Mr. Lilley: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans he has to analyse the impact of hospital mergers on health outcomes for patients. 
Mr. Hutton: Achieving good health outcomes for patients must be the most important consideration in any service change.
New arrangements following the Health and Social Care Act 2001 mean that local authority Overview and Scrutiny Committees (OSCs) will have power to scrutinise local services.
Where a proposed service change is contested by the OSC, I am establishing an Independent Reconfiguration Panel, to provide independent advice on the suitability of the proposed service changes. Its recommendations will assess proposed changes against clear criteria, including quality of care, community health needs, accessibility and resourcing
26 March 2002 col914W