Rt Hon Lord Lilley

    Patricia Hewitt is living in a parallel universe, Peter Lilley declared after the minister claimed she is “creating a new generation of community hospitals?(1). In fact government financial pressures are threatening over 80 cottage hospitals, including Harpenden Memorial Hospital, with full or partial closure. Not a penny of the new Fund she announced ? which is exclusively for capital spending ? will be available to Harpenden Memorial Hospital, whose beds are being closed to save ?1 million running costs a year.

    Peter Lilley clashed with the Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt in the Commons after her statement. Peter said, “When asked to confirm that the funds would not be available to help meet the running costs of the Harpenden Memorial Hospital, she simply sidestepped the question. But sadly the truth is that this capital fund will not help us at all.

    “Her announcement was an example of pure spin ? designed to give the impression that the government is bailing out cottage hospitals when in fact it is forcing them to close to save running costs.

    “Another surreal sentence in her statement was “I made it clear in the White Paper that decisions on the long term future of existing community hospitals should not be made solely in response to short-term budgetary pressure.? (2) Yet that is precisely what is happening in Harpenden. She is living in a parallel universe.

    “She talked about opening new community hospitals. Back on planet earth, in county Hertfordshire, the only new cottage hospital will be on an old General Hospital ? the QEII or Lister ? downgraded because the E and North Herts NHS Trust has been told to cut spending by a quarter. When asked about this she made the breathtaking assertion that they are not cutting its budget, just asking them to live within it. Yet the local Trust?s press release says, “the level of cost reduction that the Trust has to make this year has all but doubled to ?18 million out of an overall budget of ?267 million.?(3) And the “recovery plan requires it to reduce its cost base by an overall ?66m by 2008/9.?(4)

    “I have joined with other Hertfordshire MPs in securing a special debate on the crisis in the Herts NHS at 2pm on Wednesday 12th July.

    “I hope we can force ministers to realise how serious this crisis is for patients in our constituencies.?