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Row over hospital shake-up in Kent dominates Prime Ministers' Questions

By Paul Francis

The Ashford MP Damian Green was forced to fend off accusations about the future of his local hospital and plans by Kent County Council to cut bus services as he stood in for Theresa May at PMQs today.

Labour stand-in Emily Thornberry claimed that the poor state of the NHS was reflected by the prospect of the William Harvey Hospital closing and that it was being forced to cancel operations.

Mrs Thornberry said Mr Green was avoiding the issue of standards of care “at his own local hospital.”

Damian Green
Damian Green

Quoting from minutes of a board meeting, she said:“Could the reason be that there are severe staff shortages in nursing and medical care and patient safety is put at risk and the only option is to cancel out-patient clinics?”

She went on to claim that at a public meeting tomorrow an option to close the hospital's A and E services would be discussed. "What are you doing to our NHS?”

Emily Thornberry
Emily Thornberry

Mr Green retaliated, saying she should get a grip on the facts.

“Her grasp of the facts is pretty shaky. The meeting is about the Strategic Transformation Plan. I am happy to assure her that I am entirely happy to be in favour of that plan that suggests leaving A and E services at the hospital and actually expanding services there.”

He then faced a question about bus cuts from the Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield, who asked if he was happy that the Conservative-run county council was cutting community bus services which would leave thousands of pensioners in their homes.

“As a result of under-funding the county council has run out of money and is cutting the funding of buses by 70%. Four hospital buses, fourteen school buses...thousands of pensioners are to be trapped in their homes. Does he support such cuts?”

He replied: “"I do not recognise that as the position of KCC; it is an extremely good county council that does a lot of good work and will continue to do so".

The issue of claims of harassment was raised by the Labour MP John Mann, who asked if Mr Green would apologise to victims on behalf of the Government and Parliament.

In reply, Mr Green said there was a need to improve complaints procedures and the culture of politics, and a need to ensure there is a place for everyone in this House and the "best possible working environment for young people to come into".

The MP was deputising for Mrs May who is abroad and has defended the decision to put him in the spotlight while he is the subject of claims of harassment that have led to a formal inquiry.

She said: "He is the First Secretary of State. He has deputised for me at Prime Minister's Questions before. Obviously consideration is continuing of these issues.”

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