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Dr. Taylor: The health authority continued:

Of course they will; that number is made up of the day cases, out-patients and investigations that one finds at any hospital.

If one puts the kiss of death on an acute general hospital, staff will leave. Most believed that there was no alternative. The next step is to denigrate one's opponents. Most of us were called medical dinosaurs, a few were called militant activists and I was called King Canute. Thus, it happened that consultants had to agree. The downgrading, or virtual closure, was engineered by loss of staff, which meant the hospital was unsafe, and happened on 18 September 2000.

Where do we go from here? The unfairness is obvious. Hexham, Kendal, Bishop Auckland, Banbury and Neath—to name but a few—are smaller concentrations of population, with similar or fewer journeys, which have retained far more than we have.

Looking to the future, there is an admission that bed numbers were wrong. Also, there was an admission that elective in-patient surgery has to return to Kidderminster. We are looking forward to the time when primary care trusts will take control, because we can talk to our trust.

Matthew Green (Ludlow): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is concern that the primary care groups will not be in a position to form the primary care trusts in our region in time for the 1 April deadline? Does he agree that we need to seek guidance from the Minister tonight on whether there might be some sort of delay?

Dr. Taylor: There is real concern among primary care groups who are not yet primary care trusts that they will

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not be ready. When that is coupled with the drastic reorganisation that produces strategic health authorities, we have a double reason for being worried about the future. I am pleased that we are working with the primary care trusts because these are people that we can talk to.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): On behalf of other Members of Parliament from the region, may I say that we all agree with the hon. Gentleman's comments and that we are looking forward to the Minister's response to his legitimate concerns?

Dr. Taylor: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her support and for that of hon. Friends who cannot be here tonight.

We are delighted with the changes that are occurring at the top of the Worcestershire acute hospitals NHS trust. With the appropriate replacements, I and the primary care trust may start to have meaningful dialogue, which has been impossible to date.

I am delighted that the Royal College of Physicians and the Nuffield trust are looking at models that will provide emergency services at local hospitals. That is crucial for us in our battle to regain emergency services for Wyre Forest and south Shropshire. It is crucial to hospitals such as Crawley, Canterbury, Haslar, Penzance and, possibly, Pontefract, where emergency services may be threatened by larger neighbours. It is crucial to restore fairness and equality in the provision of emergency services across the country.

In this way, there may never again need to be such an unnecessary revolution as that which put me here. Purely selfishly, I am extremely grateful to be here, as this is the most superb job. I promote it as the best way for a retired doctor to enhance his pension, and I must say that I am enjoying what I do.

I do not believe that there is any other concentration of population of nearly 100,000 people that does not have an accident and emergency department within 18 miles. Despite frequent assertions by the health authority and others, the changes are not in the best interests of patients; that is the opinion of most local doctors, whose opposition was removed when they were led to believe that the changes were the only possibility for the future of hospital services in the county. It is not true that the Royal College of Surgeons, as has been said, was about to withdraw junior hospital doctor training recognition before the review.

I, and the 28,000 people who put me in this place, request the Minister to allow fairness and equality to return to local emergency hospital services throughout the country, by supporting the studies by the Royal College of Physicians and others to find workable models for emergency care in local hospitals.

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): My hon. Friend knows that I disagree with him about the future chairmanship of the acute hospitals trust, and I am concerned that the point that he has made about bed numbers and the need for an improved A and E service at Kidderminster may be underplayed by any future chairman. Does he share my concern that the chairman who takes over from Mr. Harold Musgrove should not be a Government placeman who does the Government's

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bidding but one who argues robustly for the interests of Worcestershire, as I believe that Mr. Musgrove is now doing?

Dr. Taylor: I am delighted with my hon. Friend's intervention because, although we disagree about that particular personality, we are both determined that the person who succeeds him will be someone who welds together the hospital services of the whole county into one system, which really works. He must be someone with the management skills of King Solomon, if King Solomon had them, because it will be a tremendous job to weld together consultants who work differently, with three very separate communities. It is so important that we get the right person, whom we—the GPs, the hospital consultants, all MPs—can really talk to.

Mr. Luff: And who will argue with the Government.

Dr. Taylor: I am very grateful.

In my view, the Government are very good at ideas, initiatives and words. I want to quote to the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears), whom I am delighted to see in the Chamber, some of her own words, which are absolutely crucial to the future of the national health service. In the letter that was circulated with the consultation document on involving patients and the public in health care, she wrote:

Those are excellent words and excellent aims. Can the Government deliver?

Mr. Luff: As the extra time is available, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is it in order to take two minutes of the House's time?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. As this has become a debate of 37 minutes maximum, it is possible for other hon. Members to take part, but I hope that they will have regard to the fact that the originator of the motion deserves a full ministerial answer.

7.8 pm

Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire): I shall speak for no more than two minutes.

I was very interested to hear the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), and I agreed with almost everything in it. However, I believe that he did not sufficiently emphasise one issue—the contribution that Kidderminster general hospital can make to increasing total bed numbers in the county. That is no criticism of what he said; it is just an observation.

There is now a consensus in the county that bed numbers are far too low. The Government's own figures show that, and privately health managers believe that the Government figures underestimate how low they are. I am one of those who actually took an optimistic view of bed numbers, and in a sense I am making a confession that I believe that I got that judgment wrong.

I hope that, in her remarks, the Minister will specifically consider how Kidderminster general hospital can contribute to increasing total bed numbers in the

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county, and—if it is not taking the debate too wide—will consider guarantees about bed numbers at the new Worcestershire royal hospital, which, working with Kidderminster, should address what could otherwise be an exceptionally serious problem. I hope that the Minister will respond on the bed numbers issue in Worcestershire as a whole and Kidderminster's contribution to solving that problem.

7.10 pm

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove): Before the Minister responds, I remind her that a rather cynical promise was made in the general election campaign that a review would be held of the situation with regard to Kidderminster hospital. I hope that she will say more about that review, and that she will take account of the consensus that has emerged with regard to bed numbers, which even includes the outgoing chairman of the NHS trust hospital. The House, and people in the Strangers Gallery, would be thrilled to hear more good news from the Minister.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I should explain that there is no such thing as a Strangers Gallery, and that there is just the Chamber.

7.10 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ms Hazel Blears): I am delighted to be able to bring what I hope will be good news to the House, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor) on securing this debate on Kidderminster hospital. I am fully aware of local concerns about the current and future level of services provided by the hospital. The very presence of the hon. Gentleman in the House is evidence of how key those issues are to the local community.

I am also delighted that the education service in Wyre Forest is working so well that primary school children think that the job of all Members of Parliament is to help the Prime Minister. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be delighted at that news.

I do not want to go back over old ground, and the hon. Member for Wyre Forest has set out the way in which decisions about Kidderminster were reached. However, the proposals in the "Investing in Excellence" strategy document were aimed at ensuring that we improved the quality of health services for patients across the whole of Worcestershire.

The consultation process carried out in 1998 uncovered a huge strength of feeling among people in the Kidderminster area, with many voicing their concerns about the possible closure of Kidderminster hospital. I emphasise that it was never the case that that hospital should close. There has been much confusion about that.

As the hon. Member for Wyre Forest knows, the Government have stated our commitment to modernisation and to driving forward reform and improvement. I do not intend to dwell on what has happened in the past, and I think that the hon. Gentleman has been generous enough in meetings with other Ministers to say that he too wants to look to the future and to try and secure the best services for his constituents.

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In May of this year, as the hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Miss Kirkbride) mentioned, at the request of the then hon. Member for Wyre Forest, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced that, on re-election, the Government would establish an independent clinical review of future elective services at Kidderminster hospital. On 26 June, the Government confirmed that the review would be undertaken by Professor Ara Darzi, professor of surgery at St Mary's hospital in London. The review was also to take place in the context of the new opportunities for planned increases in elective surgery arising from implementation of the Government's NHS plan.

Professor Darzi got to work extremely quickly and submitted his report on 31 July. As the hon. Member for Wyre Forest is aware, the Minister of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), and Professor Darzi visited Kidderminster hospital on 27 September to announce that the Secretary of State had accepted the review's recommendations in full.

The review recommended that the new £13 million diagnostic and treatment centre at Kidderminster hospital should be expanded to include up to 20 more beds. It also recommended that the range of surgery provided at Kidderminster should be increased, thus reducing waiting times and increasing access for local people, and that Kidderminster should have three operating theatres rather than two, so that more operations could be carried out.

The review also recommended that better links between Kidderminster and other local hospitals should be established, especially in connection with transport for relatives. It also recommended the development of telemedicine links for the doctors involved.

As I said, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has accepted all the recommendations in full. Their implementation will enable Kidderminster hospital to carry out a wider variety of common operations, including tonsillectomies, prostate operations, hysterectomies and gall bladder operations. It will also be able to carry out more orthopaedic operations, and more procedures—including procedures for children—in connection with eye, ear, nose and throat surgery.

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