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4.59 pm

Ms Joan Ryan (Enfield, North): I am pleased to speak in this debate today, because we have a good story to tell about this Labour Government's care and concern for, and resourcing of, the health service in London in the past two years. As other hon. Members have done, I wish to refer back to the Turnberg report of November 1997, because of its importance to London and the significant difference it made to the people of Enfield, North and the security they feel about the future of Chase Farm hospital.

For some 10 years, Chase Farm hospital had been continually under threat. Its accident and emergency department was threatened with closure, but the local

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public valiantly fought against that time and again. However, they were beginning to feel that one more threat would see them off. The Turnberg report told us that London did not have an excess of beds and that an A and E department with between 50,000 and 100,000 new attendances per annum was the desirable size. Those two statements made Chase Farm hospital feel that it had a future.

Although I accept the comments by the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) about his individual commitment to the NHS, I do not accept that about the previous Tory Governments. It was always obvious that London was not over-bedded and that basing the number of beds needed in London on the blip in one year's figures in the Tomlinson report was irresponsible. Closing beds, and putting A and E departments under threat on the excuse that the beds were not needed, was a means of cutting resources to the NHS. That demonstrated that the NHS was not a priority for the Conservative Government. Words are easy and cheap, but many people, in London and nationally, found to their cost that the words "safe in our hands" meant nothing.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) talked about deceit and claimed that many Labour party candidates said that hospitals would be closed if people voted Conservative on 1 May 1997. Yes, we said that. I said it, and I meant it. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) revealed today that he said it, and he meant it. I am certain that Chase Farm hospital would have no A and E department and would have been left to wither on the vine, which is what happens to district general hospitals when they lose those departments, but instead it faces a bright future. It was not deceitful to say that: it was the truth. When we told people that their hospitals would close, we had the evidence of the previous Tory Governments who put many hospitals under threat and closed others. We now have the evidence that this Government have ensured a future for those hospitals.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) who worked very hard, from the time that he became the candidate for the constituency and since 1 May 1997, to try to protect Edgware district general hospital. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty) is right to say that its A and E department was closed by the previous Conservative Government on 1 April 1997. During that process, they ran the hospital down and undermined and demoralised it so completely that it subsequently closed. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon has worked hard with our Labour Government and local groups to establish a successful community hospital there with a bright future. I do not think that that would have been there if there had been a fifth successive Conservative Government. Instead, we might well have had a housing development on the site, or something similar. We certainly would not have had a hospital there.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): I take a great interest in what goes on at Edgware. The accident and emergency department there was not shut on 1 April, although its closure was planned for that date--by the previous Conservative Government, as I accept--and accomplished a couple of months later. However, does the hon. Lady acknowledge that the closure of that department was balanced by a new, larger accident and emergency department at Barnet hospital? There is

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nothing new at Edgware hospital today that was not planned by the previous Government, although the accident services there now reside in what is called an urgent treatment centre. That used to be called the minor accident treatment centre, and the new name only confuses the public.

What the Conservative Government did in this sector is exactly the same as what the present Government are doing--when new facilities are built, old facilities are closed.

Ms Ryan: That seemed a very lengthy intervention, but I shall respond to the points that the hon. Gentleman made. He clearly said that the previous Conservative Government planned the closure of the accident and emergency department at Edgware hospital. Its subsequent closure is a matter of record. Moreover, the facilities at Edgware have been thought through carefully. What is different under this Government is that they are funded.

The hon. Gentleman and I have a connection, in that our two hospitals--Chase Farm and Barnet--now form a merged trust, with a wonderful, state-of-the-art accident and emergency unit. However, across north London, the hospitals include Edgware, Barnet and Chase Farm, North Middlesex, the Whittington and the Royal Free. The Turnberg report's assessment of the desirable number of new attendances at accident and emergency departments makes it clear that the department at Edgware was needed and that there was no reason to close it. A bottleneck has been created at Barnet hospital, and difficulties have resulted for north London's accident and emergency services.

However, those difficulties are being accommodated, and extra funding is being made available. There are new accident and emergency facilities at North Middlesex hospital, and the aim is to improve the facilities at Chase Farm. Yet that bottleneck and the resulting problems were in part caused by the decision that the previous Government took about Edgware.

I turn now to the merger of Chase Farm hospital and Barnet hospital. Once Chase Farm understood that its future was secure, we realised that there would be many advantages in merging with Barnet hospital. In November last year, we held consultations for the first time. People felt that they could discuss merger without suspecting, as they had before, that there was a hidden agenda involving the ultimate closure of one of the hospitals. They were thus able to talk about a positive way forward that would bring real benefits.

That consultation was a real exercise in rebuilding the trust between Government and public. People initially vented their feelings that the consultation that had taken place over the previous 15 years was either a smokescreen for further cuts, or merely an exercise in lip service. I think that we can prove that that trust has been rebuilt by showing that the future of the newly merged hospital trust is bright, and that it will continue to shine.

There will be benefits. The newly merged trust will save £500,000 a year, and that will go into patient care. There will also be clear clinical benefits for patients. We will be able to manage emergency demand at peak times much more effectively and ensure that waiting times for admission to a hospital bed are minimised. There will be opportunities to invest in new services, equipment and facilities.

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All that is positive news for Chase Farm and Barnet hospitals. We welcome the appointment of Jenni Bowley as chair of the new trust and Liz Heyer as chief executive. We wish them well as they face a challenging and exciting agenda for hospital care in that part of north London.

The rest of the Government's programme for modernising the NHS for the millennium will benefit people in the Enfield and Haringey health authority area and in my constituency. Out of the £21 billion investment in the NHS that the Conservatives thought foolhardy and unaffordable, the authority is receiving about £24 million extra. We are grateful for that money which will make a significant difference. We are pleased to have had an extra £550,000 for refurbishment and modernisation of the accident and emergency department.

We also benefit from what the Government are doing through the private finance initiative. A PFI development has been signed and will soon be delivered for the newly merged hospitals. It will be sited at the Barnet part of the Barnet and Chase Farm hospital and will provide state-of-the-art facilities for people in the area.

That is in stark contrast to Tory attempts at PFI, when £30 million was spent on consultancy fees without a single hospital being built. The Labour Government will build the hospitals that the Conservatives merely promised.

As regards the NHS waiting list for Enfield and Haringey, 4,400 people are no longer waiting for operations. That reduction has been achieved despite a 4 per cent. increase in attendances at accident and emergency departments because local hospitals have reached and bettered the Government's targets. That major achievement for the NHS in Enfield and Haringey has brought real benefit to patients.

We hear a lot from the Tories about waiting times. Waiting list reductions bring reductions in waiting time. We have achieved significant reductions on breast cancer care and colorectal cancer care. Reduction of waiting times is related to reduction of waiting lists; they are not mutually exclusive. Our targets for waiting lists prove that we are willing to set measurable targets on what we say we will do for the NHS, what we will put in and what can be expected from it. But targets do not mean that we have no other objectives, or that they are independent of other desired outcomes. That would be nonsensical.

We have a strong story to tell, and I am happy to tell it. The people of Enfield, North are hugely relieved that the future of their hospital, linked with Barnet hospital, is ensured. They know that, when they need their accident and emergency department, it will be there. When they need admittance, there will be a bed for them.

Enfield community care trust is doing sterling work to ensure that mental health is not a Cinderella service in Enfield. An extra £910,000, courtesy of the Government, is going into mental health services. It will be spent carefully but well by the trust, which is efficient and well run. A Labour Government, founded the NHS in 1945 and a Labour Government rescued it in 1997. We have a lot to be proud of in the NHS. I am proud of all the work that local staff in Enfield and Haringey put in. If it were not for this Labour Government, we would have seen many more closures and a lot less funding across London and Britain nationally.

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