COMMUNITY HOSPITALS – 24 May 2006

[John Bercow (in the Chair): To make a very, very short contribution, I call Dr Julian Lewis.]

Dr Julian Lewis: It is a privilege to follow my Hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), who has done an outstanding job in setting up the national co-ordinating campaign. All those of us who were fighting our individual campaigns knew that that needed to be done, and I take my hat off to him – he has done an excellent job and a service to us all.

Earlier today, Mr Bercow, you renewed your efforts to save the Nuffield Speech and Language Unit in Ealing. A couple of days ago, I received a delegation of mental health users from the emergency clinic at the Maudsley Hospital in South London who were desperate that their specialist centre should not be closed down. Every so often a collective, pseudo-ideological mania seems to take over some of our public services, and it can be seen in the way in which children are taught to read or taught through play; in the wholesale closure of mental hospitals and the decanting into the community of far too many people who are unable to cope; in the closure of special schools, which has been gathering pace; and in the current determination to say that the NHS needs fewer beds.

I have time to make only one point to the Minister, and it is this: when he winds up the debate, will he please not tell us that it is for local decision takers to take responsibility? The Government are at the top of the tree, the community is at the bottom, and the so-called local decision takers, who staff the PCTs’ bureaucracies, are in between. Which group is the odd one out? It is the one in the middle – the one that is not elected. It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure that the systems that they set up are responsive to the communities that they are supposed to serve.

Finally, the Minister should not tell us how much money he has been putting in. That is like saying that we are pouring more and more water into the bath when there is a great hole in the bottom of it. The bath will never be full, because the water will drain away faster than we can pour it in. We are interested not in the resources that are going in, but in the outcomes that are not coming out.