Acute Hospital Services

Part of Opposition Day — [6th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 6:28 pm on 21st February 2007.

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Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning Conservative, Hemel Hempstead 6:28 pm, 21st February 2007

May I say what a pleasure it is to follow my hon. Friend Mr. Burrowes, who has done so much to defend the hospital in his constituency? I praise him for that. I cannot be as kind to the Secretary of State for Health, whose speech some five hours ago was, frankly, complacent and patronising to my constituents and to constituents around the country who are so worried about health provision.

I am pleased to have fellow Hertfordshire MPs alongside me, not least my hon. Friends the Members for St. Albans (Anne Main) and for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Gauke). There is not time for them to speak in the debate so they have asked me to speak on behalf of their concerned constituents, too.

The Secretary of State knows full well how bad the crisis in south-west Hertfordshire is, because we have written to her several times, met her and explained the situation. That crisis is driven by deficits. The cuts and changes that are going on in south-west Hertfordshire are due not to reconfiguration—the new word that the Secretary of State has come up with to defend the cuts in services throughout the country—but purely and simply to south-west Hertfordshire's huge deficit problem.

There has been a debate for many years about the services that are to be provided in Hertfordshire, particularly in south-west Hertfordshire. That debate took place before the 1997 general election and has continued since. At a recent Prime Minister's Question Time, I said to the Prime Minister that I agreed that there had been huge investment in West Herts hospitals both before the general election of 1997 and since. Therefore, it is not the case that my part of Hertfordshire has Victorian hospitals that were built 150 years ago and are decrepit. It is not the case that we do not have a state-of-the-art birthing unit—it is closed at present, and being used as offices. It is not the case that we do not have a cardiac unit at the Hemel Hempstead hospital; it is full most of the time. It is not the case that we do not have a stroke unit; that too is full most of the time. It is not the case that we do not have an intensive care unit; that—the Secretary of State will be surprised to learn—is full most of the time. It is not the case that we do not have an excellent accident and emergency centre; that, sadly, has recently been exceeding the four-hour waiting times as so many of our constituents need to go there for their treatment. It is not the case that we do not have or need a high dependency unit; that is closed at present, so it is not full. The maternity unit, which was built before the 1997 general election and closed immediately afterwards, is needed, and if it were used we would have a consultant-led maternity unit, but it is currently being used as office space.

"Investing in your health" was a wonderful catchphrase that was employed before the last general election. Those buzzwords referred to the reconfiguration, closure or movements of services in West Herts, and there was a huge debate about that. There was no consensus at all as to what should happen. The local residents in Hemel clearly did not want to lose their hospital and they voted against that in huge numbers. The people of Watford and the bottom part of south-west Herts did not want to lose Watford general hospital. The people of Welwyn and Hatfield had been promised a huge private finance initiative worth £500 million, so they were happy to lose their existing hospital if they got a new state-of-the-art hospital.

The promises and proposals before the last general election under "Investing in your health" were as follows: there would be a brand new PFI hospital in Welwyn and Hatfield and the Queen Elizabeth II hospital would go; the Watford general hospital would have a £350 million PFI project and would be built up; and Hemel would be downgraded—although I had correspondence from the then Secretary of State and numerous Ministers saying that the accident and emergency unit would remain in Hemel and that the hospital site would be protected.

Let us explore what has happened since the general election, and since the Secretary of State's decision to come down hard on trusts with funding problems. Those problems are purely to do with the funding formula that the Secretary of State has imposed on the trusts, and if she reads the Select Committee report on deficits she will learn that the Labour-dominated Committee agrees with that comment. Since the general election and the Secretary of State's measure, a decision has been made—which has nothing to do with clinical care or with greater efficiencies in the way that the health service is run locally, but which is purely to do with financial problems—to close the Hemel Hempstead hospital and to move its acute care services across to Watford, and the £350 million project will not take place, so they will be moved into portakabins. The people of St. Albans will have to travel past the Hemel hospital and all the way to Watford, if they are lucky, to get to the nearest accident and emergency unit. That is simply shameful.

That is frightening my constituents. The Secretary of State has been invited to the constituency time and again. When I was at this year's Conservative party conference, I heard that the Secretary of State was going to come to Hemel. I was so proud; I wanted to show her the excellent hospital, the fantastic staff and the facilities that are about to be closed, and to try to convince her not to do that horrible thing to my constituency. However, when I arrived in Hemel I found that she was not going to visit the hospital; instead she was going to visit a social services department just up the road. A small demonstration of disabled people, mums with pushchairs and elderly people had gathered to express their concerns and to tell the Secretary of State what they were worried about. However, instead of coming through the front gate, the Secretary of State popped over the back fence and went through the back door, to be confronted by some elderly people with Zimmer frames running down the road. That is the sort of image that the Secretary of State left in my constituency.