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10.36 pm

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham) rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Has the hon. Gentleman the permission of the Minister as well as that of the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington)?

Mr. Bercow: Yes, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak. What my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) has said is entirely correct, both in relation to the hospital and in relation to the courtesy and attentiveness with which the Minister has greeted our representations.

Although Stoke Mandeville hospital is in my hon. Friend's constituency, it also serves my constituents. It is especially--although not exclusively--important to those living in the south of my patch, but all my constituents have a real interest in and commitment to the hospital, and will its development. They are right to do so, and I hope that that will prove possible.

My hon. Friend referred to the quality of Stoke Mandeville hospital. In 1995, the hospital secured the charter mark for excellence in public service, but that is only one demonstration of the quality that it has achieved. It would be inappropriate for me to allow my first Adjournment debate to pass without also saying that the chairman of the Stoke Mandeville NHS trust is a constituent of mine, Mrs. Gillian Miscampbell. Naturally, I consider her a person of the highest calibre. She is a superb chairman, and a long-standing resident of the area. She has its interests at heart, and I think that she has a real conception of the way in which the hospital should develop in the future.

There is no doubt that, although the hospital's management is excellent, its medical staff are first-class and the number of people for whom it caters is very large, it cannot progress without substantial and early redevelopment. The Minister is well aware of the background of disappointment, delay and frustration that the hospital and those who use its services have suffered to date, and I shall not rehearse that now; but the redevelopment is necessary, not merely for purposes of administrative or logistical efficiency, but to attain the primary objective of improved clinical care.

The project to which my hon. Friend devoted the thrust of his remarks is designed not least to improve paediatric care, coronary care and cancer services in the future.

I want those services to be developed, and to be developed in a manner that enables Stoke Mandeville to make substantial savings. My constituents want that to happen, and my hon. Friend wants it to happen. There is a need to go forward. I have observed that need not only in discussions with my hon. Friend and with the hospital management but by direct experience of observing the hospital at first hand on a number of visits.

I wish Stoke Mandeville well. I do not doubt the Minister's good faith, but I shall listen with great interest to his reply to the debate.

10.39 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. Alan Milburn): I am delighted to have this opportunity to reply--my brief says to the debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington); well, he is almost my hon. Friend--this debate. I also welcome the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) back from the dead, or at least from the Standing Committee considering the National Minimum Wage Bill. I congratulate him on all his work there. I congratulate also the hon. Member for Aylesbury on securing this debate, on a subject that is close not only to his heart but, as he explained, to those of his family and constituents.

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Stoke Mandeville is a valued hospital serving the part of the world of the hon. Member for Aylesbury. It is valued not only by local people, but by the Government. As he will be aware, part of the Government's testimony of faith to Stoke Mandeville's future is the fact that we recently provided £2.2 million in additional funding for the Buckinghamshire health authority to meet the extra pressures of this winter. We have invested almost £200,000 in Stoke Mandeville to help it deal with emergency pressures.

As the hon. Member for Aylesbury said, Stoke Mandeville is more than simply a hospital serving its local community. It is also a hospital with a very fine and distinguished international reputation in working with people who have suffered spinal injuries. For both those reasons, Stoke Mandeville's future is a subject that is worthy of debate. Like the hon. Gentleman, I pay tribute to all the hard-working staff--the managers, clinicians and everyone else associated with the excellent work done there.

The future of district general hospitals such as Stoke Mandeville touches on much that is at the heart of the White Paper published last month by the Government. The White Paper sets out a 10-year programme of modernisation for the NHS. It particularly makes it clear that, in future, we want local hospitals to complement each other's activities, working in partnership rather than in competition.

I should like to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West (Dr. Starkey) that, from what I understand of the health authority's plans, its current acute services review says loudly and clearly that three acute hospitals are required now, and that they will be required in the health authority area for the foreseeable future. As she knows, the exact options, the exact configuration of services and the exact cash distribution are issues that are yet to be resolved. However, the future is clear for all three hospitals.

I am pleased that that spirit of partnership is already in evidence in Buckinghamshire--where trusts are co-operating with the health authority and with local family doctors, and where there is an interchange of expertise at the clinical level and, particularly, at the consultant level. The hon. Member for Aylesbury talked about the relationship between Stoke Mandeville and the Radcliffe in Oxford. We want such partnerships to continue.

Stoke Mandeville will undoubtedly have to evolve in the next few years. As my hon. Friend the Member for Milton Keynes, South-West said, its services will have to fit into a wider model to ensure the best use of resources while providing the best possible care standards.

I tell the hon. Member for Aylesbury that Stoke Mandeville is a hospital with a bright future. It has the strong support of its local population and of the Government. He kindly mentioned that, tomorrow, the wife of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will visit the hospital to open the new CT scanner suite, which was paid for by charitable funds. I pay tribute to all those involved in that fund-raising activity.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, some changes are long overdue. The sooner we can see the end of the wartime prefabricated huts, the better. The trek of about a third of a mile from the children's ward to the operating

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theatre is quite unacceptable in a modern health service. I know that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have made strong representations in the past.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the history of Stoke Mandeville in terms of capital development has been unhappy for a variety of reasons. The most recent attempt could not be approved, as the trust did not have a private sector partner when the Government decided to fast-track the more viable private finance initiative projects. As he knows, that strategy has paid dividends, with a stream of PFI hospitals now under way.

I understand that the health authority is fully committed to having three acute hospitals in the county and that the trust, together with the health authority and, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, supported by the NHS Executive regional office, is putting together a strategic outline case for a £23 million development. It will get rid of the Canadian forces' huts and replace them with facilities fit for delivering health services in the next century.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the process for approving the bid. He will know that the capital value of the bid is about £23.3 million, which is below the £25 million limit above which major capital projects are now being prioritised on a national basis by the new capital prioritisation advisory group which I set up last December. As the hon. Gentleman knows, NHS need will be the driving force and the key criterion for the work of the CPAG. The group will assess schemes fairly, on a national basis, according to rigorous common criteria. Those approved will be the schemes with the highest NHS need on a national basis.

As the new Stoke Mandeville proposal now has a capital value of less than £25 million, approval is a matter for the Anglia and Oxford regional office of the NHS Executive. However, I should reassure the hon. Member that the region is using the same rigorous and fair CPAG methodology to consider the scheme. The developing

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business case has been the subject of extensive discussion with the regional office, which has been closely involved from the outset, and the final strategic outline case is expected at the regional office around the end of this month. That should allow a decision to be taken about approval by the end of next month. If the case gets approval, the trust will be able to advertise for bids from the private sector in the summer. I hope that there will be pretty speedy progress, but that will depend on the trust being able to attract a viable private sector partner. If it does, I hope that it will proceed pretty rapidly--good luck to it.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the sale of land. He should realise that the proceeds of any sale of land on the site belonging to the Secretary of State will be employed in the capital development programme by the regional office, and will be redistributed to any suitable schemes in the region. That may well include the Stoke Mandeville redevelopment, but it cannot be a foregone conclusion that the proceeds will necessarily be partially or wholly reinvested in the redevelopment of the hospital site.

There is no doubt there will be a local acute hospital for the people of Aylesbury well into the next millennium. In future, if there are specific proposals for changing the services provided at Stoke Mandeville, there will be proper, open consultation, to which I am sure the hon. Gentlemen and my hon. Friends will make a valuable contribution.

As I am running out of time, I shall reply to the hon. Gentleman's other questions in writing. In the meantime, we hope to be able to announce the first stages of a much-needed redevelopment of a precious NHS hospital as part of the 50th anniversary of the national health service. I can think of nothing more fitting.

Question put and agreed to.

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