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1 May 2007 : Column 443WH—continued

Our serious concern is that the decision was taken by an interim chief executive in an informal meeting and without consulting the senior medical professionals in charge of delivering children’s and maternity services, never mind general practitioners, campaigners, parents and the wider community. That is not an acceptable way to run the NHS. I ask the Minister to investigate how the decision was taken, why it was taken and how it was communicated.

Colin Burgon (Elmet) (Lab): It is absolutely correct that the hon. Gentleman has identified when the decision was allegedly taken to delay the process, but in the interests of clarity, can he confirm that any attempt to say that the Government—that is, Ministers—have axed the hospital would be highly inaccurate?

Greg Mulholland: I shall go on to say that. I have made it clear that we do not know what the decision is, which is why we need a proper inquiry by the Department into how it was taken and, more importantly, why. There is much anger about the way that the trust has behaved, and rightly so, but it is also clear that the decision to shelve the plans is, unfortunately, symptomatic of the massive financial difficulties in which trusts in Leeds and across the country have found themselves in recent years.

Estimates vary, but according to its own figures, the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is seeking to reduce a deficit projected to reach £9 million by the end of the year, as part of a £30 million to £50 million deficit faced by the city as a whole. The Secretary of State for Health has obliged trusts to make savings of 2.5 per cent. each year. In an organisation with a turnover of more than £700 million, that is a considerable amount. It has led to a number of closures and cuts in the Leeds area, including ward closures and cuts of about 430 posts as part of a cost-cutting plan aimed at saving £84 million in the next three years, and has instigated a recruitment freeze.

John Battle (Leeds, West) (Lab): I think that all of us would agree that the figures must be carefully scrutinised, but will the hon. Gentleman confirm that
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not even the strategic health authority knew about the decision, never mind the Minister?

Greg Mulholland: As far as I am aware, virtually no one knew apart from the board of the trust when the decision was taken.

Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab): What the hon. Gentleman just said appears completely to contradict comments that he made just this week in the Yorkshire Evening Post, where he suggested that Leeds MPs, apart from himself, had been wrong to suggest that anybody other than the trust was responsible. In the 25 years that I have been involved with the NHS, the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust has always had a deficit. It had a deficit in 2004, when permission was given to do the detailed planning for the hospital, not for it to go ahead. It continues to have a deficit, and many of us have asked almost monthly whether that would impinge on the ability ultimately to submit the bid for the hospital. The answer that we have been given was no. Does the hon. Gentleman accept therefore that much of the responsibility for the issue actually rests with the trust itself?

Greg Mulholland: Of course I do, and that is why I have asked the Minister to review the overall management of the hospital service in Leeds. The problems are abundantly clear. However, it is regrettable that the hon. Gentleman wants to move away from the unity that we have had on the issue.

Mr. Fabian Hamilton (Leeds, North-East) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Greg Mulholland: I need to make some progress. I will come back to the hon. Gentleman shortly.

Why do we need the hospital in Leeds? Medical experts in the city agree with each other and issued a joint statement in which they expressed fundamental concern over the

in the city. They stated that

That is shocking and appalling. The fact that children are at risk in our hospitals should be our immediate and primary concern.

At present, there are two paediatric departments within three miles of each other. Given the complexity of paediatric medicine, children are therefore not getting the service that they require. For example, Dr. Sally Kinsey, consultant paediatric haematologist, stated:

Not only is patient care compromised, but the other side of the coin is that the current situation does not make economic sense. There is duplication of services, and the two sites require multi-layers of middle-grade staff. That is a huge expense to the trust. As Professor Thomas said,

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It is important to make it clear that all assessments and accounts from patients, parents and senior health professionals show that the ability of our excellent teams to deliver children’s and maternity services is being undermined. In the words of one consultant, the teams

What will happen to children’s and maternity services in Leeds? We have had some back-pedalling from the trust, which is now making much of the fact that work on the new hospital has been postponed—albeit indefinitely—not cancelled, but the reality is that a hospital that was given the go-ahead in 2004 has been shelved indefinitely. It is also clear that there is little prospect of that changing without high-level political involvement and a radical overhaul of the financial position of the NHS in Leeds.

Mr. Hamilton: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Greg Mulholland: I am sorry, but I have only two minutes.

As for alternative solutions, it is clear that there is no plan B. I want the Minister to be in no doubt that medical as well as public opinion is clear that we need a single-site, purpose-built children’s hospital at the St. James’s site. Only that would allow key services to be located together, including a large, equipped paediatric intensive care unit and an out-of-hours service. It would end the need for children to be shuttled around various health care sites and to be treated in unsuitable conditions.

Dr. Keith Brownlee, paediatric consultant, has stated:

the hospital—

Dr. Richard Vautrey has stated:

But Carol Maddocks puts it most powerfully of all. She says that anything other than a new, dedicated hospital would be

As her fellow campaigner, Jonathan Abbott, said,

The purpose of this debate is to point out the need for the Department of Health and the Government to address the problems with the running of hospital services in Leeds. The Secretary of State for Health must admit that “the buck stops here” if people are being failed in our hospitals. First, the Government must determine why Leeds services are in such a mess, with neither local people nor health professionals having any confidence in how hospital services are run. Ultimately, the only thing that people in our city will accept is a new children’s and maternity services hospital in Leeds. It has support across the political spectrum of the public, the media and the business community. The people of Leeds have been waiting too long.

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1.45 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Caroline Flint): The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) is to be congratulated on securing this debate. He will probably be aware that other Leeds Members—my hon. Friends the Members for Elmet (Colin Burgon), for Leeds, North-East (Mr. Hamilton), for Pudsey (Mr. Truswell), for Leeds, West (John Battle) and for Morley and Rothwell (Colin Challen) are here today—have also helped to ensure that Ministers are aware of the strength of feeling about this important matter. As someone who lives in Doncaster, not too far away from Leeds, I obviously have an interest, too.

I know that my hon. Friends from Leeds had several discussions with the chief executives of the trust, the PCT and the strategic health authority to express their concern before taking the matter to Ministers. The hon. Member for Leeds, North-West may be aware that several of my hon. Friends who represent Leeds constituencies have already met the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), to discuss the issues. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey also led a deputation including parent campaigners Carol Maddocks and Jonathan Abbott and the consultant at the forefront of the campaign, Dr. Ian Lewis, to meet my colleague the Minister of State. On the same day, the Minister of State also met my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey, senior NHS executives from Leeds and the chief executive of the strategic health authority, Margaret Edwards. My hon. Friend the Minister of State was planning to visit Leeds as a result of those meetings, but he has had to make allowances for the pre-local election purdah.

I have listened to what the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West said about the concerns of parents and families living in Leeds and west Yorkshire. The key message of the parents’ campaign is that very ill children, their families and dedicated health professionals are fighting terrible illnesses in a clinical environment that does not always help them to deal with the physical and emotional trauma involved. The services are scattered between different sites, requiring youngsters who are often in great distress to be shuttled about. As a mother of three, I count my blessings that I have never had to deal with such a situation. Children are treated in areas that lack the necessary privacy, and there is inadequate accommodation for parents, whose constant presence is an essential part of their children’s battle against life-threatening conditions. Those concerns have been recognised and the debate on dealing with them has been won, which is why we are in the middle of a process to provide the best possible services.

Before today’s debate, my hon. Friends from Leeds made me aware of the Yorkshire Evening Post campaigns—the one in 2004 and the one now—that have so graphically portrayed in human terms the case for a children’s hospital. The newspaper is to be commended for enabling young patients and their parents to make their own case, in their own words, as to why Leeds and west Yorkshire need services that are much more child-centred. Those profound messages have been heard, loud and clear, and we want to act on them.

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My colleagues in the Department of Health and I were concerned to hear from campaigners, consultants and hon. Friends, and from the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West today, about the dismay at the way in which the matter has been handled. I fully appreciate the consternation that that has caused in Leeds and west Yorkshire. I understand that reassurance has been sought from the trust about its financial position and that it would not impinge on the “Making Leeds Better” bid, and that that assurance has been given.

My hon. Friends said that had the issues been raised with them before the announcement was made, they would naturally, in the circumstances, have wanted immediate meetings with senior NHS managers in the city and with Ministers to raise their concerns and discuss possible alternative action. We are addressing that issue. Things change over time—building costs and other factors change. I understand that there has been talk about the car park and the council’s requests concerning it.

Let us remember that the children’s hospital bid is not due to be submitted until December 2008, following the detailed consultation that must take place. That is 20 months away. I share my hon. Friends’ feelings that they would have expected any problems to be talked through with those most closely involved in the project, such as parent campaigners, clinicians, health professionals, local MPs, the local authority and other agencies. Clearly that was not done in the most open and appropriate way. I would also have expected the strategic health authority to be informed prior to any announcement regarding the bid, and for the Department of Health to be notified. That is why I found it disturbing to say the least when I read the following headline in the Liberal Democrat’s “Focus” leaflet: “Children’s hospital axed”. The article goes on to state:

That is taking political grandstanding too far. The article is not true; it is a complete misrepresentation.

Greg Mulholland: It is extremely regrettable that the Minister is using an issue that clearly has the support of all MPs to score petty party political points. [Interruption.] As the muttering from hon. Members suggests, I find it extraordinary that we have a Government who claim to have saved the NHS but who will not take responsibility for hospital services in Leeds and the NHS as a whole.

Caroline Flint: We have trebled the amount of money that we provide to the NHS, which is why we can discuss how to make the changes that are needed. For example, funding in Leeds is to increase by 17.4 per cent. between 2006 and 2008. A new £220 million oncology wing on the St. James’s university hospital site will receive its first patients next year. Four excellent local improvement finance trust schemes, on which £20 million has been spent, have brought services closer to the community. Those services are already open to patients and their families. The children’s hospital proposal is part of looking to the future and deciding how we can meet the needs of
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families now and in the years to come. It is only right that I correct any misrepresentation of the facts, because such misrepresentation does not help politicians or the reputation of politics, and it certainly does not help the people on the ground who have campaigned for this service.

Mr. Truswell: Does my hon. Friend the Minister share my concern that although the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Greg Mulholland) is trying to present an all-party approach to the Minister, he rejected my request for two or three minutes to speak on behalf of myself and my colleagues?

Caroline Flint: Well, Mr. Atkinson, as you will be—

Greg Mulholland: Will the Minister give way?

Caroline Flint: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. Mr. Atkinson, you will be only too well aware that during Adjournment debates on a local issue that many hon. Members have taken up, other hon. Members can usually ask the MP who has secured the debate for some time in which to speak. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey makes an important point. If this is an issue on which people can work together—and I believe that it should be—the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West has missed an opportunity.

Greg Mulholland: The hon. Member for Pudsey makes an extraordinarily disingenuous point. I made it clear that although this is a 15-minute debate, I would welcome interventions from other MPs from Leeds—particularly if they were constructive interventions, which I must say they have not been. When a meeting was arranged with the Minister of State, I was not invited to attend by the hon. Gentleman, so his point is rather hypocritical.

Mr. Truswell: On a point of order, Mr. Atkinson. Will you clarify a couple of points for me? First, is it not the case that when a Member secures an Adjournment debate, he or she is not restricted to 15 minutes? Secondly, is it not entirely at the discretion of the hon. Member who has secured the debate to allow other Members to contribute?

Mr. Peter Atkinson (in the Chair): The answer is yes to both of those questions. The debate is a half hour debate and if the hon. Member who has raised the topic wants to speak for the entire time, they may do so—although obviously in that case they would not receive a response from the Minister. And, as the hon. Gentleman rightly says, it is up to the Member who introduces the debate to decide whether to allow another Member to contribute.

Greg Mulholland: On a point of order, Mr. Atkinson. I raised that point with the Table Office and that was the advice that I was given. However, I also note that the hon. Member for Pudsey could not answer my question about why I was not invited to the meeting with the Minister of State.

Mr. Peter Atkinson (in the Chair): That is not a point of order.

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