Is the Minister aware of the utter confusion now existing in Wandsworth because of the incompetence of the Wandsworth health authority in following the correct procedures on consultation and discussion in the community? Is she further aware of the complete opposition in the borough of Wandsworth, even of the Tory-controlled local authority, to the closure of St. James hospital? If public opinion is to mean anything, is it not time that the Wandsworth health authority took note of what the people of Wandsworth are saying and of their desire to keep this hospital open?
As regards procedures, the porposal to close St. James was agreed at the district health authority meeting on 27 November. It has not yet reached the South West Thames regional health authority, which will consider it on 28 January. If the region, the district and the CHC disagree, it will come to Ministers for consideration. That is the appropriate procedure.
As regards what the Wandsworth health authority is getting up to and local approval or disapproval of it, will the local people also disapprove of the £17 million to be spent on St. George's hospital, including £800,000 for the accident and emergency departments?
Does the Minister agree that there is enormous pressure on hospital places, both in the Wandsworth area and in south London in general, and that this, combined with the inability of the Department of Health and Social Services to predict the extra places that will be needed as a result of a likely increase in the number of AIDS patients, makes it irresponsible to consider the closure of a major hospital at this stage?
The difficulty, as I understand it, is that St. James will need a very substantial sum of money spent on it very soon—about £12 million. The question is whether London patients are better served by spending money on an old hospital that might not suit their needs much longer or spending it on developing new and expanded services elsewhere in the same district.