I will make further inquiries about the date on which these forecasts were made and write to my hon. Friend. If it appears that he has more recent information which casts doubt on these projections, it is right that the matter should be looked at again.
Because of these doubts, the RHA has not felt able to include phase 6 of the Kidderminster general hospital in its proposed strategic capital programme for the period 1979–80 to 1988–89. I can well understand the concern of my hon. Friend and that of his constituents, but we are not, I think, at an impasse, and I have therefore to say that I do not believe that it would be appropriate for Ministers to intervene on this issue at present.
As I understand it, discussions on this issue are currently being held between regional, area and district officers, and I am sure we all hope that a solution can be found that will be acceptable to everyone. At member level there can be no doubt that the regional health authority will return to this question, either as part of its consideration of the results of its consultation on the regional strategic plan or separately as one of the unresolved issues.
I fully appreciate that my hon. Friend and the people of Kidderminster are pressing for an early decision and I understand the concern expressed in his remarks. I have no doubt that the regional health authority will take fully into account both the need for urgency, particularly in view of the progress in the planning of the new hospital at Redditch, and the general arguments put forward tonight with such conviction by my hon. Friend, and any new information that emerges on forecasts.
I know that my hon. Friend is concerned also about the provision of a twin operating theatre suite at the Kidderminster general hospital. I am told that the need for additional theatre capacity is recognised and that the development plan for the Bewdley Road site includes a further two theatres. I had enormous sympathy with the story that my hon. Friend told the House about the child waiting for her operation. Having recently emerged from hospital after a minor operation, I understand the concern that that child felt as she waited to be wheeled into the operating theatre.
The area strategic plan of the Hereford and Worcester AHA envisages that twin theatres at Kidderminster will be built during the current 10-year strategic period, but I understand that in the face of competing claims for other schemes this development cannot take place within the next five years.
Whilst I understand that there will have been disappointment over this, particularly in the light of the visitors' report from the Royal College of Surgeons, to which my hon. Friend referred, I hope that he will understand that Ministers are reluctant to dictate to authorities the order of priority to be accorded to schemes of this kind, because it is our firm intention that local people should be given more, not less, say in decisions over the provision of their health services.
Towards the end of his speech my hon. Friend mentioned the possibility of voluntary contributions playing a role in the provision of these facilities. He will know that the Health Services Bill, currently before the House, makes it easier for health authorities to tap additional sources of income of this kind.
On Second Reading of the Health Services Bill, my right hon. Friend said:
We all recognise that the Health Service is unable to meet all the demands made upon it. All Governments in recent years have found and every Secretary of State has had to make speeches explaining that there are waiting lists and that important projects must wait and why there is not enough money available. … At the same time, there is undoubtedly great public concern about the well-being of local hospital services, and there are welcome signs that more people want to do something about it. Of course, leagues of friends and other similar bodies can raise substantial sums and channel them into the Health Service. But it really seems absurd that health authorities themselves should not have power to appeal for funds to supplement what they get from my Department."—[Official Report, 19 December 1979; Vol. 976, c. 662.]
My right hon. Friend was right to raise this option in his remarks, and I hope
that those concerned will pursue it vigorously.
I am sure that tonight's debate will have been most useful, in that it has allowed a full discussion of the issues involved in hospital provision in Kidderminster and will be useful background information for the visit to which my right hon. Friend is looking forward to paying towards the end of this month.
For my part, I shall certainly directly draw the attention of both the regional and area health authorities to the points made in the debate, and they may wish to look at both these urgent matters again in the light of what my hon. Friend has said.