[Miss Anne Begg in the Chair] — Community Hospital Services

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 16th January 2007.

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Photo of Graham Stuart Graham Stuart Conservative, Beverley and Holderness 9:30 am, 16th January 2007

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak again about a highly regarded local service: the community hospital. I introduced a debate on the same subject back in November 2005 when I spoke about the national crisis affecting community hospital care. Sadly, 14 months later, despite a raft of Government promises and announcements, that crisis has got slowly worse.

When I set up Community Hospitals Acting Nationally Together, an umbrella group for MPs and Lords of all parties who are concerned about the threat to community hospitals, the number of hospitals under threat of cuts or closure was about 80. According to the Community Hospitals Association, the latest assessment, which was completed yesterday, is that 148 community hospitals have closed or are under threat of cuts or closure—almost half of those that still exist. Twenty-two have already closed and 16 closed last year. More than 3,000 beds have closed since 1999. In Norfolk, eight hospitals are under threat and, in Devon, 19 are under threat and two have already closed. In Suffolk, seven hospitals are under threat, of which one has closed. In Wiltshire, eight hospitals are threatened, of which three have closed. There are 12 hospitals under threat in Derbyshire, two in north Yorkshire, four in the east riding of Yorkshire and two in Lincolnshire. Some 200 beds have closed in Devon in the past month alone. The list goes on.

Later today, I will join Peter Viggers and his all-party parliamentary group on local hospitals to kick off a national rally in Westminster Hall. Health protests must seem a weekly occurrence for Ministers at the moment. The protests reflect the growing anger across the country towards Government cuts in services at a time, ironically, of record financial resources. The issue of health services has become so surreal that two health Ministers have protested against cuts on behalf of their own constituents.

In truth, it is disappointing to open yet another debate on community hospitals. This is the third debate on the subject in just over 12 months. There was a Government statement to the House during the middle of last year. It is frustrating because many of us—campaigners and politicians alike—share precisely the aspirations set out in Government policy. We share the commitment to bring care closer to home and welcome the vision of providing a new generation of modern NHS community hospitals and facilities. We are not opposed to all change and do not wish to set any service or facility in aspic. However, the Government's vision is not being delivered.

First, I will talk about the worsening situation in my constituency, which is part of the east riding of Yorkshire, before moving on to the growing national crisis in community hospital care.

Hornsea, Withernsea and Beverley are medium-sized rural towns that have older than average populations and suffer from poor transport infrastructure. Hornsea is the largest town in the country not to have a single A road. The A1079, which runs between Hull and York, is notorious for congestion and has an appalling safety record, while the local bus service is patchy at best. Neither Hornsea nor Withernsea have a railway station and, without the luxury of a car, it can take several hours to travel even relatively short distances. One elderly constituent, who is fortunate to live in a town, told me that returning home to Hornsea from Castle Hill in Hull at 2 pm took her more than four hours using public transport.

Each town has a community hospital providing beds and a minor injuries unit and all three hospitals enjoy tremendous local support. Hornsea and Withernsea have successful friends groups that raise many thousands of pounds to improve the experience of patients. The hospitals are run by the East Riding of Yorkshire primary care trust, which was set up just a few months ago in October. The hospitals and the people have been fighting against service cuts for more than two years. During that time, the number of in-patient beds at Hornsea was slashed from 22 to 12 and the minor injuries unit at Withernsea was closed overnight. Only last September, managers tried to axe the 12 remaining beds pending a review in March 2007.

A consultation was not published and the plan was shelved only after I launched a legal challenge threatening to take the trust to court. Now, the new PCT wants to remove all beds at Hornsea, Beverley, Withernsea and Driffield, which is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend Mr. Knight. The PCT's preferred option is to retain beds only in Goole and Bridlington. Those proposals would remove every single NHS bed from my constituency. Patients would be forced to travel long distances to receive care in Bridlington or Goole, which is a four-hour round trip by car for some of my constituents who live in Holderness. Alternatively, they would have to be cared for in a private nursing home. However, nursing home provision in the east riding of Yorkshire is patchy—for example, Hornsea has no providers at all. The trust has admitted that, if a provider could not be encouraged to establish a home in Hornsea, patients would have to be cared for in other locations, away from family and friends and their natural home environment. In such an event, a medium-small town with a catchment population of 12,000 would have no medium to long-term beds or health provision.

The consultation period is due to run until March and, before then, the trust will hold four public meetings in locations across the region. However, only one of those meetings will take place in my constituency, outside of Beverley in Tickton, which has weak public transport links to it. There will be no meetings in Beverley, Hornsea or Withernsea, which are three of the towns affected despite the impact that the proposals have had on those communities. The people of Yorkshire are understandably angry. They feel that decisions are being taken over their heads and that they are being denied the opportunity to have a real say. A protest march was organised in Beverley on new year's day and hundreds of people turned up, despite it being a bank holiday. Previously, on the last Saturday before Christmas, 1,000 petition signatures were collected in just three hours. There are marches planned in Hornsea and Withernsea and I pay tribute to the work of local campaigners; never have I seen communities so united.

The Beverley Health Action Group was recently established with united support from the Labour party, the Conservative party, the Liberal Democrats and independent councillors. After years of continuously fighting the threat of cuts, campaigners in Hornsey have brought everyone together, as have those in Withernsea. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire is using his extensive parliamentary experience to oppose the threat to the Alfred Bean hospital in Driffield. The East Riding Mail's "hands off our hospitals campaign" was launched in November 2004 and has collected about 20,000 signatures. The campaign has done an excellent job of keeping the issue at the top of the news agenda.

The future of community hospitals has brought communities together and united the whole region regardless of political persuasion. That is the current situation in my local area. However, I could be describing the situation in many constituencies across the country.