Launch of hospital consultation

So the phoney war is over. Well over a year has elapsed since the original publication of "Fit for the Future", which spoke in warm words about bringing care closer to people's homes, but we now know really meant reducing West Sussex's acute hospitals from three to one.

Since then 300,000 people in West Sussex have signed petitions and 25,000 have marched in support of their local hospitals. Yet this week's belated publication of the Primary Care Trust's proposals demonstrates that the bureaucrats haven't listened to a word.

The Trust is presenting a fait accompli, saying that there must be a reduction from three acute hospitals in West Sussex to one. The ‘options' are about which of the three should be downgraded. This is not a consultation - it is Hobson's choice.

MPs and local doctors argued that there should be the option of at least two major hospitals in the consultation. This, too, has been ignored - yet East Sussex, a smaller county, is being allowed to have two major hospitals.

Downgrading our local hospitals will require a huge investment in the inaccessible Sussex County in Brighton which is already struggling to cope with demands. The people of West Sussex will find it hard to understand why, if tens of millions of pounds are available to spend, the money should not be used to retain West Sussex's acute hospitals.

As an MP whose constituents use and value all of the hospitals in West Sussex - St Richard's, Worthing & Southlands and the Princess Royal - I feel strongly that the hospital campaigns must continue to stand together. We must not allow one hospital to be pitched against another.

The consultation will take months, and there are many hurdles ahead for the Trust. There will be a huge fight against these appalling proposals - and I intend to be at the forefront of it.