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This is a very brief synopsis of the weight of evidence against centralisation. These decisions will be made locally. I have put this argument to Cumbria PCT, and I will pursue the issue relentlessly. Given the weight of the argument and the strength of public opinion, I expect that the grand plan for health service reconfiguration throughout Cumbria will incorporate those views and recognise the unique nature of west Cumbria’s health care needs.

One of the three separate petitions, totalling more than 30,000 signatures, that I have presented in recent months to the House relating to health services in west Cumbria related specifically to consultant-led maternity services.

In conclusion, I want Ministers to scrutinise the grand plan consultation for Cumbria and ensure that it is transparent, open, honest and accessible. I want Ministers to ensure that, as well as the views of the public, those of the medical professionals will be incorporated in the consultation. In addition, I want Ministers to ensure that socio-economic and national strategic considerations are addressed in the consultation. The consultation must recognise the unique qualities of west Cumbria: pockets of isolated social deprivation, peripherality and the considerable challenges and national obligations provided in the shape of the nuclear industry. West Cumbria provides unique health policy challenges, and that must be
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recognised. On top of that, I want the consultation to take account of the Darzi review, so that the consultation in west Cumbria is final and not subject to further delay.

Finally, I should like Ministers to visit West Cumberland hospital to meet staff and patient representatives to hear their views and to ensure that the PCT takes account of them. The Minister is a former nurse and understands the issues, and I look forward to her response.

10.52 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ann Keen): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed) on securing this debate. The future of health services in west Cumbria is of great concern to him, as he has demonstrated on many occasions, particularly in his contribution tonight, and I appreciate the comments that he has made in the House today. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Tony Cunningham) for all the work that he has done for the health service in the areas that they serve.

I acknowledge the important role that my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland has played in raising the profile of this issue and in keeping Ministers regularly up to date with progress, with consultations and public meetings. He is a real unsung hero of his area, and his constituents should be very proud of him. I also to pay tribute to the 1.3 million staff who work in the national health service, particularly the staff in west Cumbria who have made an enormous contribution to improving the local NHS and to whom my hon. Friend referred in his speech. Those achievements have been made following the record investment by the Government, from £33 billion in 1997, rising to over £92 billion by 2008.

My hon. Friend made great reference to the review of services and how we deliver health care. That is absolutely paramount for the future. Of course, he also referred to my noble Friend Professor Ara Darzi and the way he will conduct the review of our health services. I understand that my hon. Friend has been in great conversation recently with the chief executive of NHS North West to discuss this issue, particularly funding. I ask my hon. Friend to keep me updated on all the consultations, because they are paramount to the future of health services in the area.

The newly formed Cumbria primary care trust had an out-turn deficit of £36 million at the end of 2006-07 and it is intended to look at a whole new system of undertaking in relation to financial viability, so that the health service in the area is fit for purpose but also effective and affordable.

My hon. Friend mentioned the anxiety and fear that surround any change to health services. I relate to that, because sometimes not everybody in the area plays fair on a consultation. Fear and anxiety for patients, potential patients and staff who work in the NHS must be brought to a conclusion soon.

The review is looking at acute hospital services, and mental health and community care services. The aim is to achieve a better use of clinical resources while
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keeping services close to people. The Department’s gateway review team gave its initial assessment of the process and Cumbria primary care trust is working to address the points highlighted by the review team. The public consultation on proposals emerging from the review is now planned for September of this year. The proposals for the future shape of health services across Cumbria will be shaped by the findings of the feasibility work done following the previous Morecambe bay consultation, and by the commitment given by Cumbria primary care trust to North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust to provide a new hospital in west Cumbria.

I note the concerns that my hon. Friend raised and I can assure him that the consultation will be open, honest and transparent, with decisions taken locally that reflect local needs and are based on appropriate clinical evidence. There is no other way for us to go forward with the health service. We should involve everybody.

My hon. Friend made an important point about the provision of maternity services. He is an expectant parent and I am sure that the whole House understands the sentiment with which he spoke tonight. He makes a valid point about the distance between the two hospitals and the road conditions. I also appreciate the relevance of the national service framework for children, young people and maternity services, which my Department published in 2004.

It is with regret—especially as my hon. Friend mentioned my former profession—that I have to say that I cannot give him a commitment about what services will be located where. However, it is vital that the issues are debated as part of the consultation exercise and it is appropriate for local people to voice their opinions on matters such as these, which are important to them. I stress the safety element that he raised. I am sure that all Members appreciate the importance that he attached to that.

My hon. Friend will appreciate that I cannot speculate at this stage on the details of the consultation or indeed its outcome. It is relevant to local people, clinically led and will be transparent. The debate needs to happen locally and if, in the end, there are concerns about whatever option is preferred, the overview and scrutiny committee can of course refer the matter to the Secretary of State for Health for a final decision. As my hon. Friend may be aware, the Secretary of Sate has already indicated his willingness to refer all reconfiguration proposals that are referred to him to an independent reconfiguration panel. In that way, we can be sure that such decisions, which are of great importance to my hon. Friend and his constituents, properly reflect local clinical considerations.

The issue of the new hospital is a major concern to my hon. Friend. I am aware that he has had several meetings with officials and Ministers and I commend his commitment to his constituents in pursuing the matter with such vigour. I had a similar experience in my constituency and found that determination wins through in the end. The North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust’s strategic outline business case to build a new hospital for west Cumbria was approved by the former Cumbria and Lancashire strategic health authority in January 2006. Cumbria primary care trust and North Cumbria Acute Hospitals NHS Trust have
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given assurances that there will be a new hospital for west Cumbria. However, it is not possible at this stage to give details of location and size, or the services that will be offered, because these will be developed in the context of the whole systems review.

As noted earlier, the health service review is very important, and Members of Parliament should encourage their constituents to express their views in the consultation process. That process will shape the future of the NHS, which enters its 60th year next year. I understand the concerns outlined by my hon. Friend and I urge him to continue his dialogue with the local NHS in what is still a pre-consultation discussion.

I have noted the observations made by my hon. Friend and I am sure that he will understand why I cannot comment further, given the proposed consultation process. However, I can assure him that the process will be an open one—and that I would very much like to visit his part of the world, which is noted
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for its beauty, complexity and uniqueness. It is better see that combination with one’s own eyes, as that is the way to greater knowledge.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle) (Lab): I hope that the Minister will also visit the Cumberland infirmary, which is in my constituency.

Ann Keen: I have been overwhelmed by invitations in the past couple of weeks, and feel confident that I will be able to visit my hon. Friend.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland will continue to engage with the local NHS and encourage his constituents to take the opportunity to make their views known through the consultation process. I will also ensure that his views are conveyed to the strategic health authority in the area.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute past Eleven o’clock.

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