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On the Islington new deal committee, I understand that representations were made, about which the hon. Lady has talked, but I gather that they were rejected last December by the committee and the moneys not made available. However, I think that I can give her some hope in respect of announcements that the Government made a few weeks ago on the principles that we see being critical to how we reconfigure services in the future. That is clearly relevant to this controversial issue, because it is important that neither I nor the Secretary of State should be taking sides in the debate
that is taking place locally. It is important that the matter is resolved locally and, only if it cannot be, that Ministers then become involved.
The issue should be resolved by the PCT and the local health and well-being review committee working with patient groups, clinicians and, more generally, the local authority to reach an acceptable solution. I recognise that change in the NHS has always been a problem, in terms of how it is handled locally. It has certainly been an issue in the past-I have seen that in my own constituency-and that is often why decisions have provoked the deep concerns and anxieties that the hon. Lady has described this evening. That is why the Government are determined to do things differently, in a way that gives MPs, the public and particularly clinicians the opportunity to shape the decision-making process. That is why the Government have already announced an immediate moratorium on all pending service changes. Indeed, we have required NHS London to look again at the entire Healthcare for London strategy.
The Secretary of State for Health has set out four crucial tests that all future service changes must now pass. First, they must have the support of GP commissioners. Secondly, arrangements for public and patient engagement, including local authorities, must be strengthened. Thirdly, there must be greater clarity about the clinical evidence used to underpin any proposals. Fourthly, any proposals must take into account the need to develop and support patient choice. The whole point is to ensure that all decisions that affect local communities are taken by local communities, with particular reference to what clinicians think is the best solution, based on robust clinical evidence. The point that the hon. Lady made about co-location needs to be considered in that regard.
What does all that mean for Finsbury health centre? It means inviting patients, GPs, clinicians and the local council to play a fuller role in deciding what should happen next, sharing responsibility for deciding on the best way to secure those important services. I understand that further local discussions are taking place between the PCT and the health and well-being review committee about its report and how the PCT will respond to it, which it will within the next few weeks. I stress that it is vital that the PCT and the local health and well-being review committee continue to work together with local groups to find a resolution to the problem. However, the PCT tells me that it is in the process of reviewing its
plans against the criteria that the Secretary of State has set out. I would urge the hon. Lady to engage with and challenge the PCT to ensure that it is doing just that.
It is particularly important that the PCT works with local GPs and commissioners. Furthermore, it is not just the overview and scrutiny committee that needs to take a view; the whole of the London borough of Islington council needs to form a view as well. I strongly believe that it is in everybody's interest that the issue is resolved quickly. It has been going on for far too long, and I understand the hon. Lady's frustrations. What we need is a resolution that addresses those concerns in the way suggested by the Secretary of State to look at reconfigurations.
I hope that a swift resolution is possible, but there is always the possibility that the local health and well-being review committee will still consider the outcome unacceptable and refer it to the Secretary of State. The hon. Lady asked me how that would be dealt with by the Department. The answer is that there will continue to be an independent process of reconfiguration review to offer the Secretary of State advice in undertaking his arbitration and decision-making responsibilities at that final stage.
I recognise that these are difficult decisions, and they quite rightly provoke debate and discussion-and, in this case, disagreement. I am afraid that not all decisions can be made here in Whitehall or Westminster by Ministers, and we certainly should not seek to dictate. However, what is important to me as a Minister is the integrity of the decision-making process. By seeking the support of GPs and local people, basing decisions on clear evidence, and ensuring that all changes improve patient choice, we believe that we can achieve a better health care system for the people of Islington-one that is affordable and cost-effective. That is what I now expect from NHS Islington.
The hon. Lady will continue to play an important part in that, ensuring that all the sources of funding are understood and can be brought to bear. I hope that she will engage with the PCT and the local authority to get the long-term solution that delivers health care that is fit for purpose and is what local people want.