Acute Hospital Services

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 5:54 pm on 21st February 2007.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 5:54 pm, 21st February 2007

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his excellent intervention. A good illustration of precisely the point that he is making was given in the earlier discussion about primary angioplasty—this important new specialist service that will apparently be made available by the reconfiguration of acute services. All three hospitals whose A and E departments are under threat of being closed or downgraded—Frimley Park, St. Peter's in Chertsey and the Royal Surrey county—offer primary angioplasty, so the result of closing any of those departments will be to restrict, not increase, access to that vital service.

Why is it that we are talking about the closure of such a vital hospital, despite the incredibly impressive performance that it has shown? The average time that it takes my constituents to get through the doors of an A and E department after an accident or emergency is currently 52 minutes. That is dangerously close to what doctors call the golden hour—that vital 60 minutes in which it is vital to get people through the doors of an A and E department if their chances of a good outcome are to be maximised. That is important, for example, if they need a computerised tomography scan to identify whether they have a stroke or a heart attack, with the very different treatments that will result according to the diagnosis that is made. If the Royal Surrey county hospital loses its A and E department, the average time that it will take my constituents to get through the doors of an A and E department will increase from 52 minutes to 65 minutes. That means that more of my constituents will not get through the door of an A and E department within the golden hour than will do so.

According to consultants, the result is that 2,000 additional people from my constituency who are in need of resuscitation—the most acute form of emergency, involving people who have effectively stopped breathing—will not get into an A and E department within an hour. Consultants are quite open about the impact; they are saying that people will die.

Despite my anger with what the Government are doing, I am not suggesting that they have deliberately set out on a course of action that will cost the lives of my constituents, but that is precisely what will happen unless they are prepared to do three things. First, they need to tear up all the consultants' reports that they keep using as the basis of the reconfigurations, because although they are often excellent in theory, they bear no relation to what happens on the ground. I remind Ministers that it was reputedly a consultants' report that advised Railtrack to stop its ongoing programme of track maintenance in favour of a much cheaper policy of merely repairing tracks as and when they broke—a policy that directly led to a series of appalling train crashes and, in the end, to the demise of Railtrack. This is the first day of Lent, so here is an idea for a Lenten resolution for Ministers: they should stop using consultants' reports, to see whether they can wean themselves off the habit.

Secondly, Ministers should go out and look at what is happening on the ground. It is no good their hiding behind the fiction that these are local decisions made by local people on the basis of local circumstances—they are made on the basis of a policy framework decided by Ministers and a financial framework set by the Government. True leadership involves getting stuck into the detail so that Ministers really understand what is happening.

Finally, Ministers need to start to think about the root cause of these problems—fundamental flaws in the funding formula, which massively underweights age as a factor relative to social deprivation. Of course socially deprived areas have additional needs in terms of health care, but the current weighting is very skewed against age. My constituency has a lot of older people, and as a result our funding allocation is increased by 2 per cent., but the lack of social deprivation means that it is reduced by 25 per cent. That cannot be right when all the evidence shows that the biggest determinant of demand for health care services is age, not social deprivation.