I will not put a postive spin on state of local health service
SIR – I read the letter from your correspondent Betty Saunders (WHT, August 19) with deep concern. Mrs Saunders appears to be suggesting that I should either give up campaigning for our local hospital or somehow ignore the circumstances under which we
SIR - I read the letter from your correspondent Betty Saunders (WHT, August 19) with deep concern.
Mrs Saunders appears to be suggesting that I should either give up campaigning for our local hospital or somehow ignore the circumstances under which we have arrived at this sorry situation.
Much as I hate to disappoint any constituent, I'm afraid that in this case I simply refuse to stop speaking up for those of us who use the QE2.
In order to answer Mrs Saunders points in detail we first have to consider how we got into this mess.
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Readers will recall that we were promised a superhospital in Hatfield by none other than Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor before the last election. A promise that turned out to be nothing more than a pledge of convenience as Labour feared that they might lose this marginal seat.
Of course, no one fell for that bribe and I defeated the Labour minister, Melanie Johnson, who represented Welwyn Hatfield from somewhere in Cambridgeshire.
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Disgracefully, the Government then quietly changed the rules for funding a new superhospital and the Hatfield plan was dropped.
The hospital that would, instead, enjoy expansion would not be the QE2 in WGC, but the Lister in, oh so marginal Stevenage, where Barbara Follett hangs on by a slim majority.
So was the expanded Stevenage Hospital location just a coincidence?
I don't think so.
The Government decided that, in future, Hertfordshire will only have two major hospitals; one at the Lister in Stevenage and, we are supposed to believe by coincidence, the other in the highly marginal Labour-held constituency of Watford.
So just to get this straight. There are 11 constituencies in Hertfordshire. Only two are Labour and by some amazing chance the only proper hospitals will be in the two remaining Labour marginal constituencies in the county.
But, perhaps, your letter writer still believes that this is all just sheer coincidence? In which case she may not be aware of the transcript from secret emails which were discovered in the House of Commons library and revealed that Labour 'manipulated' hospital closures.
In September 2006 The Times newspaper reported 'A secret meeting has been held by ministers and Labour Party officials to work out ways of closing hospitals without jeopardising key marginal seats.'
The emails show that the then health secretary Patricia Hewitt 'called for those at the meeting to be provided with 'heat maps', showing marginal Labour seats where closures or reconfigurations of health services could cost votes.'
Of course, by 2006 Welwyn Hatfield was no longer considered to be a Labour marginal. So our hospital healthcare could be safely transferred to Labour Stevenage!
I share your letter writer's anxiety to ensure that the QE2 is not a political issue for us locally, but I simply won't stand by while our hospital healthcare is gerrymandered to suit the Government of the day, rather than my constituents.
That this Labour Government has wilfully encouraged our major hospital services to be axed at the QE2 is a fact that local people are unlikely to ever forget.
I am sorry to say that I think your letter writer has fallen for the propaganda pumped out by ministers and local health bosses, showing glossy pictures of an improved, but very small, QE2.
The truth is that we will not enjoy an A&E, maternity, paediatrics unit, elderly care, or have any operations whatsoever undertaken at the QE2 in future.
The die is now cast, thanks to the construction getting underway at the Lister that your correspondent seems so upset that I'm not terribly enthused about.
Mrs Saunders seems to believe that my lack of enthusiasm for slashing these major services in WGC is somehow akin to me making political capital out of our healthcare, but I have to say that the hospital is for me a very personal issue.
Like thousands of other Welwyn Hatfield families we've used the exact services that they now intend to close. Our twins were born in the maternity unit and I've relied on having the A&E unit there both for me and my family in emergencies.
So I'm sorry Mrs Saunders, but I believe that the vast majority of my constituents share my disgust and would expect me to harangue the Government for ever and a day about this issue.
Your correspondent goes on to say that I expressed concern about a so-called Darzi or superclinic being opened locally.
Again, what she might not realise is that I acted only after receiving a letter sent on behalf of every single GP in Welwyn Hatfield asking me to raise their deep concern about the proposal.
In the event - knowing that the Government would impose such a centre on our area anyway - it was local doctors who decided that it would be better for them to run it than some outside organisation.
I wish the unit well, but the reality is that it is simply too soon to know what the impact might eventually be on registrations at the existing eight Welwyn Hatfield GP surgeries
Finally, Mrs Saunders suggests that I have been 'whipping up anxiety' about the A1(M) narrowing to two lanes on the route to Stevenage.
I have to say I remain deeply concerned about this factor and believe that it is only a matter of time before babies are born on the hard-shoulder or there is a fatality because one of my constituents is unable to get to the Lister in time in an emergency.
The response from the thick-skulled bureaucrats who, under this Government's direction, completely ignored the consultation results showing deep public anxiety about the transport issue, was to tell us that they only look after health, not transport!
So it's not a case of being unnecessarily negative, but when we face the closure of every major part of our hospital, including A&E, maternity and operations, I think your letter writer asks too much when she asks me to put a positive spin on the betrayal of the NHS that we've experienced under this Government.
No, I am sorry Mrs Saunders, but I will not stop pointing out precisely how they have put our lives at risk in Welwyn Hatfield.
What is more, I feel certain Welwyn Hatfield families agree with me on this important subject and, with your permission, invite your readers to write to your letters page to let us know their thoughts on the way we have been treated over the QE2.
Grant Shapps MP.