Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): Last month, I welcomed the decision of the Minister‘s predecessor to override the plan of local management to close the special care baby unit and maternity and women‘s units at Hemel Hempstead hospital. Can the Minister confirm that last week local management decided to reverse that plan and close the special care baby unit, but not to announce that until Parliament was in recess? Can she confirm that no fewer than two thirds of the nursing posts in that unit are vacant?I accept that that means that it must close?but that one third of the posts in the unit at Watford, with which it is to merge are also vacant, so she must draft in extra nurses? She must set out a plan for the full restoration of services at Hemel Hempstead, and must appoint permanently two consultants to replace those who have gone, subject to an inquiry which reported unsatisfactorily this week.
Yvette Cooper: I understand that the relevant trust has made and announced a decision today to close temporarily the special care baby unit at Hemel Hempstead on safety grounds and that a further meeting is taking place this afternoon to discuss maternity services. We have always said that patient safety is paramount; trusts have a duty not to put women and babies at risk. A series of local
26 Mar 2002 : Col 690 Oral supplementary