asked the Minister of Health (1) if he will state the dates upon which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South was promised that consideration was being given to the site upon which the new out-patients department hospital at Stoke would be built; who have been consulted about the site; on what dates the consultations took place; and why the promise made to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South about the site has not been implemented;
(2) if he is aware of the disappointment and concern of the trade unions and Mineworkers' Federation on the lack of urgency over the provision of the proposed new outpatients hospital which will serve the city of Stoke-on-Trent, North Staffordshire; where the responsibility for the delay rests; and if the matter will now be treated as one of urgency.
This project is one of the major schemes which I announced on 6th December, 1957, and I then invited the regional hospital board to proceed with planning it. This has proved a complicated matter, owing to the need to avoid unnecessary and expensive duplication of services, and is not yet complete; but I can assure the hon. Members that it will proceed as quickly as possible.
With regard to the other matters raised, I informed the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), in reply to his Question on 8th December, 1958, that this scheme was under consideration, but I am not aware of any promises made to him about the site. I have received no representations from trades unions other than those conveyed to me by the hon. Members for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) and for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), in January last. Consultations about the scheme have not, so far, taken place outside the hospital service.
That reply seems to absolve the Minister from personal responsibility. Can he say whether others have been responsible for the delay? Is he aware that the miners, who work the hardest and suffer most from casualties, are very disappointed at the delay, and will he now treat the matter as one of supreme urgency in this great industrial area?
I quite appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says about the urgency, about the mining population, and also about the characteristics of the area in question. The problem here has been to find a site which is conveniently situated but to avoid the expensive duplication of services, such as laboratories, X-ray facilities, and so on. For that reason, the choice of site has been deferred until the schedules of accommodation are complete. I expect that a final decision will be reached very soon indeed.
Is the Minister aware that this matter has been going back and forth between his Ministry, the regional hospital board and other organisations for quite a long time and that, when the Members for Stoke-on-Trent met the previous Parliamentary Secretary in, I think, July, 1957, we were then told that it was hoped that plans would be sanctioned that year and working drawings would be started that year? Further, does the Minister realise that the local authority and the local executive council are both very concerned that there is no apparent liaison between the various bodies, and that there seems to be great reluctance on the part of the regional hospital board to have any liaison on a very important project such as this, which will affect people there at present and in the future?
I am sorry that it has not proved possible to complete the actual plans and working drawings as quickly as had been hoped. This is a complicated matter, for the reason, among others, which I gave. We appreciate the desirability of getting on as quickly as those complications will allow. Machinery has been set up for a joint liaison committee. The committee has not actually met, but it will, no doubt, meet when the regional hospital board thinks that the time is ripe for useful discussions.
In view of the fact that the House is to rise for the Recess at the end of next week and hon. Members have heard my hon. Friends raise this matter over the years, can the Minister say, at this stage, where the delay arises? If he ventilates the matter now, it may be that he will be able to expedite matters.
Within the necessary limitations of Question Time, I indicated in my reply to the hon. Member's first supplementary question the basic difficulty which caused delay. I am fully seized of all the considerations in this matter, and I can assure the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent that their case will in no way be prejudiced when we rise for the Recess.