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2 Apr 2008 : Column 258WH—continued

Secondly, patients who are treated at PH centres are surviving longer. I understand the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire about delays in recognising the signs of
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pulmonary hypertension and obtaining an initial diagnosis. However, as I have said, I encourage pulmonary hypertension clinicians and the association to continue their efforts in raising awareness across professional boundaries, perhaps through the royal colleges. If my hon. Friend believes that I, as Minister, and the Department can do more to raise awareness, it is our duty to do so.

Nick Ainger: I am grateful to the Minister for her kind words, which were totally justified, about the effectiveness of the specialist treatment centres. She referred to my persistence in meeting her predecessors. The main issue that I raised with them was the fact that designated specialist treatment centres are still dependent on commissioners to provide the funding for the patients who are treated there. The argument that I put to her predecessors is that Great Ormond Street hospital, which treats child patients with PH, is now centrally—directly—funded. Will she meet members of the Pulmonary Hypertension Association and me to reconsider the possibility of funding those excellent treatment centres centrally?

Ann Keen: Of course I will meet my hon. Friend and the people he would like to bring. The more I can learn about this subject, the better I can help.

On the care and treatment of children with pulmonary hypertension, as my hon. Friend has just said, the national network is organised on a hub-and-spoke principle. The hub is Great Ormond Street hospital for children and the spokes for follow-up care are seven centres of paediatric cardiology at Leeds General infirmary, Bristol Royal hospital for children, Freeman hospital in Newcastle, Birmingham children’s hospital, the Royal hospital for sick children in Yorkhill, Glasgow and the Royal Belfast hospital for sick children. I believe that Southampton has just joined that arrangement.

Since April 2007, pulmonary hypertension services for children have been nationally commissioned, and performance has been managed by the National Commissioning Group on behalf on the NHS. The centre at Great Ormond Street has enjoyed considerable success. Published studies show that treatment through the children’s pulmonary hypertension centre at Great Ormond Street has significantly improved survival rates for children with that serious condition. Studies have also reported improvements in psychosocial well-being and return to school. I pay tribute to that excellent service and the leadership of its outgoing lead clinician, Professor Haworth. Nearly all patients are investigated, diagnosed, receive treatment and have their care package organised by a multi-disciplinary team on site. All the services essential to the care of pulmonary hypertensive children are consultant-led and delivered at Great Ormond Street.

The centre at Great Ormond Street expects to treat 80 new cases in 2007-08, compared with the 20 new cases that were treated in 2001-02. Its caseload in 2007-08 is forecast to be 418 patients, compared with 60 patients in 2001-02. The Great Ormond Street service reports survival as 96 per cent., 91 per cent., and 83 per cent. at one, two and three years respectively for children. Those results compare favourably with other studies. I do not have the time to discuss the Carter review because I
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want to spend time talking about NICE. However, hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire, will be aware of Sir David Carter’s report and the way in which it has changed commissioning.

On the consensus of clinical guidance, with the encouragement of my hon. Friend and many of my predecessor Ministers for health, lead clinicians agreed to work together to produce a consensus statement for the management of pulmonary hypertension in clinical practice. That has taken longer than originally anticipated, and I am sure that that reflects the complex and difficult nature of weighing evidence and capturing and describing best practice. I was pleased to note that the consensus statement was launched three weeks ago at the House of Commons, and I welcome its publication as a significant step forward in raising standards of clinical practice and ensuring that the best available evidence is taken into account. All the clinicians involved are to be congratulated on their efforts.

Many hon. Members rightly raised the issue of NICE, and I thank my hon. Friends for their praise of NICE and for acknowledging the complexities of the organisation. Today, the main focus has been on NICE’s appraisal of the cost and clinical effectiveness of drugs for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension. The initial conclusions were recently issued with an appraisal consultation document, and stakeholders had until 20 March to submit comments. I learned from my hon. Friend that today is yet another deciding day. The Pulmonary Hypertension Association and clinical colleagues have made submissions to NICE, which should be fully considered by NICE in the next stage of formulating final guidance. Some people welcome NICE guidance and some do not. As has been well highlighted today, we recognise that the institute’s decisions have serious implications for patients and their carers. Such decisions are difficult, but they are made on the basis of the clinical evidence that has been submitted to NICE. Today’s decision is critical.

We ensured that NICE was independent, and it was right to do so. Health Ministers have always maintained that independence is important, and I would welcome Opposition Members’ agreement that that should be the case. At the end of the day, I am in an awkward position, because if that independence is to be retained, with the best will in the world, I can only continue to urge hon. Members to do all that they can, and I will continue to do all that I can.

My hon. Friend may not remember that one of our first conversations in the House was about a patient of mine who required the drug, and he told me about the purchase of drugs from the United States. I have an interest to declare because the headquarters of GlaxoSmithKline is in my constituency—I apologise for declaring that at the end, rather than the beginning, of my speech. I tried to undertake negotiations with GlaxoSmithKline, and with the help of my hon. Friend I was successful in looking at how such things could be negotiated. I do not come to this debate as a Minister who is simply reading a speech; I come to the debate as a former nurse and someone who is well aware of what quality of life is really about, as the hon. Member for Guildford (Anne Milton) and others have described so well.

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This year, we are celebrating 60 years of the health service. In the Darzi review, we are looking at long-term and rare conditions, which have been included in the patient pathway. I give hon. Members my word that I will raise the issue of long-term conditions, particularly rare conditions, with Lord Darzi as part of his review. I hope that NICE brings us good news today.

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Wirral Metropolitan College

11 am

Ben Chapman (Wirral, South) (Lab): I am delighted to have secured this debate on Carlett Park, which is one of three campuses under the auspices of Wirral Metropolitan college. That is a further education college offering both degree courses and higher-level qualifications. The college has announced that it is to pursue a two-site option, both in the north Wirral area, which would result in the closure of Carlett Park. I told the principal before the decision was taken that I believed that such a decision was flawed and did not take adequate account of the history of Carlett Park or the needs of the people of Eastham or south Wirral. People in Eastham and elsewhere share my disappointment that the site’s future is again in question, and it is for those reasons that I wish to voice my concerns and to urge all those involved to reconsider the decision.

Carlett Park, in one form or another, goes back a long way. The chapel, which is still on-site, was built in 1884 as a family chapel. It is the only remaining part of the original house and is listed in the diocese records as the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. A listed building, it was built originally for family worship by Canon Torr.

The history of Carlett Park as an educational institution goes back to the 1940s, and it has played a key role in south Wirral since then. In 1948, the county authority—we were then part of Cheshire—decided to buy Carlett Park to use it for a further education college serving Bebington, Ellesmere Port and Deeside. The college was known as West Cheshire central college of technology. Courses commenced in 1952, and in the 1950s and ’60s, Carlett was one of the top six colleges training people to the level of graduateship of the Royal Institute of Chemistry, which is a professional qualification equivalent to a university degree.

From October 1964, the college was known as the central college of further education, Carlett Park. Computing became a strong subject there, with lessons beginning in the 1970s. Its reputation for sciences was developed when state-of-the-art science and chemistry laboratories were built in 1978. At its peak in the ’70s, Carlett Park offered a full range of courses, specialising in engineering and the sciences. From the 1960s onwards, a very large number of students came from overseas, from as far away as Iran, Bahrain, Kuwait and elsewhere, to learn skills relevant to, among other things, the oil and aluminium industries. There is a considerable history and a considerable substance to Carlett Park.

In 1982, the central college of further education at Carlett Park amalgamated with Birkenhead technical college and Wallasey college of further education to form Wirral Metropolitan college. By that time, our area had become part of Merseyside rather than part of Cheshire—the local government boundaries had altered—and the official title adopted for all the campuses was Wirral Metropolitan college.

Over Carlett Park’s long history, many Wirralians have been educated there. They include, for example, Ray Stubbs, who is a sports presenter, particularly on football among other things, and has been a crooner in his time; Paul O’Grady, another TV personality; and Brian Fleet, a senior vice-president of Airbus UK. Many others were also educated there. Christian Furr,
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an artist who studied at Carlett Park relatively recently, became, at 28, the youngest artist officially to paint the Queen.

Despite its success over the years, Carlett Park has not secured a position of stability and permanence, to my regret. It was threatened with closure in 1999, as it was then thought by senior management that the relocation of programmes to other sites would overall increase the number of students. I campaigned against that and presented, among other things, a petition with 7,000 signatures calling on the then Further Education Funding Council to reconsider the decision by the board of the college. The campaign was long and hard. I think that the campaign was the catalyst for the departure of the then principal and the board of governors. I am not hoping or anticipating that the same will be true in this instance, but it does highlight how strongly people feel about the site. Subsequently, the college was given a fresh start with a new board of governors. I had a modest part in all that, and it is frustrating and disappointing to observe that Carlett Park’s future is again in jeopardy. Surely the opposition to its closure both then and now suggests that the site should be allowed to continue.

The site is occupied by various buildings making up the present campus, but part of it was sold in 2001, with outline planning permission, as the location of a housing development to be built by Westbury Homes—an issue to which I shall return later. That helped to alleviate considerably the serious indebtedness of the college at the time, but the housing has, if anything, become a hindrance to development of the site, because once people move in, they tend to resist development next-door. That is the nature of the human condition, and there is some suggestion that it has hindered development on the site. Obviously, the campus is now more compact than it was in the past. None the less, it is still a valuable part of Wirral Met, as we know it.

As well as the housing side, the main administrative functions of the college are at Carlett Park. Various courses are also taught there, including leisure, tourism and travel, occupational studies, public services, sport, computing and IT, entry to employment, music and media, and some health and safety, science and teacher education courses. It is, in a sense, a shadow of its former self, but it is still substantial.

In 2002, Carlett Park’s 50th anniversary was celebrated. The celebrations included an exhibition at the site showing the contribution to education made by the college over the 50 years. Robin Cook came with me to see that exhibition and to visit the site.

The campus has been upgraded relatively recently and money has been spent on refurbishment, with a view, it is said, to a new focus on equipping students with the skills to enter local business and industry. Again, I shall return to that. In January 2007, planning permission was granted for phase 1 of the construction of a purpose-built sports hall. I think that I am right in saying that construction commenced at the end of March 2007, but the project was shelved due to lack of funding. In its place, a temporary fitness studio was installed at the same location.

In addition to the proposed sports hall, there has been the possibility of a long-term phased replacement
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of the current facilities with new buildings. Therefore, the potential for Carlett Park’s continued development has recently been, and is currently, evident to senior management at Wirral Met. That makes the sudden closure decision all the more surprising. In my view, it is misguided. I should stress that this is the only campus in south Wirral. In the borough of Wirral, the next nearest is in Birkenhead. Carlett Park has, in that respect, what one might call a captive market, if it is allowed to be accessed. The reasons for the proposed closure are shrouded in a degree of unnecessary mystery. We have a press release on the plans to close Carlett Park, which says:

Words mean what they say. When the board says that it will develop a business case, it does not mean that it will make use of that case. The case will also only be developed with a view to maintaining a presence in the south Wirral area, and a presence is not necessarily a campus.

The college says that the analysis cannot be made available either to me or to the general public for reasons of confidentiality. The only information that I have is from a recent meeting with senior management at the college at which I was told that other options included refurbishment of all the sites, a complete rebuild of Carlett Park, replacing Carlett Park with a new site—possibly in the south of the borough—and the building of a super-site college on a single site serving the whole of Wirral.

The board decided to go for the two-site option. I maintain that the research commissioned by the board to inform its decision should have been made available so that we could understand and analyse the reasons behind the proposed closure. Understandably, the board is not keen to duplicate facilities between campuses, but Carlett Park is the only campus in the south. It cannot be right for the college to be based only in the north. In the press release it states that the college is

It continues:

That is very welcome.

How can that be achieved if the south is left out?

I believe that there are numerous ways in which Carlett Park’s resourcing facilities could be made to meet the needs of the whole Wirral community. More importantly, there are strong arguments regarding maintaining the current location of such resources.

According to Wirral Met’s Ofsted inspection report from May 2007, the college has been effective at reaching its goal of enrolling a high number of students who were previously not in education, employment or training, otherwise known as NEET learners. The college has also increased the percentage of learners from wards
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with high widening participation factors—from 27 per cent. in 1998 to 1999, to 48 per cent. in 2006 to 2007. In order to further those goals, the new principal—he took up position in 2006 with a proactive agenda to address local community learning needs—is working on those issues. To maintain such an increase in learning participation, it is imperative that Carlett Park remains open and available as an option to all those who wish to enter further education.

We are now told that only some 2,300 students study at Carlett Park. That is a large number, but admittedly small in relation to those in the north. However, it has, to a large extent, become a self-fulfilling prophecy and there have been sins of commission as well as omission. Relatively few courses are now taught at Carlett Park. Opportunities to serve business needs have been tragically ignored. The science laboratories and engineering departments that once made Carlett Park a thriving college have long been taken away.

According to Wirral, South’s indices of mass deprivation 2004, in which Wirral’s super output areas are ranked against each other, most of Eastham—the ward in which Carlett Park is located—and neighbouring Clatterbridge and Bromborough are ranked highly. That relative deprivation is not always identified on broader-scale deprivation rankings. The current opportunity to develop skills and employability that Carlett Park affords should not be taken away from the people of south Wirral, who generally feel that they are treated with scant attention compared with those in the north of the borough.

Child poverty statistics for Wirral, South from 2007 also demonstrate that some children living in wards adjacent to that in which Carlett Park is based are ranked higher than average. It does not make sense that Carlett Park, which caters for local students who are evidently in need of opportunities to learn a variety of skills and optimise their chance of success in life, should close.

On Carlett Park’s doorstep is the centre of gravity of Wirral’s industry and commerce. It houses the largest concentration of businesses and commerce in that part of Merseyside. Statistics show that 17 per cent. of employees in Wirral, South work in the manufacturing sector, compared with just 11 per cent. nationally. That is not surprising given that Wirral, South is home to organisations such as Unilever, which alone employs nearly 2,000 workers, and the Wirral international business park, which is seen as a strategic site by the Northwest Regional Development Agency. Many thousands of people are employed on that site. It houses, among other things, 15 major international companies.

There is also a major retail site known as the Croft retail park. One employer, Asda, currently employs 540 people—that is not extraordinary for the site or the national picture—and, if it gets planning permission, could recruit a further 80. Vauxhall Motors is located close by. Such organisations and businesses should be considered as a catchment for Carlett Park. Its southern boundary falls into Wirral’s employment corridor, which runs along the Mersey side of the peninsula. The location represents a major economic opportunity for Wirral as a whole, but also exhibits serious deprivation. The so-called employment corridor is identified as the location with the greatest potential for securing European funding. There is also enormous scope for training in skills relating to those areas of industry and commerce.

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