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

Implementation and Compliance of the Common Fisheries Policy

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I think the Ayes have it.

Hon. Members: No.

Division deferred till Wednesday 17 September, pursuant to Orders [28 June 2001 and 29 October 2002].

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Bicester Community Hospital

7.26 pm

Tony Baldry (Banbury): I am glad that the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), is in his place to listen to this petition.

I am proud to present a petition signed by more than 7,000 of my constituents, mainly from the town of Bicester and numbering more than half the population of that town. The petition expresses concern about Bicester community hospital.

The petition declares

To lie upon the Table.

16 Sept 2003 : Column 830

Royal Hospital Haslar

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

7.28 pm

Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport): Some of my parliamentary friends and colleagues have expressed mock surprise at my raising this issue in the House as the subject of an Adjournment debate, as I have raised it so many times before. However, I would certainly claim not to be a one-club golfer. I spoke in the House last Thursday about defence and I spoke and answered questions yesterday on behalf of the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission. Nevertheless, it is true that, according to the ever-efficient Library, I have raised the issue of Haslar 63 times, and I shall continue to do so until the Government see sense and act to ensure that these facilities are used properly.

The Royal hospital Haslar was originally a naval hospital that opened on 23 October 1753, so its 250th anniversary will occur shortly. However, I put the case for the hospital not because of its history but because of its superb facilities. Some £35 million has been spent on it in the past 10 years and it has outstanding operating suites and facilities.

The problem arises because the Royal hospital Haslar is the only services hospital that the Ministry of Defence owns and controls. In 1988, a Ministry of Defence committee, which was chaired by Commodore Lawrence and comprised no medical personnel, decided that the best future for service medicine was to proceed with dramatic reconstruction. The committee was facing a significant shortfall of 50 per cent. to 90 per cent. in the key specialties. Recruitment to the armed forces medical services has traditionally been good, but recently retention has been bad. In the important faculties, such as general surgery, orthopaedic surgery, anaesthetics and general medicine, there is approximately a 75 per cent. shortfall. The Ministry of Defence has therefore only a quarter of the personnel that it needs.

The Lawrence committee recommended that there should be a new centre of defence medicine. The Government accepted the recommendation, but after it was touted around various places where they would have liked it to be located, it ended up at Birmingham, which is not a popular centre.

Recruitment to the Defence Medical Services is currently good, but retention remains bad. That is why it has been necessary in Iraq to use reservists, some of whom are charging approximately £1,000 a day in compensation for their loss of earnings. I have read press reports of some doctors being paid £180,000 or £250,000 a year in compensation for loss of civilian earnings to make up for the lack of service personnel. There was a serious problem and the solution that the Ministry of Defence proposed was the closure of the Royal hospital Haslar. The original statement made it clear that it would not close before 2002. There was local uproar and a march of 22,000 people who expressed their deep concern at the loss of the local facility.

There are several concerns, not only in services medicine, but I shall give one more example of the latter. The Ministry of Defence has decided to cut the umbilical

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cord between medical staff and service patients at the same time as the closure programme. Until fairly recently, service doctors gave preference to service personnel, but that is no longer the case. There is no fast-tracking and 18,338 service personnel are currently medically downgraded. That means that, for example, a paratrooper with a back problem has to queue for treatment with an elderly lady who needs a hip replacement. That is a serious disadvantage from a services point of view. Defence Medical Services has not prospered by the decision.

Let me deal with the sphere of activity for which the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton) is responsible. I am pleased and grateful that he is responding to the debate. Although we have a Ministry of Defence health problem, it is also a specific problem for the civilian population of the Gosport-south Hampshire area.

The facilities at Haslar are outstanding. It has 280 beds, nine exceptional operating theatres and a range of other facilities, including radiological equipment and magnetic resonance imaging equipment. Its telemedical equipment is as good as that anywhere in the world. Indeed, it is a world leader in telemedicine. The local community needs the facility. The next piece of the jigsaw puzzle is that the national health service has decided that the Queen Alexandra hospital at Cosham, which is eight to 12 miles away from my constituency, needs to be renewed. A private finance initiative has been proposed for it. The plan is to complete the PFI in 2007, though no one is putting money on that happening. Like most programmes, it might creep to the right and be delayed. Anyway, let us take 2007 as the relevant date.

The original plan was to close the outstandingly good facilities at Royal hospital Haslar in 2002. The subsequent plan was that they would close in 2007. There has, however, been a development since then. I raised the issue on the Floor of the House in the Christmas Adjournment debate, and subsequently received a letter, dated 29 January 2003, from the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears), who was then the Under-Secretary of State for Public Health. She pointed out that, following a consultation by the local authority

The problem is that the caveat

is proving quite significant because some people in the Ministry appear to be dragging their heels in regard to the concept of effecting the necessary transfer of premises from the Ministry to the NHS and the local hospitals trust. I have heard it said that the commitment is not the one that I have just read to the House, but one to develop facilities on the Gosport peninsula. That is not what the Minister said, however. She said that the facilities would be retained at Haslar, and that is what we want to hear. If it is indeed the case that they will be

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retained at Haslar, it is important that all those involved should come together to discuss the manner in which the transfer will be carried out.

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary of State for Defence, the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin), who wrote to me about the transfer of authority and responsibility, and about the proposed MOD attitude after 2007. He kindly invited me to go and see him, which I look forward to doing on the morning of Wednesday 15 October. What we need now is an absolute commitment from the NHS that it understands the need for the Haslar facilities, and that it is committed to an orderly transfer of the premises there from the Ministry of Defence to the national health service.

A few months ago, before the summer recess, there was a fear—indeed, it was a stated intention—that the King Edward VII hospital at Midhurst would need to close. It is a charitable structure. That caused concern locally, because it was widely accepted that the facilities in Hampshire were not sufficient for us to manage without that hospital. Haslar hospital is quite different, however. It is much more substantial, much more important, and much more geared to the Minister's and the Government's initiatives.

The Government have recently introduced significant initiatives, one of which involves diagnostic and treatment centres. In these centres, there is virtually a production line of operations, which can take place in specially allocated premises. Such a production line of hip replacements, cataracts and the like—procedures known as cold surgery—can take place in a dedicated hospital, without the disruptions that can be caused by major accidents and emergencies. Treating the victims of major road accidents would normally take priority over cold surgery. Cold surgery therefore needs facilities that can be used on a regular, structured basis so that it can be carried out in a well-organised way. That is exactly the kind of facility that Haslar can offer.

There is also an accident treatment centre at Haslar, which is ideally suitable for treating the victims of minor accidents who do not need to go to the accident and emergency unit at Queen Alexandra hospital in Cosham. I believe that the number of accident treatment centre cases is about 8,000 a year, and a study has shown that some 6,000 additional cases could be taken away from the accident and emergency unit in Cosham by treating them in Haslar. Clearly, that initiative would take some pressure off the district general hospital at Cosham.

I am pleading for an understanding by Government at the highest level that we cannot do without Haslar hospital. The primary care trust has taken an initiative, and has asked the strategic health authority to consider the future of the Haslar site. We need to bring all the major actors into this dialogue: the Ministry of Defence, which is the current owner of the site, the national health service, which is the holder of the purse strings through the PCT, the ambulance trust, which has a heavy burden because of the extra carriage of patients between Gosport and the Queen Alexandra hospital, Gosport borough council, which is the planning authority, the hospitals trust and all the other participants—stakeholders, as the Government like to call them—in the health scene in south Hampshire. That is urgently

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needed, because we cannot manage without the facilities at Haslar hospital. I urge the Minister to respond to this debate, and to agree that he will participate in this initiative and ensure that those facilities are not lost.

The Ministry of Defence has said that it wishes to get out of the business of hospital management. I hold my own view on that. The Defence Medical Services has not only surgical and medical skills, but administrative skills. I maintain that it would be helpful to the Defence Medical Services to have a facility at which defence medical personnel could train in administration as well as in medical matters. Haslar, which has superb facilities and is highly regarded, could be a centre for an esprit de corps in the Portsmouth and south Hampshire area. The Defence Medical Services would appreciate that.

Once the premises are transferred to the hospitals trust, the Ministry of Defence, having achieved its primary objective of getting out of hospital management, may well reconsider the facilities and realise that a combination of Queen Alexandra hospital and Haslar hospital would provide an excellent training ground for its own personnel. The Ministry of Defence may come back on side and realise that it has that opportunity.

My plea is for the Minister to recognise the problems, and to undertake to involve himself in the transfer of premises at Haslar hospital to the national health service.

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