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Hospital Services (East Kent)

15. Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): If he will make a statement on the future of hospital services in East Kent. [85012]

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Frank Dobson): The future for hospital services in East Kent is bright. On 22 December I ended the years of uncertainty about the future of acute services in Canterbury, Ashford and Thanet. On 1 April a new single NHS trust was established to deliver the necessary changes and improvements, and a new chief executive has been appointed. In this financial year the trust will receive £221 million. It will also receive £2.2 million to be invested in accident and emergency services in East Kent. As the hon. Gentleman represents Ashford, he will be interested to know that a new MRI scanner will come into operation at the William Harvey hospital in Ashford.

Mr. Green: The Secretary of State is aware that the East Kent health authority had a budget deficit of £1.7 million this year and had to consider the option of closing one of the community hospitals in East Kent. As members of the local community health council are sure that the deficits will recur, can the Secretary of State give a guarantee that none of the community hospitals will close over the next few years as a result of such deficits?

Mr. Dobson: When we came to power, the national health service was running a deficit of more than £400 million a year. Last year it was down to about £20 million.

Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet): When we in East Kent were debating the rationalisation of hospital services, I promised my constituents that, as a result of the change, they would get the best possible standard of care for everyone in East Kent, everywhere in East Kent. The investment announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State shows that he, too, is committed to that. Does he accept, however, that because of the delays in appointing a chief executive to the new combined trust, some of the clinicians in that new trust have started to believe that people are dragging their feet and are not fully committed to implementing his recommendations? Will he ensure that they know that he expects them to get on with the job of implementing those recommendations and improving standards for everyone as quickly as possible?

Mr. Dobson: If the members of the new board can read, they should be perfectly clear that they are expected to implement the changes that were approved, because they were told that by me. I assume, therefore, that the new chief executive, whom they appointed, also understands that that must be the priority. We are determined to ensure that the health services in East Kent are first-rate for everyone in East Kent, not just at individual hospitals. After widespread public consultation and a proper decision, we cannot allow people to think that they can go back on that decision. The uncertainty is over. Progress must now be made.

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NHS Trusts

16. Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): What action he takes to encourage the retention of high-calibre non-executive directors of NHS trusts. [85013]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Denham): If eligible for re-appointment, the best non-executive directors will always be encouraged to re-apply when their term of office is due to end. All appointments are made in accordance with the guidelines of the Commissioner for Public Appointments and the Department's own published procedures for NHS appointments.

Mr. Evans: If it is the policy to retain high-calibre non-executive directors, why did the Secretary of State sack three high-calibre non-executive directors of the Guild Community Health Care NHS trust in Preston? Why is not the Secretary of State answering the question, as he sacked them? What message does that send to non-executive directors throughout the country?

Mr. Denham: We will be discussing this matter at greater length during tonight's Adjournment debate, but I shall briefly give the background. After a series of events--critical reports on the trust, the suspension of the chief executive and the resignation of the chair--my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State concluded that, although he did not apportion any individual blame to non-executive board members for the serious problems that occurred, it was not in the interests of the Guild trust or the NHS for the previous non-executive board members to stay in post. A new chair and a full team of new non-executive board members have now been appointed.

Audrey Wise (Preston): Will my hon. Friend also consider the value of high-calibre chief executive officers such as the chief executive officer in the Guild community trust, whose excellent work included winning the confidence of ethnic minorities and patients' families as well as the creation of unique, award-winning provision for suffers from late-stage Huntington's disease? Less than a year ago, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State himself put an award into the hands of the chief executive, who has been victimised on the basis of unsubstantiated assertions which are not backed up by evidence.

Mr. Denham: In my view, the proper procedures have been followed and, in respect of the way in which the Guild trust has handled those matters, there has been proper consultation with the regional office. If anything, my hon. Friend's comments reinforce my view that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was absolutely right to get a fresh start for the trust so that it can build on its record and provide good patient care in the future.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet): Does the Minister agree that non-executive directors of NHS trusts ought to be remunerated? If so, does he believe that there is a case for looking at that question, particularly as it is some years since the remuneration was fixed?

Mr. Denham: As the hon. Gentleman suggests, non-executive directors are remunerated, but I am not

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aware of any immediate plans to review that remuneration. Across the country, we are able to attract candidates of excellent background and qualities who are willing to serve the NHS in that capacity, and we are grateful to them for that.

Private Health Care (Elderly People)

17. Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): What action he is taking to amend the regulation of private health care for the elderly. [85014]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. John Hutton): The Government set out their plans for regulating nursing and residential homes, domiciliary care and other social services in the White Paper "Modernising Social Services". We also made a commitment to consider further the regulation of health care and, in fulfilling it, we will shortly be consulting widely on the future regulatory arrangements for private and voluntary health care. Our aim is to establish a modern regulatory structure that will meet the need to protect the public and patients, particularly those who are vulnerable or elderly.

Helen Jackson: I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, but he will be aware that, in Sheffield as elsewhere, there has been a fairly rapid reduction in the number of acute medical care beds in hospitals. There was consternation recently when the Royal Hallamshire hospital proposed the closure of a further 22 acute medical beds for the elderly. Most of those patients will almost certainly go into or under private health care in the future. How will my hon. Friend reassure the public, through regulation,

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that moving from health service beds to private care beds will lead to absolutely no diminution in the medical and nursing care that they receive?

Mr. Hutton: I can certainly confirm to my hon. Friend that the closure of the 22-bed rehabilitation ward for elderly people in her constituency, about which she is concerned, will not now go ahead, and I am sure that she will be relieved to hear that. She, like me, would agree that it is important that we regulate the private health care sector properly to ensure maximum protection for the public. There is a general consensus that the current regulatory system is out of date; it is unsatisfactory and not particularly independent. For example, it treats private hospitals as nursing homes and does not reflect the increased range and complexity of private sector work.

I can also confirm to my hon. Friend that the national service frameworks will apply equally to the private sector and to NHS hospitals--they are there for the private sector to use. The new arrangements and guidelines that will come from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence will also be available for use, if the private sector so chooses.

Under those new arrangements, we must ensure that patients who use the private sector receive high-quality care. We are determined to do that, and we are consulting widely. We shall listen to all the views that are expressed during the consultation process.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Will the Minister reintroduce tax relief on private health insurance for the elderly?

Mr. Hutton: No.

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