§ 3. Mr. Turner
To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many hospitals there were in England in 1979, April 1991 and December 1994. 
§ Mr. Malone
In 1979 there were 2,023 hospitals in England, and in 1991 there were 1,624. For 1994, NHS Estates, using a different basis of calculation, has estimated the number at 1,440.
§ Mr. Turner
Have not 245 hospitals closed since 1990—one per week since Conservative health reforms were introduced? Does the Minister agree that as a result of record waiting lists, hospital closures and bed losses, the NHS is at breaking point in many parts of the country? Operations have been cancelled, specialist beds have been unavailable and there has been the unholy sight of many people on trolleys waiting hours in casualty departments.
§ Mr. Malone
If the hon. Gentleman were to look at his own constituency, he would see a different picture from that which he painted. In 1989–90, there were 560 waiters over two years; in 1995, there is none. In 1989–90, there were 214 two-year waiters; in 1995 there is none. Investment projects totalling £17 million are under way in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. Of course there have been a number of closures, but substantially better 136 facilities have been put in their place. Why does not the hon. Gentleman recognise that when it is happening in his constituency?
§ Mr. Rowe
Is my hon. Friend aware that people in my constituency have warmly welcomed the closure—regrettable though it is in some respects—of the oldest hospital in Britain, St. Bart's, and of All Saints hospital, the former workhouse? It is shortly to close, almost entirely owing to the large investment put into the Medway hospitals complex, which will provide unrivalled modern facilities. Does he agree that this counting of hospitals is meaningless?
§ Mr. Malone
My hon. Friend is quite right. The purpose of the health service reforms was to allow services to be provided closer to people. That is precisely what my hon. Friend points out in respect of the reconfiguration of services in his constituency.
§ Mrs. Beckett
Does the Minister accept that we are pleased to learn that he has found out some facts about hospitals, as it is not long since he told us that he did not know how to define one. I hope that that means that the questions that we table will in future be answered. Does he nevertheless accept that there is considerable concern in many parts of the country about the pace of change, and that when Ministers say, as they repeatedly do, that they do not know what is happening in terms of the provision of hospitals and do not know which hospitals or A and E departments are at risk, they add to that concern?
The Secretary of State said a moment ago that Ministers are concerned about standards of hospital care and of accident and emergency provision. How can they know that standards are being met if they do not even know what is happening on the ground?
§ Mr. Malone
The right hon. Lady is well aware that these matters are decided locally. When they are disputed or objected to by community health councils, they come to Ministers for decision. Hence a tremendous amount of reconfiguration of service and change is going on around the country by local agreement.
It is not good enough to be obsessed with old buildings; it is far better to look at the new investment going into the health service. More than 700 schemes costing more than £1 million each have been completed in the course of the past decade. That is the measure of the Government's commitment to an improved health service. I do not understand why the right hon. Lady is obsessed with the past.