events is approximately as the hon. Member for Burnley described them; I shall comment briefly on one or two of his specific questions. He asked when the inquiry will report and whether its recommendations will be implemented. I can only answer as soon as possible, and that the trust will take close account of the inquiry's findings.

I cannot agree that an independent inquiry would achieve anything now. I have no reason to doubt the independence and objectivity of the two consultants who are investigating the matter of Dr. Mahady. Neither do I agree that the issue will not be resolved until there is an inquiry. It will be resolved in a period of calm and stability under the new chairman and chief executive, to allow the scars that may remain from the events to heal and to allow everything to get back to normal. That is always needed in the health service.

Mr. Pike: If the Minister will not take it from me that an independent inquiry is required, he should ask for the views of the community health council. It will point out that a range of staffing issues have arisen from the old-style management. We hope that that will change, but only one aspect of the trust has been considered.

Mr. Sackville: I hope very much, as I hope the hon. Gentleman does, that the new chairman and chief executive will address any such problems.

On the matter of the payment to the former chief executive, I can confirm that she received a net sum of £135,750 and that that represented a gross cost to the trust of £245,000. Those are very large figures, but I have no reason to suppose that they were not the negotiated settlement that represented her contractual entitlement. Her contract had been renewed quite recently and, with her basic salary grossed up to her total package over a period of just over two years, that is the figure that was negotiated. I can confirm that the former medical director received no payment, although he is, of course, still a valued member of the hospital.

I should also like to comment briefly on what was said about the new acting chief executive, Mr. Chew. No sub-agenda should be assumed, as a result of his appointment, connected with the future configuration of the trust. He was appointed because he is an experienced manager who, it is believed--I have no reason to doubt it--will bring experience and a much-needed period of stability to the trust.

I should like to reiterate that, regrettable though the matter is, for it to continue to occupy the press and the minds of people locally can only cause worries for the staff, patients and everybody else, and a great deal of further noise about it cannot help.

Ms Janet Anderson (Rossendale and Darwen): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Sackville: No, because I have only a few minutes left. So those who are friends of the hospital, as the hon. Member for Burnley is--and he has just been in the hospital--will agree that there is nothing to be achieved

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down that route. What we need for calm is mature consideration of how those events can be avoided. I have no indication that such matters within the trust are likely to recur. As I have said, it is quite unique in the recent history of the health service that such events should occur in a hospital.

I should like once again to congratulate the trust on the standard of care that it has achieved. I congratulate it on the fact that it has maintained that care during the past two months. I deeply deplore any attempt to exploit it for any political or other reason. I heard what the hon. Member for Burnley said about not wishing to seek any political gain by raising those matters. I am sure that he

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agrees that they are regrettable, but they need to be put behind us so that things at the hospital can return to normal.

I shall quote once again, as the hon. Gentleman touched on it himself. As he knows, Dr. Archer

"is an eminent microbiologist who has served the interests of patients in Burnley for many years. He is respected by clinicians and management alike."

His role is to

"end uncertainty, heal any remaining wounds, and to have everyone working together to restore public confidence in this excellent hospital."

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at three minutes past Midnight.

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