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14 Dec 2006 : Column 385WH—continued

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) talked about the funding formula. I hope that I answered the point. He and the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire talked about maternity and the evidence on big versus small units. That issue is not politically driven. There is clinical evidence that 24-hour cover by obstetricians and specialist
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anaesthetists, where that can be given, provides a safer service. I am not saying that there must be one or the other. Of course, there can be a balance and we can offer choice. However, there is evidence that that is not a political debate that we are trying to push on to the health service.

The hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs made some fair points. Again, I agree. I do not seek to dismiss the real concerns in his constituency about some of the changes. I made a point about leadership and people explaining things clearly, and that is exactly what we do. The changes are important and let us put the evidence before people. I agree that the changes should be evidence-based. I shall be happy to meet him to discuss those matters further. He asked whether there was evidence that staff had been banned from talking to the press. We have checked with the strategic health authority, which categorically denies that and says that that can be put on the record.

The hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead made a fair point. I respect his opinions on the health service, as he is a good member of the Health Committee and I listen carefully to what he says. There is a difference between an individual expressing in their professional capacity an opinion on a proposal in the public domain and the placing into the public domain of private information, which can exist within any organisation. Any organisation sometimes has information that is not for the public domain. On the former issue, I wholeheartedly support the right of any citizen of this country, regardless of where they work, to pass comment and express their opinion to their Member of Parliament or the press about a live proposal affecting services in their area. I am happy to make that abundantly clear on the record.

The hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Gregory Barker) made a point about the letter that he had received from a consultant at Conquest hospital. I listened to him carefully and understood his points. I must stress that the Alberti document is not predicated on the notion that more specialist regional or sub-regional centres mean the closure of local services. As I said to the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire, it may mean that the A and E does something slightly different or has a different work load. It is not necessarily about one or the other. I hope that the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle will take that back to the constituent whom he quoted.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead. There are two consultations in Herts, obviously. He picked me up on that point, and I would not want to confuse him. Proposals for the east and north will come forward in the new year. Clearly, they will be a matter of considerable further debate.

This debate has been good, Mr. Illsley. There has been a robust exchange of views, as there should be on such important issues. However, we are confident that we are making the right changes. We are right to give backing to health service professionals when they want to take through change that will ultimately benefit patients’ lives.

It being half-past Five o’clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the sitting lapsed, without Question put.

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