Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden): Will foundation hospitals be subject to the remorseless process of centralisation, mergers and closures being carried out by strategic health authorities across the country?
Mr. Milburn: Strategic health authorities, under the proposals contained in the Bill, as the right hon. Gentleman will see when he reads it, lose their powers of
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direction?effectively, my powers of direction?over NHS hospitals. I believe that that is right. Although it is absolutely necessary, for equity purposes, to ensure that appropriate standards in the system apply in all parts of the country, ultimately, health care is delivered locally, not nationally. If we are to have better local health services capable of dealing with specific local problems in local communities and tackling some of the appalling local health inequalities that exist in our country, and which have been widening for decades, it is necessary to put local staff and local communities in charge of the hospitals that serve them.