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Mrs. Maria Miller (Basingstoke) (Con): I draw to my hon. Friend's attention the fact that the financial crisis in maternity care stretches as far north in Hampshire as Basingstoke, where we have no 12-week scans for pregnant women. The financial crisis has hit us hard as well, and it is interesting to hear how it is stretching further south.

Mr. Hoban: Indeed; the problems affecting maternity services stretch right across Hampshire.

Mr. Michael Mates (East Hampshire) (Con): Not only were we subjected to the constraints to which my hon. Friend referred; it had been specifically denied only weeks beforehand that there were any financial disadvantages in reopening the Grange and Blackbrook. The only reason given for the decision was clinical safety, which was patently untrue.

Mr. Hoban: Indeed. The problem is the continuing uncertainty about the future of the two centres. Despite the trust saying that it will review the situation at the end of the financial year, there is no guarantee that either unit will reopen. It is important that people maintain pressure on hospital trusts when facilities are closed temporarily. My constituents and I fear that at times, such temporary closures are a precursor to closure by stealth—that such closures will last longer and longer, so that the public scrutiny to which a formal closure should be subject goes by the board.

I am grateful to the Hampshire county council overview and scrutiny committee, led by councillor Ray Ellis, for its continuing vigilance on this matter. It is making sure that there is no chance that such facilities will close without the public becoming involved, or without proper consultation taking place.

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Mrs. Iris Robinson (Strangford) (DUP): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hoban: I would like to give way, but other Members wish to take part in this debate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) referred to scans, but another related issue that has been brought to my attention is the denial of in vitro fertilisation treatment to would-be mothers across Hampshire. Despite Government guidelines and action taken by the Secretary of State last year to commit to providing one free cycle of IVF treatment to Hampshire's would-be mothers, the PCT has denied that opportunity to those who are perhaps most in need of IVF treatment. The reality is that that opportunity has been denied them because of the financial problems that PCTs in Hampshire face. The deficits are restricting the treatment available to those who want to have a baby.

The Government talk in their amendment about record investment in the NHS, but the experience of many of my constituents—such as mothers who want to use birthing centres, access maternity care or have IVF treatment—is that that investment is not reaching the people of Hampshire. They cannot understand how the Government's promises and spin can be reconciled with the reality on the ground, and the same is true of constituencies elsewhere in Hampshire.

6.55 pm

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): I am grateful for the opportunity to share with the House the impact of this Government's incompetence and mismanagement on my constituents. In so doing, I pay tribute to the staff and management of my local NHS trusts—the Peterborough and Stamford Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and the Greater Peterborough Primary Care Partnership—whose professionalism is enabling them to continue to put patients first, notwithstanding the Department of Health's strategy of buck-passing and neglect. That said, people in Peterborough are fighting back to defend their local NHS facilities. Mary Cook, a former nurse from Orton Goldhay, which is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), has collected thousands of signatures in protest at ward closures, cuts in bed spaces and the amalgamation of our local PCTs.

Mary Cook is not a Conservative, but she is a special lady. In 1996, she won a national newspaper competition, which enabled her to meet the then Leader of the Opposition, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), and to quiz him on the NHS and how his policies would help Peterborough. At the time, she said that she was satisfied with his response. What is her view today? Last month, she told Peterborough's The Evening Telegraph,

In April 2000, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield, upon the occasion of the opening of a new NHS walk-in centre in my constituency, told the very same newspaper—in breathless, messianic prose that was doubtless written for him:

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So what is the Prime Minister's legacy to my constituents? The Peterborough and Stamford hospitals trust is predicted to be £7.7 million in deficit at the end of this financial year. It has already axed 70 jobs and closed no fewer than three wards and 106 beds. A further 200 jobs are under threat, and cuts of £6.5 million are in the pipeline. Just yesterday, following the local PCT's decision to withdraw £2.5 million-worth of funding, the trust has been ordered to "slow down" elective surgery cases, thus increasing waiting lists and making further cuts inevitable. The Department of Health is happy to preside over the disintegration of local NHS services. It is pressing the trust to meet its statutory obligations under legislation dating from 1990, but it is happy to carry over accumulated structural debt. This dichotomy is unsustainable in its present form.

What is the trust to do? It is faced with external demands—such as consultants' contracts, agency staff, the European working time directive, initiatives such as "Agenda for Change", and a hugely increased drugs bill—but it has not been provided with adequate funds to meet them. Ministers have not addressed this issue.

Even when the Government try to involve the private sector, they are noteworthy for their incompetence. Part of the reason for the structural deficit in Peterborough is the mismanagement of the private finance initiative scheme for the building of a new super-hospital in Bretton Gate, on the site of the Edith Cavell hospital. Initially, the cost to the trust of the project's consultants—more than £5 million—was to be underwritten by the Department of Health. Then, it was not. Then, just £1.9 million was to be underwritten. Then, the whole amount was again to be underwritten. Last week, the hospital trust's chief executive warned:

The PCT will fare little better, with a forecast deficit of £4.2 million this year. Its chief executive said that the trust was in a "fragile financial state", with a vacancy freeze and staff morale at rock bottom.

Meanwhile, patients face longer waiting lists and further cuts in service provision. My constituent in Walton was forced to wait 88 weeks to have a new digital hearing aid fitted at the audiology department—so much for the public-private partnership, and for the Prime Minister's honeyed words.

The problems that I have described are the results of centralised planning and 300 targets. The Secretary of State's approach is similar to that of Stalin's approach to tractor quotas in the Ukraine, although she does not have his sense of humour, flexibility and sureness of touch.

When will the Government concede that their star rating system is flawed and inaccurate? When will they learn that targets distort clinical priorities and disadvantage patients who need non-targeted, elective surgery but who get pushed to the back of the queue?

The drive to a monolithic culture, disdainful of the views of local people, continues with the Orwellian behemoth that is known as "Commissioning a Patient-Led NHS". That is newspeak, or doublethink. The plans
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mean that my constituency has taken on a contingent deficit of £23 million from South Cambridgeshire, and they take no account of patients or professionals.

Does the Department of Health care that there are major health inequalities in my constituency? Adult life expectancy is four years lower there than in neighbouring Cambridge, and the local PCT has unique health needs and specialties. It is rare for me to make common cause with Unison, but I applaud the union's efforts to defend local health care in my constituency.

It is time for the Government to acknowledge the crisis, and the fact that they do not have any moral superiority or a monopoly on care about the NHS. Until they do that, we will see more wards closing and more bed spaces lost, rock bottom staff morale and further suffering for my constituents and for people across the country.

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