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Charles Hendry (Wealden) (Con): I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate and commend
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him for the way in which he has led this initiative and campaign. Is he aware that almost 20,000 of my constituents in and around Uckfield are dependent on the Princess Royal hospital? So there is tremendous interest in the accident and emergency unit—for them, it is a 20-minute journey to Tunbridge Wells and a half-hour journey to Brighton or Eastbourne—and the survival of that hospital is fundamental to my constituents as well as to his.

Mr. Soames: My hon. Friend makes an extremely important point, and I hope that the Minister will deal with it. The kernel of the argument is that what is proposed, if the services were to be downgraded, would be dangerous, unsatisfactory and not acceptable to his constituents or to mine.

There is also the question of the future of Hurstwood Park hospital, which is in the grounds of the PRH. Some detailed work needs to be done on the future location of those services—of course, they must be tied into the medical school part of the trust—but it seems strange that, with £2 million newly invested in that facility, it could be closed and moved.

On a separate, already very important matter, the consultation paper does not adequately deal with the needs of the increasing number of elderly residents in Mid-Sussex. Their needs must be addressed in the detail that they deserve.

In my view, the management of the trust need to be less Brighton-centric and to demonstrate a determination to run a split-site operation more obviously equitably. They need to show a greater tangible commitment to the PRH, not only in the services, but by word and deed. The PRH needs to be reassured of the wholehearted commitment of the medical school. That will require an act of will and leadership, of which we need to see much more.

Finally, may I raise one matter with which my hon. Friends the Members for East Surrey (Mr. Ainsworth) and for Wealden will wish to be associated? The Minister will be aware that in my meeting with the Secretary of State for Health on 28 February, I mentioned to him our concerns about the excellent and unique Queen Victoria hospital in East Grinstead and raised the very important issue of the national burns review. The Secretary of State has since called for further information from officials because I hope and believe that he now realises that the proposals made by the national burns review are not substantial enough to be subjected to public consultation. The robustness of the data used to make recommendations from the review has been criticised independently, and the process appears to have lacked any form of serious transparency and taken little account of patients' needs.

If the Queen Victoria hospital is not a centre able to treat the most seriously burned patients, many will face long transfers to other hospitals and may be exposed to risks for which there is no clinical necessity. If the Queen Victoria hospital has to downgrade in any way, its national emergency responsibility will also be seriously affected. The future development would compromise its world-class research. Staff morale is being gravely undermined by the insensitivity with which the matter is
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being handled by the Government, and I should be grateful to the Minister if he assured us that any decision will be properly and swiftly taken.

8.27 pm

Mr. Howard Flight (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I echo the sympathy for the Minister's colleague expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames).

The plans for a new hospital at Pease Pottage were effectively shelved some time ago, so it is crucial that the Princess Royal hospital should remain viable. It serves the east end of my constituency and is shared with Mid-Sussex and Wealden. It is an excellent hospital and is well supported in the community. As my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex has set out most clearly, the concerns are, in essence, that a period of instability will lead to the running down of the hospital and possibly to a fate similar to that experienced at Crawley.

The background is that five years ago there was a fight to save the accident and emergency services and overcome the unwise plans of the time, and that the paediatrics unit has recently closed. Specifically, as has been pointed out, first, we seek confirmation that the A and E unit will not be downgraded, and that it is viable without facilities to treat trauma and without emergency surgery facilities. That is crucial not only because Gatwick is up the road, but because transport to Brighton is inadequate and there are severe delays at busy times.

Secondly, we seek confirmation that the maternity unit has a secure future and that the recruitment of advanced neonatal nurses is going to be a viable solution to the problem. As has been pointed out, Hurstwood Park provides crucial facilities in the area and has just had a major investment. We seek confirmation that if there is eventually a move to coincide the location with the university hospital, it will be well planned and a good way off in the future.

At the heart of the issue is the new joint trust arrangement on split sites, which could work better. The management is based in Brighton, and there is at least a vulnerability to declining staff morale at the Princess Royal against the background of what is perceived to be a less than secure future. Unless and until there are firm plans and commitments for a major new hospital—for example, at Pease Pottage—it is crucial that this hospital remain viable and successful. As has been pointed out, the number of people that it may be expected to serve is going to grow, and it would be a disgrace if a failure to grasp these key issues led to the hospital repeating Crawley's experience.

8.31 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): First, I express my appreciation to the hon. Members for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) and for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) for their remarks about the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr.   Ladyman). More importantly, my hon. Friend himself will be grateful to both of them for their remarks.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex on securing this debate and on the way in which he presented the argument. I know that he has been
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involved actively in the public consultation on these important proposals. He has played an important and significant role.

Before I turn to the specific issues that were raised this evening, I want to take this opportunity to recognise the tremendous work being done by thousands of dedicated NHS staff across the whole of the Brighton and Mid-Sussex area in delivering good quality services. I pay tribute to them—the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex did so himself, very warmly—for their commitment and service to NHS patients and their families. We are very lucky to have them working in the NHS.

It is understandable that all Members of this House attach the greatest importance to developments within their local NHS. Indeed, it is extremely important to all our constituents that they are able to enjoy access to high-quality health care services. That said, I have to tell the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex—as did my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State a few weeks ago—that the best people to make decisions about the NHS in his area are those closest to the front line. That is why we have set up a devolved structure in the NHS and shifted the balance of power to local primary care trusts so that local people can make local decisions.

I want to give the hon. Gentleman, the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs and the right hon. Member for Horsham (Mr. Maude) the assurances they are seeking, but I should emphasise that any decisions that are to be taken will be initiated first and foremost by the local PCT.

I would be failing in my duty if I did not put some of these important local issues into a wider national context. For the period 2003–04 to 2007–08, expenditure on the NHS in England will increase significantly: on average by 7.2 per cent a year over and above inflation. For the three years from 2005–06 to 2007–08, NHS spending will increase on average by 7.1 per cent. a year over and above inflation—a total increase of 23 per cent. in real terms over the period. Over this period, the total amount spent on the NHS in England will rise from £69 billion in 2004–05 to £92 billion in 2007–08.

In the constituency of the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex, the Government have provided the Mid Sussex primary care trust with £124.8 million this year compared with £98.1 million when it was established in 2002. By 2007–08, Mid Sussex PCT will receive a total allocation of £165 million.

I do not want to introduce a sour note of party politics into the debate, but I can feel the temptation slightly welling up inside me. Although the hon. Gentleman, like other Conservative Members, voted against the extra resources going into the NHS, I am sure that he would none the less welcome the growth in his local NHS that these extra resources will allow us to sustain.

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