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Mr. Hunt: Is my hon. Friend aware that the Government have changed the funding formula for the NHS four times since 2001 and that in every single year, they have increased the relative weighting given to social deprivation and decreased the relative weighting given to age and the cost of delivery of local health care?

Mark Simmonds: I am aware of that; my hon. Friend is absolutely right. The crux of the matter is that it is not only areas represented by Labour Members that have pockets of socio-economic deprivation. That needs to be recognised, alongside the sparsity factor, the increasing population and the increasing age of the population.

I represent a constituency on the east Lincolnshire coast, which has a significant number of retired people, particularly those coming from the ex-coal mining constituencies of the midlands, who bring their health problems with them. That needs to be reflected in the funding formula: it is not, but it needs to be. I am not saying that Skegness or the east Lincolnshire coast is alone in that problem; it needs to be recognised around the whole country, where appropriate.

Mr. Graham Stuart: Through you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, may I thank my hon. Friend for becoming a patron of CHANT—the community hospitals acting nationally together campaign group—which was formally launched today? I hope that, he, together with my hon. Friends, Government Members, Liberal Democrat Members and the independent Member will demonstrate their support for CHANT. The same applies in respect of the other place. We are gaining cross-party support for what is a national problem and we need Ministers to respond to it.

Mark Simmonds: I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work that he has put into getting the CHANT group off the ground. He deserves significant recognition across and outside the House. I am sure that he will be rewarded in his own constituency for the efforts that he has made. I am delighted to see the Conservative Benches so full today: many more Conservative Members will be engaged in improving the provision of health care, not just in our respective constituencies but
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across the country. The representation on the Government Benches this afternoon provides a marked contrast.

I want to provide some brief statistics to show the consistent underfunding of the East Lincolnshire primary care trust, which serves my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle (Sir Peter Tapsell), who I am delighted to see in his place. The PCT began on 1 April 2002 with a £2.8 million debt inherited from the former Lincolnshire health authority. In the year 2005–06, it was 8 per cent. off its target share of funding. As much as 36 per cent. of the total underfunding in the Trent strategic health authority area is applicable to the East Lincolnshire PCT, which is one of the 10 worst funded PCTs of the 303 in England. This year, it is £30.3 million below its target level funding.

It is not only the East Lincolnshire PCT that is underfunded; they all are in Lincolnshire. The United Lincolnshire Hospital NHS Trust is £8.1 million in deficit with a £20 million predicted shortfall this year. That has meant two ward closures and 59 beds lost at the Pilgrim hospital and 15 beds, including three palliative care beds, in the Scarborough ward closed on 1 November. As you can imagine, Mr. Deputy Speaker, there was absolute uproar in Skegness, resulting in very well attended public meetings—[Interruption.] Government Members are laughing, but this is a very serious issue. The meetings culminated in setting up a    delegation that is coming to Parliament on 30 November. I ask one of the relevant Ministers to meet that delegation—it will include Labour councillors who attended the Secretary of State's surgery but, needless to say, received no response from her—and hear what it has to say. The losers are people living on the east Lincolnshire coast who need that facility. Pilgrim hospital is 42 minutes away along the A52.

Due to pressure from myself and others, future funding was supposed to increase from April 2006—by 13.6 per cent. that year and 12.4 per cent. the following year. It has now become clear, however, why the Government were prepared to acquiesce in that increase in funding. It is because there is going to be a reorganisation, so the PCT may never see the additional money, which may even be transferred from where it was originally going to be spent. In winding up today's debate, will the Minister give an assurance that the money promised will remain in the original area of the East Lincolnshire PCT and that the SHA will permit it to be committed prior to the reorganisation in April 2006?

The two specific problems that I have mentioned are the culture of targets and the manipulation of the funding formula. If only it were as simple as that, but unfortunately, the ambulance trust is now under pressure and it has been proposed that 28 ambulances in Lincolnshire and 42 front-line staff should go. It is ironic that I received a letter from Unison, pleading for my support to fight Government cuts in Lincolnshire. What an irony.

In conclusion, councillors in my constituency have informed me that the Government blocked the acceptance of the local authority's offer to fund the reopening of the ward—they did so for political reasons,
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as they do not want to alert the electorate to the fact that the NHS in Lincolnshire is underfunded—and thereby ensured the closure of the Scarborough ward in Skegness. I am also told that the Government are politically interfering and manipulating the strategic health authority and the primary care trusts right from the heart—pressurising staff, demanding clearance for all information flows, including for MPs, and blocking spending plans. If true, that is totally unacceptable in what is supposed to be a devolved, patient-receptive NHS.

I want to see health care provision improved in Lincolnshire and elsewhere—not just in areas represented by my right hon. and hon. Friends, but across the United Kingdom. We must all ensure that that happens. Unfortunately, because of the way in which the Government are managing the NHS, it is not.

6.48 pm

Mr. Mark Hoban (Fareham) (Con): I welcome the opportunity to debate the financial deficit in Hampshire, which particularly affects my constituents. My hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) referred to the problems of community hospitals in that part of the county. In a way, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wish I had a community hospital. The problem in Fareham is that, despite recognition for some years that local people need a community hospital and despite the record investment in the NHS to which the Government refer in the amendment, no community hospital will be forthcoming for the next two or three years at least.

What we have seen in Fareham is a much-loved popular local facility—the Blackbrook birthing centre—closed at short notice. I referred to it in an earlier intervention on the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley). The Blackbrook birthing centre in my constituency has provided care to mothers—many of whom were born there—for many years. It provides mothers who have given birth elsewhere in other units run by the Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust the opportunity to go back for some post-natal care for two   or three days to help them to bond with their children. Mothers have also used the centre to receive the hands-on practical advice and care that midwives can give in that unit, which they cannot get elsewhere.

In July this year, the centre was closed with only two weeks' notice. Mothers who had booked to give birth there were told at short notice that they were no longer able to do so because of the combination of staff shortages through sickness and midwives going on maternity leave. Naturally, it was disappointing for mothers to be told that they could not have their children there, but it was also disappointing that the trust did not recognise the problems that the pregnancy of midwives themselves could cause, and that it had to close the unit at such short notice.

I am afraid that this is not the first time that the birthing centre has been closed for those reasons. Having been closed since August 2000 because of staff shortages and sickness, it reopened in June 2001, only to close again in January 2002, until May of that year, again because of staff shortages. Mothers in my constituency are an easy target. They are the first to feel the pinch when there is a shortage of midwives in the local PCT.
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Recognising the great outcry across the community at the closure of Blackbrook, the trust committed itself to reviewing the question of its reopening in December, and it pressed ahead with recruiting midwives, despite staffing pressures elsewhere in the system. It agreed to recruit 12 whole-time equivalent students and five other midwifery posts, so that Blackbrook—and the Grange maternity centre, which is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates)—could reopen by the turn of this year.

Local parents have campaigned vigorously to keep both centres in the public eye. I congratulate the "Friends of Blackbrook" and Mel Watson on their excellent work in keeping Blackbrook in the public eye and that of the people of Fareham. But they were stunned, as was I, to discover in September that the trust had postponed the reopening of Blackbrook and the Grange, because it recognised that the financial constraints that have affected all Hampshire's trusts have to be applied to maternity services as well.

In a letter to me, the director of clinical services, nursing and midwifery said:

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