Last week I went to see the GPs at The Glebe Surgery in Storrington and had a useful discussion about healthcare and the growing demand for their services.
In place of the Primary Care Trust, our local GPs are now in charge of health services through the Coastal West Sussex Clinical Commissioning Group. GPs are taking on more services, so that things like diabetes and heart disease clinics are now being run locally. There are impressive new healthcare centres like the ones at Steyning (which I opened) and Pulborough.
Of course, we also need to ensure that hospitals remain viable for more serious conditions and emergency treatment.
When the Care Bill was debated in the Commons this week, a campaign built a head of steam to suggest that one clause could threaten our hospitals with closure. Naturally, having fought extremely hard alongside the community for our local hospitals, I would be wary of any such provision.
But having looked at the clause and listened carefully to the debate, I do not believe that we have cause for concern.
The measure is aimed at a very few hospitals which get into serious difficulties.
Many of these are in special measures, having had deep-seated problems for years, but are being turned around.
In extreme circumstances, when a Trust goes into administration, the new clause gives the administrator enough power to take the decisions necessary to ensure that patients get safe care. But these powers have only ever been used twice in the whole country.
There is undoubtedly an ongoing debate about the role of district general hospitals, and the finances of our local health economy need to be watched.
But our hospitals don’t remotely qualify for the special measures envisaged by the clause.
St Richard’s and Worthing hospitals were indeed threatened with downgrading under the last government, but their future was secured by creating a single trust which now has foundation status and is rated one of the top performing by the Care Quality Commission.
The controversy obscured the good things that the Care Bill will do, for instance by integrating health and social care, provide certainty on care costs and putting in place an independent inspection regime to ensure the highest standards.
While most other areas are being cut, health is a ring-fenced budget. I know how important the NHS is to local people, and I will remain vigilant over local healthcare provision.
If you would like to get in touch with me, please write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org