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Editor's blog Friday 4 February 2011: Health stuff from PMQs

The health questions from this week's Prime Minister's Questions (slight delay, busy week).

Bob Russell: A characteristic of the British way of life is its charities and voluntary organisations. Does the Prime Minister share my concern that some local authorities and health trusts are using the perceived cuts as an excuse to make cuts, thus undermining voluntary organisations and charities with the big society concept?

The Prime Minister: I absolutely share the hon. Gentleman's concern and he is right to air it. In the case of the Department of Health, there are not cuts in the health budget, which is going up. It is very important that the Department does everything it can, as I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is doing, to protect the very important voluntary organisations working in that Department. Yes, there are reductions in local government spending, as there would be, frankly, whoever was standing at the Dispatch Box now, but I urge local authorities to look first at their own costs. It is only when they can show that they are sharing chief executives and cutting out their own bureaucracies that they can show that they need to make reductions elsewhere. In some cases, they are not yet being convincing.

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister and the Ministers who have been so helpful over the past 24 hours with regard to the Pfizer closure in my constituency in Sandwich. Will my right hon. Friend assure me and my hon. Friends from east Kent that the Government will do everything they can to secure the site, the highly skilled employees and the local economy in east Kent?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to speak out about that depressing news. Pfizer's decision is bad news. My office has been in contact with the company and I spoke to the company again this morning. There is no doubt that the decision is being taken not because of some UK-based issue, but because the company has decided to exit some whole areas of endeavour, such as allergies and respiratory diseases. The company is keeping all the options open for what should happen to the site, including getting partner organisations to continue work there and getting other companies to come in, because it is a state of the art site and it has brilliant employees doing great work there. The Government will do everything they can, co-ordinated by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science and the head of the Office for Life Sciences, to try and make sure that we make the best of a depressing piece of news.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): The local NHS trust in Shropshire is proposing major reconfiguration changes to services throughout the county, including maternity and paediatric services. Those are causing significant concerns for local Shrewsbury doctors, GPs and patient groups. Can the Prime Minister give an assurance that those concerns will be taken on board and acted upon before any changes are made? My hon. Friend the Member for Montgomeryshire (Glyn Davies), whose constituents also use the Royal Shrewsbury hospital, shares my views.

The Prime Minister: I can certainly given that assurance, because my right hon. Friend the Health Secretary has put in place much stronger arrangements for making sure that local people are listened to when these discussions are taking place. No changes will be allowed unless they focus on improving patient outcomes, unless they consider patient choice and unless they have the support of the GP commissioners, and remember that in the future health system it will be the decisions of GPs and people that will drive the provision of health services, not top-down decisions made by Ministers in Whitehall.

Thomas Docherty (Dunfermline and West Fife) (Lab): There were 4,000 stillbirths in the United Kingdom last year, and obviously the pain for those families is utterly unimaginable. Will the Prime Minister give a guarantee that there will be no cut in the funding of research into the causes of stillbirths?

The Prime Minister: What I can tell the hon. Gentleman is that there is no cut in the national health service. We are putting £10.6 billion extra into the national health service during this Parliament, against the advice of many, including his own Front Benchers. I will get back to him on the specific research that he speaks about. Every hon. Member will have met constituents who have been in this situation, and I know how heart-breaking it can be. Where we can get to understand more what the cause of stillbirth is, of course we should be doing that work.