Whitehaven News column – 22nd October 2014

The government continues to shame itself with its approach towards the NHS. This Monday, an adjournment debate on the future of the West Cumberland Hospital was secured by Sir Tony Cunningham (as a shadow minister I was not permitted to apply for such a debate). Parliament’s bizarre rules (a fairly new one, too) meant that to speak in this debate I had to receive the permission of Tony as the person whose name the debate was in as well as the responding government minister : the Conservative’s Dan Poulter.
Naturally, Tony was keen for me to attend and contribute. Inexplicably, the Conservative minister refused to allow me to take part. I’ve debated with the Minister dozens of times, sitting opposite him on the front benches for a number of years now. I had no idea that our encounters had left him so bruised.
That any Member of Parliament could have been prevented from speaking about an issue that directly relates to their constituency and constituents due to the decision of an individual Government Minister is too absurd to contemplate. It would have made a mockery of our democratic process at a time when there is a growing dislocation between the public and Parliament.  The chamber of the House of Commons  exists precisely for the purpose of holding power to account and if any Minister in any government believes they can be exempted from that than they are badly wrong, and in all honesty, ought to consider their position.
I was prepared to make a fuss about being locked out from this debate – some things are frankly unacceptable – but with the help of WCH hospital campaigners on twitter, the Speaker, John Bercow, BBC Radio Cumbria and Tony Cunningham, the minister backed down and allowed me to speak in the debate.
Naturally, none of the questions I put to the Minister regarding the future of our hospital were answered and I know that much of his speech will have been written by the local hospital trust (that’s often how the wheels turn). Undeterred, I’ve put the unanswered questions to him in writing. Sadly, experience shows that this might not extract answers either.
At health questions on Tuesday I asked the government to account for the 82% rise in the use of private ambulances over the last two years. Nobody expects a private company to respond when they dial 999. Answers came there none.
And at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday I pointed out the disappointment of 10 year old Maddy Snell at the Prime Minister’s inability to answer her simple questions about the West Cumberland Hospital before asking the Prime Minister if he would confirm that every maternity service unit in every hospital in England is now under review. He refused to answer.
So, a clear pattern. When it comes to the NHS, the government is trying to stifle debate, avoid accountability, and avoid any and all questions about its harmful health policies. No matter what your own political views are, this pattern of behavior is as undeniable as it is shameful.
But it’s solutions that matter and collectively, as a community, that is what we should all be engaged in trying to produce in order to save services at the West Cumberland hospital. Sadly, it seems clear that no help will be coming from the government in our efforts to do this.


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