We all value our local hospitals, and the whole of West Sussex came together in the successful fight to maintain hospital services during the last Parliament.

So it is pleasing that our hospitals were not on the list of closures or downgrades which have been seen elsewhere in the country - though we must continue to watch this like a hawk.

I know from my constituents, and indeed from my personal experience, what marvellous care our local hospitals can provide.  But as a local MP I do have to deal with a few cases where the standard of care has fallen short - and these failures can be quite distressing.

I welcome the recent Care Quality Commission reports that were positive about Worthing and St Richard's hospitals.  I was also very pleased to see that the Western Sussex Hospitals Trust was listed among the top 40 hospitals for the fourth year running.

There were, however, some concerns expressed about the maternity staffing levels in the Princess Royal Hospital, and I'm pleased that its Trust is taking action to address these issues.

Maintaining the highest possible standard of care is just as important as ensuring the highest quality of treatment.  And I believe that patients should have a real voice in assessing whether the care they receive is up to scratch.

Earlier this month, the Prime Minister announced that, from April, a new Friends and Family test will be introduced in every hospital in England to ensure the highest standards of care.

For the first time, patients will be able to provide feedback on the care they receive in a consistent way.

The answers will be made public so that everyone has a clear idea of which wards, A&E departments and hospitals are providing the best care according to those who have needed their services.

The test is a simple measure, but crucially it will show whether there is a basic standard of dignity, cleanliness and respect.

It's a sign of the importance of the NHS that, despite the economic difficulties and need to deal with the deficit, the Government has protected spending on health.

The NHS is a much-valued service.  We should thank the staff who work so hard to make it a success.  Equally, we should not be afraid to challenge care that falls short of the best - and ensure that it is put right.

Christopher N Howarth