HEALTH – CLOSURE OF MENTAL HEALTH BEDS IN HAMPSHIRE – 18 April 2012

[Jim Shannon: The hon. Member for New Forest East mentioned a petition with 1,000 names. I do not agree with Councillor Pat West, who commented that 1,000 names is only a small portion. A thousand names on a petition is a very great number and, I believe, represents a large part of the community.]

Dr Julian Lewis: For the sake of fairness, let me say that it was the chief executive of the NHS trust, Miss Percy, who sought to dismiss the petition in that way. The trust said that it had tried to validate it and said that a number of people professed not to know about having signed it. How big or small that number was, I have yet to discover.

[Mr Shannon: I thank the hon. Gentleman. The name stands corrected in Hansard for us all, including me. I still say that 1,000 names can never be ignored. Ignore them at your peril, because those 1,000 people have families and so on, and the numbers are important.]

* * *

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr Simon Burns): ... As I explained to my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East when we met recently, the reconfiguration of local health services is exactly that – a matter for the local NHS. Although he is calling for a halt to the closure of beds at Woodhaven, Ministers cannot and should not be seen to interfere. My hon. Friend, who is generous and courteous, tried to tempt me  – he slightly sugared the pill by suggesting that, if not today, perhaps upon reflection – to send out a message, almost like the white smoke that appears from the Vatican when a new Pope is elected, to the trust, and if not to the trust, certainly to the Hampshire HOSC, saying how much I would welcome a referral to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

Dr Lewis: Do it.

Mr Burns: I know that nothing would give my hon. Friend greater pleasure, but I must warn him that I have been here too long to fall into that pit. It would completely compromise the independence of local government. I am sure he agrees that all too often, Governments of different political parties have been criticised for interfering too much in local government, and that local councillors are elected to local authorities to make decisions about matters that they, because of their representation of their constituents, are most familiar with. It would not be the way forward for a heavy-handed Minister at 79 Whitehall to issue messages of welcome for things. It would compromise the ethos and independence of local democracy, and the way in which local people elect local councillors to represent their views. Therefore, I must disappoint my hon. Friend. ...

* * *

Mr Burns: ... Doctors and other professionals, the public and service users have all been involved in this process in Hampshire from the outset, and their views have always been taken into account, even when they were not supportive of the proposals and the proposals were not radically changed or abandoned.

Dr Lewis: It is true that there has been public consultation. It is also true that soon afterwards an analysis of the responses listed concern about this, that and the other. If I remember correctly, the consultation ended in October last year, and it took me until March to get the trust to admit that the heavy majority of people who responded to the consultation were against the bed closures. It consults, and then carries on as though nothing has happened.

Mr Burns: I appreciate that point, and I will come to it.

* * *

Mr Burns: The problem for my hon. Friend and others who oppose the proposal is that that body, which has the power to seek a referral, has so far refused to do so. I am sure that my hon. Friend will accept that not only do I have no right or power to do that, but it would be totally inappropriate for me as a Minister to seek to interfere with the working of that local government committee and its decisions.

Dr Lewis: I fully respect and accept the Minister's point. Will he reiterate the point that he made at our previous meeting that even now, if it chose to do so, the HOSC could make that referral to the Secretary of State?

Mr Burns: I can reiterate that if the HOSC decides – my hon. Friend said during his eloquent speech that there will be a further meeting in May – that there is new evidence, or whatever, and that it wants to reverse that decision, nothing in the rules and procedures prevents it from doing so. However, it has had two meetings and has heard the evidence and arguments, and the pros and cons, and has not decided so far to take that decision. It has decided not to make a referral to my right hon. Friend. I do not know whether it will change its mind at the meeting in May, and it is not for me to speculate, or to try to influence it. However, in theory, if it wished to make that referral, it could.

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Dr Lewis: On a slightly lighter note, the Minister may be interested to know that the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust appears to think that what it has been doing is a suitable model and template for the whole country. It has applied for NHS funding because it wants to design a

“comprehensive, independent service evaluation...to inform day-to-day operational business context”

and

“future modelling of service changes.”

Instead of giving the trust more NHS money, perhaps the Minister should provide it with a link to today's debate, which will show everyone exactly how such trusts go about their reconfigurations.

Mr Burns: That is an interesting point that gives one side of the argument. ...

[NOTE: For Julian's speech in this Debate, click here.]