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New Clause 6 — Secretary of State’s response to a section 65 regulator’s report on an NHS foundation trust

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Treasury – in the House of Commons at 4:15 pm on 11th March 2014.

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Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Opposition Whip (Commons) 4:15 pm, 11th March 2014

The experiences in Stafford and in Lewisham have probably been very similar. Multiple public meetings were run in a chaotic and haphazard fashion, and if I had not intervened in this particular meeting in Catford to try to calm the audience down and enable them to ask questions, I am not sure whether it would have been able to proceed.

We have heard about the quality of the consultation in Lewisham. The fact that the online consultation did not include a direct question about the closure of accident and emergency services and maternity services at Lewisham hospital beggars belief. My constituents were asked whether they agreed that acute services should be consolidated on four instead of five sites in south-east London. It is no wonder they came to me asking, “Where is the question about Lewisham A and E?” As my right hon. Friend Dame Joan Ruddock said, the consultation contained no direct question about the sale of two thirds of the land. There was a question about the sale of land at the hospitals that were placed in administration, but there was no such question about Lewisham hospital. We must be under no illusion that if clause 119 had been on the statute book at the time the administrator made recommendations about Lewisham hospital, its full A and E, its full maternity service and its excellent paediatric unit would now be closing.

Many people have said to me that I am somehow against change in the NHS, but nothing could be further from the truth. We have already heard about the successful changes to stroke care in the capital. They did not come about overnight, or over 45 nights or 75 nights; they came about as a result of clear and calm consultation and communication with residents. They came about as a result of clinicians, not accountants, being in the driving seat. The public rightly care about their NHS and the local health services to which they have access. As I said on Second Reading, that is because people experience the best and the worst moment of their lives in our hospitals. It is right that they have their say in a process that is fit for purpose, but an extended and augmented TSA process, which the Government propose through clause 119, is not the right way to take decisions of such significance and which excite such public interest.

The Government have tried to spin clause 119 as some sort of clarification of existing policy. That is nonsense. It is a direct result of the Lewisham hospital case that was heard in the courts. We know that the previous Government produced guidance that said that the TSA regime should not be used as a back-door approach to reconfiguration. This is a fundamental change in policy. It removes the legal protection that currently exists for successful hospitals located adjacent to failing hospitals that have been placed into administration.

The Government also claim that such a process would be used only in exceptional circumstances, but how do we know how often it will be used in future? I press the Minister to respond to the point made by the shadow Health Secretary about whether he has had any discussions with his officials about other hospital trusts being placed into administration and about applying the unsustainable provider regime elsewhere.