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Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I begin by extending my congratulations to the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara) on an excellent maiden speech. We understand the pride that his parents must be feeling.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak today, and I should like to bring to the House's attention a very serious issue affecting my constituents. My local hospital trust, the St. Helier and Epsom University Hospitals NHS trust, covers Merton, Sutton, Epsom and beyond, and was created when Epsom hospital got into financial difficulties and merged with St. Helier, which is the nearest hospital for most of my constituents.
In January, local NHS managers voted to overturn the views of residents in Surrey, Merton and Sutton, and to build a new critical care hospital in the Belmont suburb of Sutton, rather than on the site of the existing general hospital at St. Helier. This decision means that St. Helier will lose its accident and emergency, maternity and other critical care services, despite the fact that Belmont is one of the wealthiest areas in the country, and that people living close to it have very high life expectancy, very good access to health care and very high levels of private health care.
That has happened despite the fact that the area around St. Helier has the greatest health needs in the whole catchment area and that people living there have up to 10 years' less life expectancy. The people living there are the most likely to need to go to hospital and the least likely to have access to a car. It has happened despite the fact that the whole catchment area can reach St. Helier within the critical golden hour that our health experts agree is crucial; and despite the fact that more people can go to St. Helier within 20 minutes than they can to Sutton; and despite the fact that St. Helier is far more accessible by public transport than Sutton. It has happened despite the fact that independent analysts called the Sutton choice "deeply flawed" and despite the fact that St. Helier was easily the first choice of people living in the catchment area. It is also favoured by all the MPs in Sutton and Merton and by both Sutton and Merton councils.
Consequently, four months ago, Merton council called these plans in to be considered by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. It believed that the plans were wrong and would increase health inequalities. Earlier this week, I was informed that my right hon. Friend is still considering whether to refer the case to the independent reconfiguration panel. Yet four months on, the NHS authorities are continuing to plough ahead with their plans, using public money, even though my right hon. Friend has not made up her mind. If a local authority
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were planning to reorganise its schools, it would not be allowed to continue spending taxpayers' money until the decision had been ratified. Why should it be different in the health service?
Let me be clear: the decision to choose Sutton over St. Helier was wrong. The team behind the plans calls itself Better Healthcare Closer to Home. It is a good job that the Trade Descriptions Act does not apply to the NHS. Crucially, the organisation has neglected the needs of those who need the NHS the most. Those people will not be getting better health care.
The issue of health inequalities has been all but forgotten by Better Healthcare Closer to Home. Why else would it be running down St. Helier when the area around St Helier has the lowest life expectancy, the most emergency admissions, the highest rate of accidents among children, the lowest levels of general good health, the most people with long-term illness, the most babies born with low birth weight, the most people without access to primary care, the lowest incomes, the largest black and ethnic minority population and the least likelihood of owning a car?
Overall, it would be cheapest to patients if the hospital were based at St. Helier, but that has not been addressed by the Better Healthcare Closer to Home team, even though Government rules say that the cost to patients, not just the cost to hospital trusts, must be included in the plans. Even the Better Healthcare team itself admits that, if the Sutton site were chosen, people living in seven of the 10 most deprived postcodes in the region would have to travel further than they do at the moment.
Any decision on hospital reorganisation has to undergo public consultation, but I believe that the consultation was biased against St. Helier. Thousands of letters and petitions were ignored, including thousands of views from my own constituents. Despite all that, St. Helier came out on top. Official documents rated St. Helier as the best optionbetter than Sutton by a factor of more than 7 per cent. If anything, the public were even more enthusiastic about St. Helier than the professionals. More people chose St. Helier than any other site, and even in the Sutton area fewer than 10 per cent. of residents supported the Sutton site.
The results of the consultation appear to me to be comprehensive, yet they have been reversed because Better Healthcare says that the consultation was inconclusive and that it now has new information in any case. Absurdly, it says that because people wanted their hospital to be accessible, their decision in favour of St. Helier was somehow incongruous. Better Healthcare Closer to Home simply cannot accept that the St. Helier choice is accessible because it is in the north of the catchment area, while Sutton is geographically more central. But more people live around St Helier. Two thirds of the people in the catchment area can get there within 20 minutes and everyone can get there within the golden hour. It has the best public transport, and total journey times for patients would be shorter to St. Helier than to any other site. Better Healthcare also claims that the overall impact on the NHS would be better if Sutton were chosen.
I have a great deal to say but I appreciate that I must not go over my allotted time. However, one frustration felt by my constituents is that, although they are the
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least likely in the entire catchment area to be healthy, they are not represented on any of the boards that make decisions about our health service. I hope that my hon. Friend the Deputy Leader of the House will take my concerns and views to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, so that the matter can be called in for review by the reconfiguration panel. In that way, my local health service can be prevented from squandering money on a plan that people do not want.
Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): I received a letter today stating that the London gateway port development had been approved. That development will have serious consequences for my constituency and I oppose it, on behalf of my constituents, for reasons both national and local. However, in view of the lack of time for debate, I shall speak only about the local reasons tonight.
The development will cause serious disadvantages locally, because it will involve a massive amount of house building, which will cause a loss of green belt in my area that we can ill afford. That house building programme, and the many heavy goods vehicles that will be used, will also have a massive traffic impact in the areaa very serious issue for my constituents and for the people of south Essex.
To facilitate the construction of the port, a very deep and wide channel will have to be dug along the Thames estuary and through my constituency. A total of 32 million cu m of spoil will be removed, and the channel will run right across Canvey Island's sea defences. We must ensure that those defences are not in any way put at risk.
The spoil will be dumped on ground to the west of Canvey Island, and it is inevitable that that massive amount of earth will change ground-water levels locally. Part of my constituency has 40,000 residents but is some 8 ft below sea level, so ground-water levels are a matter of serious concern. Moreover, I have no doubt that that spoil dumping will also cause environmental problems.
I hope that the Deputy Leader of the House will ensure that the Department of Transport makes its policy clear. That policy should include promoting a new Parkway rail station for Canvey Island, and improving the road infrastructure in south Essex generally. Both those initiatives should be undertaken before the development goes forward.
On another topic, "Panorama" this evening will broadcast a report, by a nurse and a journalist, that shows that there is a systemic problem in many hospitals in this country. It reveals that the care of elderly patients is sometimes unacceptable. Vulnerable and frail old people, some of whom are dying, suffer a lack of the tender loving care that they are entitled to expect at that difficult time of their lives. They are denied dignity, and there is little or no concern for their welfare. They are left in great pain and distress, and sometimes they are left hungry. They have nothing to drink, not even something to wet their mouths with, and consequently their mouths are dry and start to develop sores.
The programme also reports that elderly patients have been bullied and abused, which is entirely unacceptable in our health service. I am sure that that problem is not widespread but I guess that the same
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things happen in other hospitals around the country, in part because elderly people are very vulnerable and not able to speak up for themselves.
We know that hospitals have become less clean over recent years, and that thousands of people die or have limbs amputated as a result. We also know that there is institutionalised abuse of the elderly in some hospitals and residential care homes. The vast majority of nurses who care for those people are dedicated and wonderful, and they deserve our thanks for the work that they do in difficult circumstances. But we must ask why there is a problem with the care of the elderly. Is it a systemic problem that involves training and the supervision and management of nursing care? Does it involve the use of temporary and agency nurses? Is that part of the problem?
Like many MPs, I visit hospitals in my constituency. I did so a week or so ago, and I approached a member of staff sitting at the front desk who simply shrugged at me, indicating that she could not speak English. That did not appear at all satisfactory. I say again that I welcome the care and dedication of the majority of nurses and hospital staff, but we can no longer hide behind political correctness and ignore what is happening to a few vulnerable, elderly patients in hospitals and care homes in the UK. I honestly believe that such behaviour would not have been possible when matrons were running hospitals. Hospitals would not be quite so unclean under matrons as they are now. I ask the Government to instigate a national inquiry into the problems revealed by "Panorama" and consider whether matron would help.
Finally, to turn to foreign affairs, the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus is one of the greatest crimes committed in Europe since world war two. It amounted to ethnic cleansing and some 200,000 people were uprooted, made refugees and displaced from their homes, and they still remain displaced. It is time that the international community stopped its appeasement of Turkey and made it plain to Turkey that it cannot move forward in Europe or the international community until it resolves that difficulty and ends peacefully its improper and illegal occupation of the beautiful island of Cyprus.
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