Health Minister dodges local health concerns

On Wednesday the new Health Secretary, Alan Johnson, announced a review of the NHS. A new vision would be "based less on central direction and more on patient control, choice and local accountability", ensuring that "services are responsive to patients and local communities."

He also said that the Government "must look at how we make decisions on the shape and location of hospital services. The way we do so must be transparent, open and accountable.  People need to know that decisions are being made for the right reasons by clinicians, and are based on the best available medical evidence."

So what does this mean for the future of our acute hospitals in West Sussex? Is this a sign of a possible reprieve?

I'm afraid not. When challenged in the Commons to suspend the proposed downgrading of local hospitals in Sussex, Alan Johnson said that the review was a "local, clinically-driven decision." He said that it was "absolutely right that we should allow those proposals to go on".

Later that day, I called a debate in the Commons on the proposed changes to hospitals in Sussex. With my fellow MPs, I spoke out strongly against the plans. We pointed out that the Primary Care Trust's justification had shifted away from financial arguments - a surplus is now predicted - towards an unproven clinical case for super-hospitals which are further away from local people.

The Health Minister conceded that the proposals were "not about finance or saving money". So we've won that argument. But she also said that the consultation should go ahead.

The only concession the Minister made was "to think carefully about this matter." Frankly, that won't be enough for the local community. The Primary Care Trust has had over a year to think carefully and to listen, but appear to have done neither. They and Ministers need to think again.

Michelle Taylor