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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 August 2007, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Tories retract hospital apology
David Cameron
David Cameron says 29 hospitals would suffer from cuts
The Tories have retracted an apology to a hospital, saying it was issued in error by a "junior researcher".

The researcher apologised for claiming the maternity unit at Telford's Princess Royal Hospital was to be cut.

But shadow health minister Andrew Lansley said "the threat to Telford's services continues".

Several NHS trusts have insisted the Conservatives got their facts wrong when they issued a list of 29 hospitals they said were under threat.

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The party admitted it had made one mistake by including Altrincham Hospital instead of Trafford - both of which come under the same trust.

But Tory leader David Cameron said he was standing by the rest, insisting there were "at least 29" district hospitals facing cuts to maternity or accident and emergency services.

The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust e-mailed Mr Cameron's office asking for a correction and saying the claims had upset staff.

Laura Kuenssberg
The muddle over the facts has damaged the party's message...
BBC political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg

In response the Trust received an apology for the error stating it would "immediately be rectified".

But the party later said the apology had been sent in error by a junior researcher.

Mr Lansley told the BBC that, if anything, the list "probably underestimates" the scope of the consultations on closures going on within NHS trusts.

He said: "There are continuing consultations over district general hospital services.

"I understand that no decisions have been made in relation to Telford but that future reconfiguration affecting services in that hospital are continuing.

"On that basis it was not correct for my researcher to apologise for its inclusion."

Tom Taylor, chief executive of the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, said there was "no threat" to its Wrekin Maternity Unit, despite its being included on the list.

'Singled out'

The row over the Tory list began when Henry Bellingham, Conservative MP for North West Norfolk, issued a public apology to one of his local hospitals - the Queen Elizabeth in King's Lynn - over its inclusion.

Mr Bellingham, who is also shadow justice minister, later said he had apologised because staff at the Queen Elizabeth had felt "singled out" by being on the list, when there were three other maternity units at hospitals in his constituency which were also considered under threat.

But a spokesman for the Queen Elizabeth insisted there was no threat to its maternity unit and it had accepted from the Tories "an unreserved apology for an administrative error".

Other hospitals on the list said public consultations on changes to their services were still ongoing.

A statement from the George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton said a review had also concluded that there should be no changes to its A&E or maternity arrangements.

And a spokeswoman for Horton General Hospital in Oxfordshire said the Tories had been wrong to say the A&E department was under threat of closure and it was seeking a correction from the party.

Mr Lansley said he suspected the Department of Health had been "putting a lot of pressure on hospitals to try and say 'oh no, there's no threat'."

The Conservatives say they want to make the downgrading of district hospitals a key battleground at the next general election.

Labour says it is reviewing services but has accused the Tories of "scaremongering" and has called on them to apologise to all of the NHS Trusts involved.

The Conservatives' list was compiled from a variety of sources, including government reports, primary care trust consultation documents and the media.


SEE ALSO
Cameron defends NHS cut claims
21 Aug 07 |  UK Politics
Q&A: Hospitals under threat
20 Aug 07 |  Health
Cameron pledges hospitals fight
21 Aug 07 |  UK Politics

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