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Local Government Finance

Question agreed to.


Mr. Deputy Speaker: With permission, I shall put together the motions on European Union documents.

20 May 2003 : Column 984

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 119(9),

Racism and Xenophobia

Question agreed to.

Northern Ireland Grand Committee


Community Pharmacies

8.11 pm

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield): Like several other hon. Members, I have a petition concerning community pharmacies. It is from the users of Knights pharmacy, Longbridge, Birmingham and other concerned residents. It contains more than 800 signatures and it reads:

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urges the Government to reject these proposals by the Office of Fair Trading and promote the NHS pharmacy plan to encourage and support local community pharmacies.

20 May 2003 : Column 985

To lie upon the Table.

8.12 pm

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Further to the petition that has just been presented by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Richard Burden), I should like to present a petition on the same subject on behalf of no fewer than 2,280 of my Buckingham constituents.

The petition declares that

The petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons should reject such proposals in the interests of the best possible service to the public.

To lie upon the Table.

20 May 2003 : Column 986

Children's Services (Manchester)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Caplin.]

8.13 pm

Mr. Graham Stringer (Manchester, Blackley): I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the unfortunate and unwelcome closure of Booth Hall children's hospital, and the consequential impacts that that will have on secondary and specialist children's services in Manchester. I am particularly interested to get reassurances from the Minister that the commitments given during the consultation process on the closure of Booth Hall children's hospital, and the commitments given about the future configuration of children's services, are honoured in principle and in detail. Some of those commitments cannot be honoured in detail because things have changed or moved on, but I am interested in ensuring that they are honoured in detail where they can be and in principle where they cannot.

It will be useful to give a brief history of the process that led to the decision to close Booth Hall children's hospital and what has happened since. I shall be brief, as there is not sufficient time to go through the full history in one half-hour Adjournment debate, but the issues can be summarised very simply. Over the past quarter of a century and more, it has been the steady and firm view of a number of health professionals that Booth Hall hospital should close. Just as firmly and with the same passion, virtually every person in north Manchester has opposed their view.

This is not simply a situation in which a hospital closes and people oppose that closure out of sheer conservatism. My constituents are more intelligent than that. In recent memory, three hospitals have closed—the northern hospital, the Jewish hospital and Ancoats hospital—which were either in Manchester, Blackley or on the constituency boundary. Some closures occurred with very little opposition and some with slightly more, but none of them received the same opposition as that of Booth Hall hospital. Indeed, I have yet to meet anybody outside the health service who agrees with the closure. This has been a difficult 25 years in which I do not think that a single mind has been changed among the people who live in north Manchester.

Interestingly—I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to reflect on this—given that level of opposition and the failure of the medics to persuade people that children's services would be better if the hospital closed, under the new proposals for foundation hospitals I suspect that any election to a body that controlled Booth Hall hospital would put in place people opposed to the closure. In those circumstances, it would be extremely difficult for anybody to proceed with the closure of the hospital.

There have been at least five consultations on this matter. Most of them were rejected, and in 1995 one consultation was conducted so badly that it ended up in the High Court in London. Manchester city council and, uniquely, the community health council brought an action, and leave was given to hold out an injunction against the consultation process. The process has not been a happy one.

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Finally, on 15 March 1997, in the dying hours rather than days of the last Conservative Administration, the then Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), decided that Booth Hall hospital and Pendlebury children's hospital would close and that there would be a new specialist hospital in the centre of Manchester. At this point, I wish to come to the commitments given by the then Secretary of State, which have been repeated by officials and by different Ministers in the Labour Administration and the Department of Health.

On 15 March 1997, in the letter giving closure, the former Secretary of State said:

That was the first commitment—the assurance that there would be a children's trust to look after the interests of children's services as the new specialist hospital was developed, as the two current children's hospitals continued to be run and as future commitments to children's services were given. Furthermore—this is the second commitment—he said:

The detail of what that meant was based on a letter from Mr. Neil Goodwin, who was then chief executive of the area health authority and is now chief executive of the strategic health authority.

In a letter on 21 January 1997, he said that there would be fully effective secondary services for children at North Manchester general hospital, consisting of general medical and surgical in-patient services, day care, out-patient and accident and emergency services. In effect, that was a commitment to move the secondary services that had existed at Booth Hall for 60 years or more to North Manchester general hospital while the specialist services moved to the brand new hospital on the Manchester Royal infirmary site in the centre of Manchester.

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