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Mr. Milburn: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his kind comments. The Wakefield development involves £164 million of investment. As he knows, it is long overdue in the area and will bring benefits to the local health service. However, there will not only be a new hospital at Pinderfields general; I can confirm that the development will also involve additional primary and intermediate care facilities in the north Kirklees area. That is good overall news for the local health service.
Mr. Nick Harvey (North Devon): I welcome the announcement of the new hospitals and the new emphasis on scanning and diagnostic equipment. However, does the Secretary of State recognise that the real issue is not beds or bricks and mortar, but lack of staff? Is not that at least part of the reason why the first of the hospitals will open in 2006? Has not the use of PFI been the cause of some delay in hospital building, especially in respect of smaller community hospitals in places such as Tiverton and Frome in Somerset? Many of those hospitals feel that development has been delayed specifically because of PFI. Why is there not available in the public domain more information that compares the value for money of the PFI programme with that of direct financing, and why have some parliamentary questions on the subject taken as long as a year to answer? What level of NHS expertise exists for securing best value for the taxpayer from the PFI programme?
Mr. Milburn: The hon. Gentleman is aware, as we all are, that the trained staff that the NHS needs can be got from somewhere. We are making progress. We have more nurses and doctors and we are getting more radiographers and so on into the system. That is precisely what is needed, but it can be done only through training and recruitment. To achieve that, we must ensure not only the right incentives and pay structures, but the right environment for staff to work in. That is why the new facilities, including new nurseries and so on, will make a
I think that the hon. Gentleman and his party are wrong about PFI. I know that there are concerns about it in various parties, but we have today shot one of the major foxes--apart from the one on the Opposition Front Bench--in respect of cuts in bed numbers and PFI. People have said in the past that PFI inevitably leads to fewer beds, but I am afraid that the only thing to which it inevitably leads is more hospitals.
Mrs. Llin Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme): On behalf of the people of north Staffordshire, I thank my right hon. Friend for this truly wonderful news. Having worked in North Staffordshire hospital, I know how much it will mean not only to patients, but to staff. On behalf of north Staffordshire Members of Parliament, may I ask him to receive a delegation to discuss the extension of the medical facility at Keele university? As a former radiographer, I have another question: will he also discuss with us the re-establishment of a school for radiographers?
Mr. Milburn: I am tempted to say that every silver lining has a cloud, but that would be unkind to my hon. Friend and to the other Labour Members who represent north Staffordshire constituencies. They came to see me some months ago and I know that they have campaigned assiduously for the development and that the local newspaper has also campaigned extremely hard. I am aware of the problems in north Staffordshire, which has two sites with old buildings, dilapidated equipment and an environment that is suitable neither for staff nor for patients. We can begin today to put that right. It will take some time to get there, but we will do so, and my hon. Friend's constituents will have precisely the sort of modern and up-to-date facilities that they have long deserved.
Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): Just as I welcomed announcements of new hospital buildings under Conservative Governments, I welcome the same announcements from a Labour Government. I will welcome such developments even more when they are built--if they are built. But what a great shame that I cannot join the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) and welcome a new hospital in south Staffordshire. The Minister talked about Leicester and Lewisham, but he did not mention Lichfield. What can he say today to reassure people in my constituency who, for the past three and a half years, have known that our minor injuries unit, renal dialysis unit, day surgery unit and maternity unit are under threat, if not that the Victoria and Hammerwich hospitals are under threat of total closure? Can he give them any reassurance?
Mr. Milburn: I shall gladly look at the situation in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but if I were him I would be cautious. Before he starts making commitments that his Front-Bench spokesmen clearly are not prepared to
Ms Joan Ryan (Enfield, North): On behalf of my constituents and all the people of Enfield, I should like to say how important and welcome is today's announcement of the success of the bids not just for Chase Farm hospital but also for North Middlesex hospital, which will make a big difference to the delivery of health care in Enfield.
The hon. Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) talked about expansion under the previous Government, but my right hon. Friend will know from our meetings that, for many years, Chase Farm hospital was under threat of closure. Because of that threat, it was badly run down and local people lost confidence in it, and, when the Government were elected, staff morale was at the lowest possible point. Labour promised that we would turn all that round and that Chase Farm would have a secure future. I am so pleased that we can say today that we are delivering on that promise, and that Chase Farm has a secure future and will go from strength to strength in serving the people of Enfield. Will my right hon. Friend join me in congratulating the Barnet and Chase Farm Hospitals NHS trust and the North Middlesex Hospital NHS trust, the senior management and all the staff on their work in making the bids robust and successful?
Mr. Milburn: I pay tribute to all involved in putting together the bids, which require a huge amount of effort and work. A great volume of papers has rightly to be prepared. The hon. Member for Woodspring asked earlier about the approvals process, but it would be pretty surprising if we did not have a proper approvals process to demonstrate affordability and value for money--precisely the sort of things that are necessary in the NHS. I also pay tribute to the staff at Chase Farm who have sometimes worked in pretty difficult surroundings. I hope that today's announcement will bring them good heart and good cheer and a bit of optimism for the future.
Mr. Speaker: Order. Questions must be brief during statements. The House will realise that there is a time limit on the important debate which follows. I appeal for brief questions so that as many Back Benchers as possible can participate.
Sir Nicholas Lyell (North-East Bedfordshire): The Secretary of State's announcement will be welcome to many hospitals, but, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, Bedford hospital has been very much at the end of the line for finance since the old days of the resource allocation working party. It desperately needs a new mortuary. Can he hold out any hope from these announcements that it will get one promptly? What can he say on this important subject?
Mr. Milburn: The situation in Bedford will be a matter for local and regional discretion. I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is aware that the Government are dramatically increasing capital budgets, first to the regions and then to the individual trusts. More money will go to
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield): I add my congratulations to the Secretary of State on these magnificent and momentous decisions, which are much in line with the approach of previous Labour Governments to the national health service, and contrary to the weasel words of the Opposition, who have tried to turn this into a party political issue connected with the general election. As the Secretary of State said, some of the new hospitals will be in Tory constituencies.
May I say on behalf of the people of central Nottinghamshire, particularly those who work in the health service, that, with the Secretary of State's help, we will make every endeavour to deliver and to continue to improve our health services in the area?