Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    If you need hospital treatment where would you want to have it? Most people would like the opportunity to have it locally and the right to choose (in consultation with their GP) any NSH Consultant and hospital they prefer.

    Sadly we are losing both these options.

    Despite the furore over moving acute services from St Albans to Hemel, the NHS is limbering up for more hospital mergers.

    Hence the plans to merge the hospital trust covering Hemel and Watfored to the west and the QEII and Lister to the east of us.

    The merger of St Albans and Hemel against bitter public opposition went through because the local consultants unanimously advised the Minister that keeping two small Accident & Emergency units would put lives at risk: patients would receive less good treatment than tat a single larger unit.

    I fought hard to stop the merger along with thousands of other because I was sceptical of that argument. I still am. But if the experts were right they should no be able to demonstrate that merged A&E units in this area (and elsewhere) achieve better outcomes for patients than the old split sites did. I have been urging the government to carry out a study of whether mergers have been successful before they embark on any more. I am afraid that the Health Minister has flatly refused to do so.

    Most people assume that even though we can no longer have major surgery at our local hospital in St Albans ? we can, with the help of our GP, choose which NHS hospital to go to.

    But that is no longer possible.

    This government?s reforms, introduced in April, eliminated the last vestiges of patient choice from the NHS. As the Health Service Journal says ?patients now have less choice than ever before in the NHS?s history?.

    If you want to choose a hospital with a shorter waiting time than the one selected by your local Primary Care Group, you can?t.

    If you want to choose a hospital which has a better success rate in performing the operation you need, you can?t.

    Even if you want to go to a more efficient hospital that could perform the operation at less cost to the NHS, you can?t.

    No wonder the Director of the College of Health has condemned these changes. She says ?it doesn?t make sense to impose limits on referring patients from overstretched hospitals to those with spare capacity?.

    I have been arguing in Parliament and outside in recent speeches and articles that we should be restoring patient choice, not removing it.

    We need to give patients and GPs the information about waiting times, specialisation and success rates at different hospitals. Then we could all make informed choices within the NHS. And taxpayers? money should follow patient choice so that our decisions determine how resources are allocated within the NHS.

    Do you think patients should have more choice?