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Street Fund Raisers

8.12 pm

Mr. David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op): I present the petition of the Brighton Business Forum on the problems for city centre businesses, shoppers and residents associated with street charity collectors or "chuggers", as they are known. More than 200 signatures were collected, mainly in the North Laine area of Brighton. The petition is in the names of Anthony Mernagh, chief executive of the city centre business forum, Soozie Campbell, city centre manager, Peter Stocker of the North Laine Traders Association, and Andrew Bird, proprietor of the Silverado shop.

The petition states:

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To lie upon the Table.

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Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust

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

8.14 pm

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex) (Con): First, let me ask the Minister to pass my sincere sympathy to his hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman), and to say how sad my hon. Friends and I were to hear his news.

I am grateful for this opportunity to draw to the House's attention the serious anxieties of many of my constituents about the proposals in the consultation document "Best Care, Best Place". I was grateful to the Secretary of State for seeing an all-party delegation from Mid-Sussex, whose members expressed very clearly their views on the problems involved in the proposals. He gave them a genuine and full hearing. I want the Minister to know that the issue features very strongly throughout my constituency—in Burgess Hill, East Grinstead and Haywards Heath and in the royal areas—and is followed with great interest in the wider Sussex area. I note the support of my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) and my hon. Friends the Members for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) and for Wealden (Charles Hendry), who I hope may seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Many of these ideas were aired only five years ago when there was another major consultation on a document entitled "Modern Hospital Services for Central Sussex—A challenge for us all". And a challenge they have proved to be, albeit an unresolved challenge. Five years on, here we are again in another period of instability and uncertainty for my constituents and for the patients and staff of the Princess Royal hospital in Haywards Heath.

The Princess Royal is a busy modern purpose-built hospital with 339 beds. During last year 10,700 people were treated as emergency admissions and 3,072 as elective admissions. In its admirable and busy out-patient department, 79,890 people were looked after. The accident and emergency department—a subject of continuing and great local anxiety—cared for 30,734 people.

The Princess Royal has a total staff of 1,331. All those excellent people are dedicated to their work and to those for whom they care, and I pay the warmest tribute to them for the magnificent service that they provide. The Minister will understand that they are extremely anxious about the future, and deeply concerned about the continuing upheaval caused by the endless rearrangements and the lack of stability of service. Many of them know what is right for Mid-Sussex, and think little of what is proposed. I want the Minister to reassure those people tonight, and to give some certainty to what the future holds.

I say that because I want the Minister to appreciate that the Princess Royal is an excellent NHS hospital that is greatly valued in its local community. As I said in a debate five years ago on 29 November 2000 and again on 6 November 2001 in the House, we are truly proud
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locally of the service that it provides, the skills and excellence of its staff and the solid best efforts of its management. We understand the anxiety of the wider community to have the services that they really need and to which they are entitled.

I should also tell the Minister that there are some    fundamental questions relating to joined-up government which must be addressed and which, in my opinion, have not been dealt with well in the document. The Government's new housing proposals require all of us in West Sussex and elsewhere in Sussex—particularly Mid-Sussex—to absorb a substantial number of new houses. The local infrastructure to support those plans simply does not exist—a problem that I have drawn to the attention of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Minister for Housing and Planning in parliamentary questions, debates and extensive correspondence.

The provision of an extensive social infrastructure, including health services, is of the first importance. The Government's plans could include about 45,000 extra people in Mid-Sussex. I therefore need an assurance from the Minister that the plans take into account the substantial extra growth being imposed on Mid-Sussex by his Government.

Let me now deal with the consultation document and my constituents' views. My hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs and my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham—indeed, I think all of us—understand that the national health service has always evolved, and we accept that that is right.

We accept the movement of some services between the Princess Royal hospital in Haywards Heath and the Royal Sussex County hospital in Brighton if it is based on sound and substantial clinical grounds. But my constituents share strong and determined views concerning the irreducible minimum of services that must be retained at the PRH. There is the deeply held perception locally that a remorseless drift of services away from Haywards Heath towards the Royal Sussex County hospital in Brighton is taking place, and that is what is causing such strong local anxiety.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate and I entirely support everything that he says. Does he share my view that the uncertainty that his and my constituents feel about the current arrangements and consultation is amplified by the dithering and procrastination that surrounded the movement of the hospital services on which many of my constituents depended away from Crawley to Redhill? Such procrastination has led to a state of crisis at the East Surrey hospital in Redhill. I now have more complaints about the health service than I have had at any stage in my parliamentary career. Does he share my view that this matter has to be dealt with in the short term with certainty and clarity, and that in the longer term, the answer is to build a new hospital at Pease Pottage—a prospect that was dangled before the public before the last election, and then promptly taken away afterwards?

Mr. Soames: My right hon. Friend is quite right. The shambles and debacle of the Crawley and Redhill situation is causing the gravest concern to us all because
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it inspires such little confidence in the NHS decision-making process. As to creating a new hospital at Pease Pottage, that will inevitably have to be considered.

Paediatrics was removed from the PRH a year ago and transferred to Brighton without any proper consultation. We must have today from the Minister some direct assurance that this sort of thing will not happen in future, and that serious thought will be given to preventing services from being stripped from the PRH. Secondly, the accident and emergency department was ludicrously threatened with closure five years ago, but following absolute uproar in Mid-Sussex and a vigorous campaign led by myself, the district council and our excellent local paper the Mid Sussex Times—known as "The Middy"—the decision was overturned and the department, I am grateful to say, has continued.

But because of the ill-handling of this matter and of the very issue raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Horsham—the current unhappy debacle at the Crawley hospital, which has now been downgraded to a walk-in accident and emergency centre, and the extremely unsatisfactory situation at Redhill—confidence in NHS decision making locally remains very low. We urge Ministers to take a personal interest in the way in which this matter will be handled.

Despite the assurances that have been given, there remains the real concern that our accident and emergency department at the PRH is to be downgraded. We cannot have this and we will not allow it. I am especially anxious about whether a hospital that does not treat acute trauma or provide emergency surgery will be viable in future. Again, we need assurances, particularly given that on our doorstep is Gatwick airport, and the threat of a major incident or terrorist attack.

The third point of great concern is the question of vital maternity services and the possible reduction in neo-natal and maternity services at the PRH. I believe it absolutely essential that these services be retained, and that women should be able to have their babies in Haywards Heath. I understand that the trust is trying to recruit advanced neo-natal nurse practitioners. They are as rare as hen's teeth, and there is understandable scepticism about the idea that they can be recruited. We need assurances on this question and an understanding that it would be wholly unacceptable to the growing Mid-Sussex population—in East Grinstead, Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill and the rural areas—if they were unable to access essential services locally.

There are many serious difficulties that need to be dealt with concerning transport. Access to the Royal Sussex County hospital in Brighton is appalling, as is the traffic congestion that surrounds it. There is very real concern in Mid-Sussex—particularly in East Grinstead, which is to the north of the constituency—that transport times would be unacceptable in an emergency. There are also important questions that must be settled relating to car parking, staff transport and the wholly inadequate public transport infrastructure. We will look to the trust to build on the work that is already being done through the Mid-Sussex transport group.

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