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7.42 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): I congratulate the hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) on securing this debate. I assure him that I will draw his comments on the Defence Medical Services to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I am here to answer the hon. Gentleman's questions about the national health service. I am sure that he will appreciate that I must confine my remarks to that subject.

All right hon. and hon. Members naturally and rightly attach the highest importance to developments in the NHS in their constituencies, because access to good quality, convenient health care services is an essential ingredient in the life of any community. That is true in Gosport, and it is certainly true in Barrow and Furness. I fully understand the concerns that have been raised in Gosport by the hon. Gentleman's constituents over the provision of local NHS services, especially the future of the Royal hospital Haslar.

As the hon. Gentleman said, for many years the Royal hospital has played a central role in the provision of NHS services in his constituency. I pay tribute, as I am sure he would, to the professionalism and dedication of all the staff at the hospital. Any fundamental change along the lines that he has talked about is bound to raise concerns and anxieties locally. It is clear to him—it is clear to me, too—that decisions concerning the configuration of local services need to be made. We need to get on and make them in order to allay legitimate concerns and lay the foundations for the growth and expansion in services that he and I want to see.

It was clear from the hon. Gentleman's remarks that he appreciates the fact that these decisions are first and foremost the responsibility of the local primary care trust, the NHS trusts and the strategic health authority.

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Any decision should be made after the fullest possible local consultation and involvement. People's concerns should always be responded to fully and fairly. They should have the full facts before them, and they need to be aware of all the available options.

I know that the NHS in the hon. Gentleman's constituency is committed to those principles as it takes forward work on the best pattern of local services. If he has any concerns to the contrary, he should raise them with me and I will pursue them vigorously on his behalf.

I also agree that there is a challenging agenda for local NHS organisations, but I believe that the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS trust is responding vigorously. As one of the largest trusts in England, providing acute health care services for nearly 1 million people covering Portsmouth, the Isle of Wight and the surrounding region, it is already planning for the future. As the hon. Gentleman said, central to its plans is the new private finance initiative scheme for the redevelopment of hospital services in Portsmouth, focusing on the current Queen Alexandra site in Cosham. As he knows, the plan is to develop a high quality centre for acute services, which will serve as the hub of a network of services for outpatients, rehabilitation, preoperative assessment and much more, available in local communities for local communities throughout south-east Hampshire. I understand that the plans are strongly supported by local clinicians.

In summer 2002, a review of the proposals was conducted to ensure that the objectives still met the needs of the local health system. Clinical staff from both the NHS trust and the primary care trust confirmed their original view that the integration of acute care on a single site was the most clinically sustainable and effective model, complemented by a variety of local services. Plans for the new hospital are well under way. The Portsmouth NHS trust has recently announced the name of its preferred bidder, the Hospital Company, and is now developing a full business case for approval. It is envisaged that work will start on the site in February next year, and that the new hospital will open in 2007. Once the work is completed, in-patient services currently at Haslar will move to the new site. In the meantime, they will remain at Haslar.

To address short-term capacity problems, the Portsmouth trust is working in partnership with the independent sector on a separate project to shorten the time for which local patients wait for orthopaedic surgery. The idea is to commission an overseas clinical team of surgeons, nurses and allied health professionals who specialise in the delivery of orthopaedic services. A team from the Portsmouth trust and the Plymouth NHS trust is currently in South Africa to assess and select clinical staff and finalise the appropriate contract negotiations. The project will then begin next month, continuing until 2004. I should make clear that the focus for providing the long-term capacity needed in the local NHS to reduce waiting times for patients in south-east Hampshire will be based on the redeveloped Queen Alexandra hospital site in Cosham.

Both projects are major new developments for the local health community which form part of a wider strategic vision for the future of local health services throughout Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The strategic health authority is currently steering a process known as Healthfit, the aim being to develop a strategic

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framework for local health services that will be safe, sustainable, affordable—which is important—and fit for the future. A key priority now is to identify the pattern of local health services, and Fareham and Gosport primary care trust is leading a project to consider that. The PCT will ensure that the process fully involves health professionals, local patients and communities, as well as elected representatives. As the right pattern of services becomes clearer, the local NHS will be able to match those services with the most appropriate premises.

The hon. Gentleman rightly said much about the future of the Haslar hospital. It has been a subject of local discussion for many years, particularly since 1998 when the Ministry of Defence first announced its intention of withdrawing from the site in 2007. The commitments made in 2000—confirmed by the Minister for Crime Reduction, Policing, and Community Safety, my hon. Friend the Member for Salford (Ms Blears), when she wrote to the hon. Gentleman in January—still stand. The NHS in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight remain committed to the pattern of services for the population on the Gosport peninsula that were agreed following the consultation in 2000.

As I have said, however, the future of the Haslar hospital cannot be seen in isolation. The NHS has a responsibility to examine a range of options to ensure that primary and secondary services are meeting the needs of local patients, and conform to wider plans for modernisation. The precise configuration of the services is being discussed locally, as the hon. Gentleman will know. Following confirmation they can be matched with the right premises, at the right price, to ensure that resources are used effectively and efficiently to provide the range of services needed by the local population. As part of that process, the NHS continues to engage in discussions with the MOD so that the Haslar hospital can be considered a possible option for the location of future services. However, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman would be the first to acknowledge, the NHS has a duty to use public money wisely, and must therefore consider other options.

The hon. Gentleman again referred to the need for joint working between the NHS and the Ministry of Defence on this issue, and he said that there are no clear arrangements for the transfer of services. I am particularly concerned about this issue and the suggestions that he has made this evening, but I am advised that what he said is not the case. In fact, both sectors continue to work closely not only on the future of the Royal hospital Haslar site, but to confirm the provision of NHS and defence medical services in the local area.

The MOD has confirmed its intention to withdraw from the site in 2007, and that confirmation provides a firm foundation through which the NHS and especially the MOD can ensure continuity of NHS services for local people. It is clear that services will need to be provided from the Royal hospital site until such time as the new hospital is ready to receive admissions.

Work is being taken forward through a local partnership board, which meets quarterly, and through a high level strategic partnership that provides an overview of all aspects of partnership work between the

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NHS and the MOD. The priority is to ensure a robust and practical way forward that is sustainable for the NHS, and which will meet the needs of local people. However, any decision taken by the NHS on the future use of the Royal hospital Haslar site will clearly need to take into account the MOD's own plans for the rest of the Haslar site. The MOD and the Defence Medical Education and Training Agency take the lead on this issue, and I understand that, as the hon. Gentleman said, the MOD will meet him next month to discuss arrangements for withdrawing from the management of the hospital. Any decisions on the use of the site will clearly be subject to the necessary local planning approval processes.

The future of the Royal hospital Haslar is obviously of great concern to the hon. Gentleman and I genuinely understand the worries that he expressed this evening. It is our policy that primary care trusts, in partnership with local trusts and the strategic health authority, and in the light of their specific local knowledge and expertise, should decide the priorities for the NHS locally, including the location of any eventual services. This is an opportunity to plan for growth and expansion in NHS services locally; we are not talking about contracting the range of services available to the hon. Gentleman's constituents. That is the context in which, I hope, he and his constituents will see these developments.

I conclude by reassuring the hon. Gentleman that every effort is being made by the local NHS to plan ahead for the future. It will continue to work with the MOD, and with him, to ensure a model of care that best meets the needs of the people whom he represents.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eight minutes to Eight o'clock.

15 September 2003: in col. 595, after "The House divided: Ayes 237, Noes 140." insert


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