Is my hon. Friend aware that the myths and allegations put forward by the Opposition parties about NHS trusts are being met by the reality of success, expansion and the recruitment of consultants and other staff, not only by the Taunton and West Somerset trust in my constituency but in east Somerset, Weston, Bristol, and Devon and Cornwall? Has my hon. Friend noticed that the Devon branch of the National Union of Public Employees has welcomed the application and the plans being made by the Devon ambulance service to become an NHS trust?
I have noticed the attitude of the Devon branch of NUPE. I hope that the more inspired approach of that branch will be applied in competitive tendering, which we discussed earlier.
On the improvement in patient care which is attributable to the trust programme, my hon. Friend may like to observe what is happening on Merseyside. There is investment of £1.3 million in the kidney service at the Royal Liverpool university hospital and a new lithotripter has been installed so that more patients can be treated on a day-care basis. There are 84 beds for heart patients in the new building at the cardio-thoracic centre in Liverpool. There is also investment of £4.5 million at Broadgreen hospital in Liverpool to build a new 96-bed psychiatric unit. Those are examples of improvements in patient care being brought to Merseyside as a result of the trust programme.
In that case, how can the Minister justify the closure of St. Paul's eye hospital in Liverpool and the decision—announced yesterday, when I went to see the chairman of Liverpool health authority—to close a second general hospital, leading to a reduction in the number of beds available for psychiatric patients?
If local disagreements come to the attention of Ministers, we shall consider the cases then. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would take the opportunity to welcome the fact that on Merseyside we have far and away the best record on waiting lists in the NHS—they are down by one quarter compared with 1979. Since 1979, the number of in-patients treated has increased by 29 per cent. and the number of day cases treated has increased by 86 per cent. The health service on Merseyside is a success. If only other local services were so successful.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the most important benefits of the trust programme has been the tremendous increase in staff motivation? Does he agree that if the NHS is to be seen to be improved, staff motivation will be one of the cardinal characteristics of that improvement?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The trust programme is a means of providing staff of all levels in the health service with a greater opportunity to influence the output of the health service and the treatment of patients in their units. It gives local ownership to the service that is delivered. That is good for the staff and for the patients.
Is the Minister aware that in an interview with the South London Press, Sir Philip Harris, a former furniture tycoon who now chairs Guy's hospital trust, justified meeting in secret to axe jobs and services because, as he said, otherwise it would slow the whole process down? Sir Philip said:
What we can't do is have open debate"—
It is right that the health service should have the skills of effective management at its disposal. If the trust programme can recruit, through its assistance, people who are capable of delivering a more effective service to patients, that is justification enough for me.