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3. Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): If she will ensure that the residents of Tarleton, Hesketh Bank, Banks and Rufford continue to have access to 24-hour accident and emergency services at Southport hospital. 
Mr. Borrow: I share with my hon. Friend the Member for West Lancashire (Rosie Cooper) genuine concern about Cheshire and Merseyside strategic health authority's proposals to merge Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust with other hospital trusts in Liverpool. Our fear is that the plans will lead to specialist services moving from Southport, thus undermining 24-hour accident and emergency services at the hospital. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that such changes will not be allowed to happen and that they have no reason to fear any running down of accident and emergency services at Southport?
Ms Hewitt: As my hon. Friend knows, Cheshire and Merseyside strategic health authority has recently helped us pilot a new programme to improve financial management in the NHS and to ascertain whether potential applicants are ready to apply for foundation hospital status. In that context, the health authority has been examining structures throughout the local health community. I am assured that there are no firm proposals to merge any NHS trusts in that SHA. I am sure that the authority will listen carefully to my hon. Friend's comments on the subject. Ififany merger between different hospitals were proposed, it would not only be subject to full local consultation but require ministerial approval. There are currently no such firm proposals.
Dr. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust has a deficit of £15 million. A contributing factor is a suite of new buildings that gives the trust a capital asset base that is greater than its annual income. Why should services in my constituency suffer because we are blessed with new buildings? Will the Secretary of State examine the matter further and explain how hospitals such as Southport and Ormskirk can thrive under a system of payment by results?
When we invest in new hospital buildings, they must be paid for, reflecting the fact that they give patients a far better service and staff a much better working environment. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the financial difficulties at Southport hospital, which predicted a deficit of some £15 million in
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the middle of last year. That is unacceptable and I am sure that he and my hon. Friends would join me in urging clinicians and other front-line staff and management to work closely together to tackle any waste and inefficiency and ensure that that hospital, like the majority of others in the NHS, not only continues to deliver better services for patients but does that within its substantially increased budget.
Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend for her assurances, which I accept, about Southport and Ormskirk Hospital NHS Trust. However, I must put on record the fact that most hon. Members have serious doubts about the SHA's designs and plans.
Further to the move of accident and emergency services to Southport and Ormskirk and the assurances that we have been given, will my right hon. Friend encourage the trust to advertise more widely the facilities that are available at the minor injuries unit at Ormskirk to increase its use? I should also like to
Ms Hewitt: I am sure that the minor injuries unit is providing an excellent service and that it should be used even more widely. I am also sure, however, that the strategic health authority will take on board the very real reservations that my hon. Friends have expressed about any proposal that might be made for a merger. I would add the observation that, although some mergers of hospitals in the NHS have worked extremely well, not all have done so, any more than mergers do in the private sector. Those lessons need to be borne in mind by any authority that might be contemplating mergers.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Ms Rosie Winterton): I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman had me in mind when he issued that invitation, but, yes, as regional Minister, I would be very happy to visit his hospital.
Daniel Kawczynski: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for agreeing to visit Royal Shrewsbury hospital. A lot of doctors and nurses have come to my surgery recently, and they are extremely concerned about staff morale and about cuts at the hospital. I have shown them the article by the Secretary of State in The Times, in which she stated that the NHS was back in business. To a man and to a woman, they burst out laughing, so amazed were they at how detached from the reality on the ground the Government were. I am therefore very grateful to the Minister for coming to see for herself the extent of the problems that Royal Shrewsbury hospital is facing.
I can imagine that there would be more doctors and nurses coming to the hon. Gentleman's constituency, because there are now 2,092 more nurses, 643 more doctors and 221 more consultants in his SHA.
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I am aware, however, of the issues that were raised in the Adjournment debate last week about some of the financial problems that the area is facing. As I said in that debate, one of the new turnaround directors has gone into the area, and I hope that he or she will be able to work with the new chief executive, who I know is very highly regarded by hon. Members. I hope that that will make a difference to some of the problems that the hon. Gentleman has raised.
David Wright (Telford) (Lab): I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend will visit Shropshire. Will she call in, on her way up the M54, to visit us in Telford to talk about acute hospital and primary care services? We have an excellent new chief executive covering the Shrewsbury and Telford hospital sites, and he has given his commitment to retaining quality acute services and to working with the primary care trusts to ensure that we have excellent primary care services, in line with the Government's announcements yesterday.
Ms Winterton: Yes, I would be more than happy to call in at my hon. Friend's constituency as well. The contribution that he made to last week's Adjournment debate reflected the concerns of his constituents and the many achievements of the NHS locally. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has met the new chief executive in the area, and has praised the action that he is taking to improve services locally.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I am delighted that the Minister has agreed to visit the Princess Royal hospital in my constituency, and I would be delighted to welcome the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) as well. Will the Minister improve staff morale at the hospital by stating categorically that the accident and emergency ward will not be downgraded from a consultant-led ward to a nurse-led ward?
Ms Winterton: As the hon. Gentleman knows from our debate last week, the new chief executive has said that he would like to see A and E departments at both hospitals. He also knows, however, that these matters will be going out to consultation towards the end of February. There will be a 12-week consultation period in which to consider the improvements that need to be made to services and to address some of the financial difficulties in the region.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): I hope that the Minister might carry on up the A41 and come to Chester as well. Given yesterday's U-turn by the Secretary of State, whereby community hospitals will not now be scrapped, the current running loss of £25 millionand, in addition, the historic accumulated deficit of £36 million in Shropshire's NHS trusts, the bulk of which comes from the Shrewsbury and Telford acute trustand the Government's edict that Shropshire trusts must be in balance within three years under the new turnaround director, will the Minister say how on earth that can be achieved without cuts in front-line NHS services to patients?
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that the Finnamore report has put out a number of options for pre-consultationnot only to consider
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improving services in the area, but to address the financial position. That will be looked at further, particularly in conjunction with the new team that has gone in to assist the chief executive, and will then go out to full public consultation for three months. He knows very well that that is the most appropriate way forward in the circumstances so that local people can make the decisions, reflecting their priorities locally, subject to full consultation.
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