In Lancaster we do not fear but welcome the Secretary of State's determination, put forward so forcefully, to compare costs and achievements in the regions, because we would do well on any tests so far devised and any he may put forward. We welcome the extra £100 million that the Government gave on 16 December. Contrary to the local gloomy forecast that Lancaster's share of the additional £5·8 million allocated to the north-west would be "negligible if anything", we got the largest district allocation of £600,000. That was good news for Lancaster and it goes some way towards meeting my plea that we need more money because 23 per cent. of our population are aged and need a great deal more care.
Twenty years ago in Lancaster the decision was taken to centralise hospital services on the Royal Lancaster infirmary site for midwifery, elderly services and acute services. Since then our programme has gone ahead steadily, except for the unfortunate check in 1978 referred to by many hon. Members when all hospital building was halted abruptly by the Labour Government because of the financial crisis. That delayed our progress, but phases 1 and 2 for maternity and elderly persons have been successfully completed. Phase 3 for acute services is at the planning stage, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Health when he came to Morecambe in the autumn.
As new facilities are provided, old ones must close, and regrettably that leads to much heartache. The Beaumont hospital, which is to be closed, was built as a fever hospital with widely spread buildings to insure against cross infection. It is unsuited to modern needs and is wasteful of the time of doctors and nurses. It is definitely not in the best interests of the health services in Lancaster to campaign for it to remain open when the specialist facilities can be provided elsewhere. Discussions are now under way in the health authority to decide where to reprovide the specialist facilities currently provided at Beaumont. It is still in the melting pot, but if it is decided to provide them at the RLI — which, I believe, is the best place for them, because all the advanced support facilities are available on the spot—the building of a new ward block for ear, nose and throat, dental and neurology services could begin in April, and the £600,000 additional funding will cover most of the cost.
At the same time, the accident, emergency and intensive care facilities at the RLI will be upgraded. When I saw those facilities yet again at Christmas I was horrified by them. Given that we are near the motorway, where, sadly, many multiple accidents have occurred, it is absolutely essential to upgrade our emergency and intensive care services.
On Friday I received news that services will have to be reduced in the orthopaedic and accident and emergency departments, not because of a shortage of funds, but because we are short of six junior hospital doctors, For whom we have been adverising since October. We recruited one on Friday and we hope to fill the other posts in February. When we do, the facilities will again be opened. Another hospital in the north-west has had to close its maternity ward, for the excellent reason that 11 midwives are on maternity leave.
In Lancaster we are proud of our leading role in many aspects of health care. We lead in the proportion of our children who are immunised. Having a large elderly population, a year ago we purchased laser equipment for eye surgery. Because our citizens are intensely proud of our reputation for health care, since for many generations we have been the primary hospital area for the whole of the north of Lancashire, up to Cumbria, we have raised £10,000 to buy another keratometer to use in the eye unit, and the local service for cataract sufferers has been revolutionised. No longer must we send patients to Liverpool or Manchester for the measurement and supply of customised lenses. Some eye patients, who had to spend lengthy stays in hospital, can now return home the same day, or after only two days, and up to 160 patients per week can be dealt with at clinics.
The new techniques have reduced the numbers of beds required from 24 to 14. That is a reasonable way to reduce beds. Nobody can say that we have lost the beds; we have made them unnecessary because of the rapid treatment in that specialty. But I do not intend to let the Government off the hook. In our large district, which covers 170,000 people, we have only one orthoptist, and we would like another to detect the early stages of glaucoma and to treat squints in children We are an efficient health district and our treatment costs compare favourably with those of other areas. Our good housekeeping keeps waste to a minimum. We had a limited list for drugs long before the Government brought it in. We are always looking for ways to improve efficiency and reduce unit costs. We never rest on our laurels. We believe in cash generation and, before it became the fashion, we were winning orders for outside laundry contracts to keep our modern machinery fully occupied and reduce the cost of our own laundry. Money allocated to Lancaster is never wasted. We would dearly like to build on the immense progress we have already made and to cut our waiting lists for miraculous treatments that we could not even have attempted a few years ago. We are determined to provide for our citizens in the future, as we have in the past, the highest standard of health care that modern techniques can achieve. We are looking to the Minister and his colleagues to ensure that we get a fair share of the health cake.