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The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. Mike O'Brien): Thank you for allowing me to respond to the debate, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I agree with one word that the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) used; he said that this was outrageous. The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer) also used the word. It is outrageous: here we have a cynical winding-up of the electorate, and it is very sad to see.
Let me go through what is happening, but before that, I should like to begin by recognising the hard work and dedication of the clinicians and staff at Kingston hospital and throughout south-west London.
Mike Penning: I thank the Minister for giving way. I am conscious that I am taking up time, which was not allowed to me by the Liberal Democrats, to talk about my visit to Kingston hospital last week. The staff there are dedicated and professional, and it was a fantastic hospital to visit. It was obvious, however, that morale had been affected by this cynical campaign, and that the staff were worried about what is going to happen. The campaign, which has been conducted for cynical purposes on behalf of the Liberal Democrats, has affected the staff at the hospital.
The local community is rightly proud of Kingston hospital, and it sits within an area that has worked hard to improve the health of its population. NHS services in south-west London and across the capital have seen great improvements in recent years. The hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton suggested that that was all down to himself and the hon. Member for Richmond Park; I suggest that it has something to do with the investment that this Government have put in. No credit was given for that in their speeches, however; there was just a bit of party political knockabout from both hon. Members during the debate. Again, that is just a sad reflection on them.
The NHS in London has improved access to GP services and community health services, reduced waiting times in accident and emergency, and transformed cardiac services. This is certainly a success story, but it is only
the beginning. Access to primary care needs to be further improved, to reduce the reliance on accident and emergency departments. The NHS faces increased demand for maternity and children's services, and it must, as the hon. Lady suggested, respond to that challenge, ensuring that those services are adequately staffed by properly trained professionals.
Today, advances in medicine and technology mean that more and more patients can be treated and cared for in their own homes and communities. We can do better for the people of south-west London, and the central question here is how that should be done. That is why five clinical groups have been working, as both hon. Members well know, to review the clinical evidence-I emphasise that it is clinical evidence-from doctors and other NHS professionals for changing health care services, so that we can better meet local needs. Clinicians have identified a case for improvement. Ministers and officials in the Department of Health have not seen that work by those five clinical groups. It is being done locally in order to try to evaluate the best service for the NHS in that area. It is not-I emphasise this point, because it was one of the hon. Members' outrageous claims-some secret Labour plan or plot to reduce services. Far from it, over the coming months clinicians will refine their ideas and start to think about how the challenges that I have identified can be addressed.
Clinicians have identified other areas for further work, such as the provision of diagnostics in community and children's palliative care. It is anticipated that the clinical working groups will identify a range of options in the summer of 2010 to provide a clinically and financially viable health care service for south-west London. That will form the basis of further discussion between clinicians, patients and stakeholders with a view to making some proposals. I have not been party to that, nor has the Department of Health, so the claim made by both hon. Members that we have a political agenda is a complete cynical invention. The only agenda is the open Darzi agenda of trying to improve health care in London, based on the clinical need to improve the quality of care.
Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Does the Minister agree that the Liberal Democrats have form in this area? Does he recollect that the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Leech) campaigned against the "imminent" closure of the Christie hospital in Manchester five years ago? Funnily enough, that hospital is still open.
Mr. O'Brien: It is indeed still there, and the Liberal Democrats have a record of running scare stories and asking people to join the campaign by sending in their addresses, petitions and email addresses. They can then canvas those people-it is all about elections.
The hon. Members mentioned a document, but I have never seen this document. I also asked my officials this morning, and apparently no one in the Department of Health has seen it either. I do not doubt that there is a document, but it is being dealt with locally by the five groups of clinicians that I have mentioned. I gather that it is also being dealt with by the NHS in south-west London. I am told that it is very tentative, unformed and informal. It is certainly no Government plan or a final document in any sense. It is part of a discussion
that may lead to some conclusions at some point, perhaps at the end of the year or next year, when some further discussions and engagement with stakeholders might arise. The hon. Members know about that process because they have been briefed on it repeatedly by officials, so there is nothing secretive about it.
The clinicians are trying to have a discussion without politicians coming in and stirring up unjustified allegations that all the services are now somehow under threat. The discussions are about how the services can be improved. As for cuts, the NHS PCTs will get a 5.5 per cent. overall increase in funding next year and the same this year. I simply do not accept the argument that large cuts are needed, as suggested by the hon. Members. Yes, NHS managers have been asked to find savings. Yes, they have been asked to identify where money can be found-not to make cuts, but to redirect the funding into better services for the people who elect those two hon. Members.
Mike Penning: Does the Minister agree that it would have been very easy for other political parties, not least my own, to jump on the Liberal Democrats' bandwagon of scaremongering? As he knows, I have campaigned against Labour cuts on many occasions, but when there has been proper information and documentation. Has scaring the electorate at this stage damaged the consultation or enhanced it?
Mr. O'Brien: At the moment, some clinicians and managers are meeting and asking, "What are the options here? How can we improve services? How can we ensure that we deal with some of the very serious issues in relation to health care that need to be addressed in south-west London?" We can have a big argument in the media, with every clinician being frightened to speak because the moment they say anything, they will be attacked by the hon. Members for Richmond Park and for Kingston and Surbiton for cynical political advantage, but then where will we get to with the NHS? It will be frozen in aspic, improvements will not be able to take place and there will not be proper discussion of health care.
We need to give clinicians and others room to talk through the options, and when there is some view about what those options might possibly be, they can then come forward and engage seriously with stakeholders. In due course, when there are proposals, they can be properly discussed, but we are a considerable distance from that.
I spoke this morning to Kevin Maguire, the respected Daily Mirror political journalist. He told me to check what was going on, and I had a look on his Twitter page. I know that we all need to be careful about Twitter, but apparently he was sitting on a train and updating it. I shall read through what his page said, as he suggested I should. First, he wrote:
"On train a bloke's boasting on mobile he got Evening Standard to claim Lab has secret plans to shut Kingston Hospital".
"Train bloke now boasting the hospital scare story cooked up at his kitchen table. Very proud of Facebook following".
"He's 'a manifesto to write'. Tory? Wearing Hibs scarf. Clocking his details. May sneak photo to track down. Or could always ask!"
"Wondering if he's a Lib Dem."
"Got Hospital Closure Man's pic. Going into meeting then will discover who Dan is".
"This is the Kingston hospital scare bloke. Anyone know him? He's a loud mouth in public places".
"Ta all Tweeters. Hospital phone man ID'd as Lib Dem activist Dan Falchikov. He should stop SHOUTING on train".
Mr. O'Brien: Only if the hon. Gentleman plans to accept that that gentleman is indeed a Liberal Democrat, and indeed that he and the hon. Member for Richmond Park have been winding this up. They were approached by NHS officials who explained what was going on. It was explained to them properly, honestly and openly that there were going to be discussions. Papers will be circulated, and the one that they have may be one of them-I do not know, I have not seen it. It certainly is not Labour or the Department of Health that is putting it forward.
Mr. O'Brien: The hon. Gentleman can wait, because I spent a lot of time listening to him make a lot of allegations, and I have been left with a very short time to respond to him. He deserves a response, because a lot of people in his area have been frightened by what he says. They are now worried that there is some sort of plan to close these NHS facilities, which there is not, and that there is more going on than just some discussion between clinicians. I accept that that is happening, and it is part of the Darzi process of involving clinicians in discussing how to improve the quality of services, but he and the hon. Member for Richmond Park are playing politics with the matter. I care about the NHS, and I actually think that behind it all they do too. What they are doing, however, is trying to frighten people into believing that services are definitely closing, when all that is going on is some discussions between clinicians. What the eventual proposals will be I do not know, and nor does he. We should not at this stage use scare stories like this for election purposes, in a cynical way-