CONSERVATIVE
New Forest East

HEALTH – NUFFIELD SPEECH & LANGUAGE UNIT – 25 April 2006

Dr Julian Lewis: My Hon. Friend [John Bercow] is making such an overwhelming case that I will ask him briefly to do something slightly unusual in a debate of this sort. Will he put himself in the shoes of the people who are trying to close the [Nuffield Speech & Language] unit and say what possible basis they could adduce for its closure in the face of such an overwhelming endorsement of it? It is hard to envisage any such basis from the testimonials that he has eloquently read to the House.

[Mr Bercow: I am very grateful to my Hon. Friend, who will have been a friend of mine for 23 years this October. We have often said that we have only one brain and we have thought it prudent over the years, in the course of our political careers, to share it between us. We each have an uncanny tendency to anticipate the thoughts and prospective pronouncements of the other, but I have to say, in all candour, that if he thinks that I am able to penetrate the inner recesses of the sort of extraordinarily contorted minds that could seriously contemplate a decision of this kind, I am afraid that he is elevating me to a level of intellectual pedigree to which I cannot realistically hope ever to aspire. I can only hazard a guess. The answer is almost certainly money, money and money again.]

* * *

Dr Lewis: I am sorry to intervene again on my Hon. Friend, but there seems to be a parallel here with some of the sharp practices carried out in the New Forest and Romsey area in an attempt to close much-loved community hospitals. My Hon. Friend might bear in mind the fact that when statutory consultations are abused in this way, the process of judicial review is always possible. If the person undertaking the review happens to be someone eligible for legal aid, the trust may find itself facing much larger and more irrecoverable legal bills than any possible short-term saving that resulted from the initial closure of a unit. I just mention that by-the-by.

[Mr Bercow: I am extremely grateful to my Hon. Friend for his advice, which might well come in handy in the weeks and months ahead. As far as I am concerned, this is but the start of the campaign to preserve this unit.]

* * *

Dr Lewis: I have attended many Adjournment debates in my time in this House, but this is the first time that I have seen a Minister who is open-minded and willing to listen to the arguments and refer back to the people who have advised him – I congratulate the Minister [Liam Byrne] on his approach. However, he has said that the local PCT is best placed to address such matters, but I remind him that we have been here before on an almost cyclical basis. My mind goes back to the controversies about the closure of mental health institutions. Today, nobody denies that it was right to include many more people in society than used to be included before the reform of mental health institutions, but most people also accept that the pendulum swung too far and that the minority of people for whom it was not right to be included more generally in society for their treatment and therapy suffered as a result. Does the Minister not see the doctrinal parallel, where a new idea, philosophy or doctrine gets a grip in the minds of some health professionals, so that they over-compensate for a trend which is praiseworthy in itself?

[The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr Liam Byrne): The Hon. Gentleman has far more experience than me, and he has highlighted the importance of robust consultation procedures, which the Secretary of State has done a great deal to enshrine ... ]