Lennard Hospital, Bromley(Closure)

Part of Petition – in the House of Commons at 12:48 pm on 22 December 1983.

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Photo of Mr John Patten Mr John Patten , Oxford West and Abingdon 12:48, 22 December 1983

I am reassured to know that my hon. Friend and the health authority are working closely on those issues. I am convinced that, from time to time, Ministers must intervene in such cases, especially when closure proposals are brought to them. Those decisions are best made in the local context within the framework of local feeling. I do not intend to bore the House by going through a lengthy discussion of consultation procedures that must be carried out. I suspect that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, has heard them on many occasions in the past.

I make it crystal clear that where proposals are referred to Ministers, they will not—I stress the word "not"—agree to any closure or any change of use unless it is clearly demonstrated to be in the best interests of local health services and the communities they serve. I am happy to give that assurance. It would not be appropriate for me to intervene at this stage as the consultative process on the proposed permanent closures and changes of use in Bromley has not yet begun, and I must not prejudice our ministerial position. I am advised that the consultation document will set out all the implications of the various proposals. My hon. Friends the Members for Ravensbourne and for Chislehurst will both automatically be invited to comment when the document goes out for consultation.

I am happy to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne that he need have no fear that, because these proposals have been made and temporary closures have taken place, the consultation process is in any way pre-empted or that temporary closures will automatically become permanent. If the proposals come to us for decision, the long-term interests of the Health Service in the Bromley district will be our primary concern. We shall make those decisions in that light if such matters come to Ministers for decision, as I suspect they will because of the strength of local feeling.

To reinforce that point it is important to remember why the Bromley health authority has been faced with such problems. There are the implications of the RAWP process, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst has drawn attention. I reassure him that we shall keep the RAWP formula constantly under review. I shall bear his points in mind.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst made important comments about the changes in expenditure patterns, introduced following the announcement in July by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I know that my hon. Friends the Members for Chislehurst and for Ravensbourne are aware of the impact of that announcement on the Bromley health authority.

Nursing costs in Bromley — my hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst dealt with this—which will be illustrated by the performance indicators, when they are available, are above average for the south-east Thames region. Performance indicators do not answer any questions, but they take us into certain directions and enable us to ask some pertinent questions about those costs. Budgets for 1983–84 nearer the regional average were set by the authority, but it became clear during this financial year that the required reductions were not being made. There has been a forecast of net overspending by the end of this year for which provision has been made. The authority responsible for the allocation of resources within the districts that make up the south-east Thames region has acted promptly and increased Bromley's cash limit this financial year by £500,000 — a not inconsiderable sum—to try to help the Bromley health authority, on condition that it undertakes a programme to recover the deficit.

Bromley needs to consider how it can most effectively use its resources for the benefit of patients. In that context, I am especially glad to note that the authority intends to make savings of at least 10 per cent. this year on catering, cleaning and laundry by going out to competitive tender. The health authority was one of the foremost in the country in making those plans, and it is to be congratulated on what it is doing to save money for patient care, which is as necessary a process in Scotland as in England, as the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) have just heard. The authority has decided on the temporary measures that I have outlined and will consult about making them permanent.

The authority believes that the proposed closure of the Lennard hospital could have advantages for patients. It believes that there is a much wider range of back-up medical facilities available at the Farnborough hospital to which beds might be transferred in due course. Farnborough hospital has claimed — I use the word "claimed" because the DHSS has examined no options, and has come to no decisions—to be more convenient in terms of public transport than Lennard hospital. I do not know about that, as I am not aware of the bus services in the area.

The authority also believes that its proposals are consistent with—[Interruption.] I had hoped that the hon. Member for Fife, Central might restrain himself until the next debate, because the Government are examining an issue that concerns all hon. Members. I should be grateful if I could continue to discuss the issue in a responsible way.

The authority also believes that its proposals are consistent with its strategic aim of improving health care facilities in the north of the district, where the bulk of the population lives. If proposals eventually come to Ministers, they will be looked at afresh. We have considered no options and we have ruled out no options. We are not committed to any course of action. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friends the Members for Ravensbourne and for Chislehurst will accept that in this context a temporary closure does not mean a fait accompli.