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Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), who owes his parliamentary career to a successful campaign to defend Kidderminster hospital—which, I understand, is still there. He speaks with great authority on these matters.

I am sorry that my near neighbour, the Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for Leicester, West (Ms Hewitt), is not here today. I understand that she is unwell. I share a hospital with her, I share a city with her, but I did not share the meal with her last night that caused her illness. We would like her to get well soon and come back to Leicester this Friday, for two reasons.

First, we want to thank her for the huge amount of money that the Government have given to Leicester over the last eight years. There has been an increase of about 98 per cent. in PCT funding, I understand, with three brand new health centres in the city. Two are in my constituency; one in Hamilton and the other soon to start in Charnwood. Secondly, we want to thank her for giving us a PCT that was so responsive to the needs of local people, and I pay tribute to Carolyn Clifton for her excellent work. When I and others have raised issues with her, she has responded swiftly to those concerns and provided us with the services that we need.

That is why I am so surprised that the Government wish to reorganise the PCTs in Leicester when they are doing so well. We have a particular expertise in our part of the city, where we deal with problems different from those encountered by those who live in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

With things going so well, so much more money being provided and the PCT being so responsive, I am surprised that the Government feel it necessary to merge the two organisations. I am sure there is a justification—I have heard a justification made on the grounds of money—but there is not a justification in terms of responsiveness to the local community. I hope that when the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne), replies, he will give more of a justification than saying
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that it will save £1.5 million a year, or whatever it is. In a budget so vast and ever-increasing, that sounds like a small amount of money, given that we spent much more than that when we set up the PCTs a few years ago. I hope that we will have a response that justifies that decision.

I am concerned about the abolition of the Eastern Leicester PCT because I am worried about the pathway project, which is central to the rebuilding of the hospital in my constituency, the Leicester general hospital. I have now represented Leicester, East for almost 20 years and I was promised—as were the other right hon. and hon. Members who have represented the city for a generation—that we would have new hospitals as a result of the pathway project.

I understand that because of the reorganisation, the pathway project in Leicester is now on hold. That means that the investment of £761 million that was to be made in the NHS in Leicester will not now take place. That means that we will not get a new Leicester general hospital, nor the extra cancer facilities that we were promised, nor the new children's hospital, which was to be based in Glenfield, in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That is a worry to my constituents and me, because we believe that the Government are absolutely sincere in their commitment to spending money on the NHS and spending it wisely.

In addition to the pathway project, other hospitals will also be put on hold. I know that a similar decision has been taken at Barts, for example. I was telephoned yesterday by one of the Barts consultants, who is very concerned that the Leicester changes are being linked to what is happening in other parts of the country. So when the Minister responds, I hope that he can reassure me that the proposed reorganisation of Leicester PCTs—I understand the arguments in favour of such reorganisation, but it needs better justification—will not in any way affect the additional money coming in. I know that some of my colleagues do not favour private finance initiatives—they believe that they will somehow prove unhelpful to local people—but I favour them, because I will get a new hospital out of such expenditure.

Anne Milton (Guildford) (Con): I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I should declare an interest, in that my husband works for a PCT. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that in addition to the reorganisation of PCTs being destabilising, it is ill judged in the extreme, as the Health Committee report said, and patient care will suffer?

Keith Vaz: There are grave concerns about the proposals. I do not know the situation in Guildford and that part of the country, although I was the European parliamentary candidate for Guildford many years ago; indeed, I cycled over the Hog's Back between Guildford and South-West Surrey. I lost that election by 60,000 votes, however, so it is a part of my life that I do not care to remember. The situation in the hon. Lady's constituency may well be as she describes, but my concern is what will happen in Leicester, and how responsive the changes to PCTs will be to the needs of my constituents.

Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): On PCTs, does the hon. Gentleman not think it very
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unfortunate that the authorities have put forward a preferred option, which means, in effect, that they are not prepared to consider any other option? That is what happened in east Cheshire, where there is a preferred option of reducing four PCTs to one. In my view there should be two PCTs, in order to recognise the differing cultural needs of east and west Cheshire. Does the hon. Gentleman not support me when I say that a preferred option is not the way to proceed? All options should be equal in the consultation process.

Keith Vaz: I agree that such matters need to be put out to consultation, but as I have not stood as a European parliamentary candidate—or any other candidate, come to that—in that part of the country, I cannot comment on the configuration there. But it must be right for proper consultation to take place.

That brings me to my final point: the proposed abolition of the ambulance service in my part of the east midlands and the creation of a new east midlands service. The hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), who is no longer in his place, and my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) were right to raise in this House their concerns about ambulance response times, and I have an example similar to the one given by my hon. Friend.

I attended a funeral at the Gilrose crematorium, which is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. One elderly gentleman there was extremely upset, and he became very ill and collapsed. I telephoned the ambulance service and asked it to send an ambulance to take him from the crematorium literally down the road to Glenfield hospital, which is one of the finest hospitals in the country. I offered to take him in my car, but I was asked by the ambulance service operator not to do so unless I was a doctor, which clearly I am not. I said, "I am not a doctor, I am a Member of Parliament, so could you please send the ambulance as quickly as possible." An hour later, the ambulance still had not arrived. Exactly the same circumstances described by my hon. Friend with regard to the London ambulance service applied to the ambulance service in my example.

Hon. Members may ask why I would want to keep a service that did not respond quickly. Well, I want to keep the service because it is a local service. It is wrong to merge it into such a large area. It is only common sense that the response times will not be as quick as those for a local service.

My very final point concerns the decision by the local health authority to close the Goodwood ambulance centre in my constituency. It is a brand new centre, near the Leicester general hospital. It houses several ambulances and enables them to get to local people much more quickly. The proposal is to close that ambulance station as part of a merger that will cover the whole of Leicester, with another centre built in another part of the city—or, indeed, of the county.

Mr. Flello: Does my hon. Friend accept that one of the successes of the Staffordshire ambulance service is that ambulances have been taken out of the ambulance centres and placed strategically, where they are likely to be needed, at crossroads or theme parks?

Keith Vaz: I accept that point, and that is why I want the centre to stay at Goodwood—near the general
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hospital and next to a major intersection that links Nottingham to Leicester, and the A46 to the A47, which goes to Peterborough. I cannot understand why it will be removed and why we are merging ambulance services. We are, in a sense, misleading people into believing that the proposals are for consultation, while at the same time advertising the top jobs for the new ambulance service in national newspapers. Like other hon. Members, I have seen such advertisements appear at the same time as we are talking about consulting with local people. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear that in mind.

I am a loyal Back Bencher. I am loyal to this Government, who were elected on a Labour party manifesto. I have great affection for, and am a great supporter of, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, who will be a great holder of that office, judging by the White Paper that she introduced last week. But even I am tempted not to support the Government on reorganisation, because of the effects that it will have on local people. I ask Ministers to remember what we did to the national health service university. We created a wonderful organisation and then, a few years later, abolished it, leaving a lot of skilled people without jobs and taking away an important concept for educating and training people who work in the NHS. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to respond to my points and also give me an assurance that further consultation will be held on those issues, and that local people will be listened to in Leicester and throughout the country.

9.33 pm

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