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Fees and Charges

Question agreed to.


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to Committees.


Education and Employment

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Cleft Lip and Palate Patients

11.34 pm

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): I wish to present a petition in the name of Mrs. Sue Baillie of Mount Vernon hospital, Northwood Cleft Lip and Palate Association and 1,242 fellow signatories.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

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Hospitals (West London)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mrs. McGuire.]

11.35 pm

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): Today, the public consultation period for the proposals on modernising specialist acute hospital services in west London put forward by Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster health authority on behalf of the West London Partnership Forum of four health authorities in west London comes to an end.

This speech is my submission not only to Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster health authority but to Parliament and the country on behalf of my constituents, and on behalf of the thousands throughout the United Kingdom and overseas who are appalled by the planned closure of Harefield hospital. They have expressed by letter, phone, fax, e-mail, petition and their presence at the five public consultation meetings in the Hillingdon borough their rightful indignation about what is proposed.

I have consistently sought to put the truth before the public, not only in my Adjournment debate of 2 December 1998 but in the summer Adjournment debate of 28 July 2000, in numerous parliamentary questions, in meetings with Ministers, letters to Ministers and in contributions at every consultation meeting held in the Hillingdon borough.

There has been little controversy over the proposals for specialist paediatric and renal hospital services in west London, but that a supposedly responsible national health service forum should propose the closure of Harefield hospital, the most famous cardiothoracic hospital in Britain, without even putting forward its modernisation and development as an option for consultation, has caused outrage.

Harefield has undertaken more transplants--more than 2,000--than any other cardiothoracic hospital in the world. Under the leadership of Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub, voted by the nation's television viewers as man of the year only a few weeks ago, its reputation for excellence and total devotion to patient care is unsurpassed anywhere. This is something that the general public understand. They accord the highest esteem to the human and even spiritual values represented by the dedication of Harefield's staff to the healing of broken hearts and lungs.

By contrast, what the West London Partnership Forum seems to hold in the highest esteem are the asset values of Harefield and the Royal Brompton hospitals. That is an unworthy and narrow perspective, as the future of Britain's most famous heart and lung hospital transcends west London or even the capital as a whole. Its patients come from far and wide, and only just over 10 per cent. come from the Hillingdon borough where it is situated.

The motives of those who would transplant idyllically tranquil rural Harefield to one of the most congested, polluted, noisy, crime-ridden, overcrowded, concrete jungles of inner London are bound to be criticised and scrutinised. They merit further deep investigation.

The conduct of the consultation process was unseemly from its inception in late July at the height of the holiday season. There was overwhelming public opposition to the

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destruction of Harefield, which the West London Partnership Forum had proposed, but the NHS representatives in their total intransigence showed a disturbing contempt for democracy, and utter lack of interest in any proposals other than their own. I hope they now give the impressive written responses from the Heart of Harefield campaign, residents associations, the borough council, Community Voice, the community health council, patients groups and individuals the genuine consideration that they deserve.

The Secretary of State too, if he is a democrat, should demand to study those responses. He knows the strength of public feeling, and has had letters of public protest enough. On 26 April, a petition with more than 80,000 signatures was delivered to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing street--an event which can hardly have passed him by, especially as it was well televised and led by an eight-year-old double heart transplant former patient, Sophie Park, and by the then leader of Hillingdon borough council, councillor Richard Barnes, now the Greater London Assembly councillor for Ealing and Hillingdon.

If care of patients were poor at Harefield, the fiercest critics would be its patients past and present. However, the Hamsters--the Harefield transplant club, which represents those who have had transplants there--are its staunchest supporters, as are members of the Rebeat club, which is affiliated to the British Heart Foundation and has some 400 members nationwide--people who are, or have been, patients at Harefield hospital, and their close relatives.

Were there a cogent case for Harefield hospital's closure, I as the local Member of Parliament would have had it represented to me by my electors, but I have not. Moreover, all parties on Hillingdon borough council would not have voted together to save and develop the hospital unless that were the wish of local residents.

There is much rhetoric about the NHS's response to the views of patients and the public. Indeed, the heading of the first chapter of the NHS national plan describes its vision as

To modernise Harefield would cost a tiny proportion of the £180 million net capital cost of building and equipping the new hospital at Paddington basin, whose gross cost would be about twice as high were it not for the proceeds from selling the Royal Brompton and Harefield sites.

What is more, the outline business case projects that the closure of the Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals will be set against a requirement for only an extra nine cardiothoracic beds by 2006, which is when the new hospital is due to be completed, and an extra 27 by 2011. In relation to the overall number of beds in west London in the hospitals affected by the proposed changes, only an extra 24 beds are projected by 2011--an extra hundredth of a bed per 1,000 population.

Clearly, more than health economics is involved. I suggest the answer lies in the strategic objective to regenerate the Paddington basin in central London, to which aim Harefield hospital and its staff are intended to be sacrificed. I do not think that the prognosis for the Paddington basin site is good, because it was flooded on 2 November.

Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster is the health authority in the West London Partnership Forum, which is leading on the forum's proposal to sell Harefield

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hospital and put the proceeds together with those from the sale of its hospital trust partner, the Royal Brompton, into the development of a new cardiothoracic hospital in Paddington as part of what the forum, in its outline business case, describes as

The House should note that the arbiter as well as the conductor of the public consultation process is the Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster health authority. In an ethical world, the arbiter would be independent and objective, such as a health authority outside the area concerned. However, in this case the vested interest of Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster is clear, as it is progenitor, proposer, arbiter, prospective executor and beneficiary of the proposals.

Were there natural justice, such a flagrant business and pecuniary interest on the part of the Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster health authority would invalidate the whole consultation process because, to quote the West London Partnership Forum again:

Over the 10 to 15-year development period, the combined schemes are due to create more than 30,000 jobs. Little thought is given to the jobs to be lost at Harefield, which has little employment other than the hospital, and hardly any of the hospital's staff are willing to move to Paddington.

The problems of access, parking, accommodation for visitors and staff, road user charges and physical safety for rehabilitating patients and their relatives are plain to all--except the West London Partnership Forum. The problems of travelling to Paddington should alone invalidate the Paddington basin site. However, Harefield is the optimum location: set in green belt in rural Middlesex with ample gardens and lawns, it has a helipad, cheap and friendly accommodation and easy access to the M4, M40, M1, M25, Heathrow, Luton, Northolt and Denham airfields, the tubes at Uxbridge and Northwood and rail services at Watford and at Denham.

History repeats itself, but each generation is reluctant to accept the lessons of the past. In her history of the hospital, "Heart of Harefield", the former consultant surgeon at Harefield, Mary Shepherd, points out that, in response to a report by the London Health Planning Consortium, which had similar centralising plans in 1979, Harefield commented on that report's lack of evidence for cardiac centres located in general or in teaching hospitals performing better than those that were not. She said that

It is noteworthy that Harefield's finest work has been done in the past 20 years--since it beat off the threat to its survival from the London Health Planning Consortium.

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I again quote from its historic and mercifully triumphant response of 20 years ago:

nor in this one, for that matter--

Founded in 1915 as a hospital for Australian soldiers wounded in the great war--No. 1 auxiliary hospital of the Australian Imperial Forces--Harefield hospital has performed devoted service to the sick in peace and in war. As was written of the ANZAC casualties, who are still commemorated by the schoolchildren of the village every ANZAC day when they lay flowers on the 107 graves in St Mary's churchyard,

Long may it remain.

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