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There are probably few former senior Cabinet ministers whose public reputation is as tightly and infamously bound to the unpopular NHS cuts and hospital closures who would as willingly return to the subject as Virginia Bottomley.

Many would retire gracefully to the back benches rather than face the derision and charges of hypocrisy that have followed the former health secretary's persistent hounding of the government over cuts in the NHS in West Surrey.

The MP for South West Surrey and ex-scourge of the London teaching hospitals recently returned to the attack over West Surrey health authority's proposals to drop plans to retain community beds at Farnham and Haslemere hospitals.

'In my 16 years in the house I cannot recall an occasion on which I have had more letters containing greater depth, detail, responsible argument and increasing anger, ' she told MPs.

The HA consultation - sneakily planned for the summer parliamentary recess, she suggests - follows promises made as recently as Christmas that at Farnham there would be a 42-bed community hospital, a stroke rehabilitation unit and a day hospital.

Indeed, Mrs Bottomley hints that this earlier proposal was not popular with the local public, but she had nonetheless 'worked extremely hard - for well over 100 hours - with the people across the area to lower their expectations'. Change, she had argued with the irate citizens of West Surrey, is 'necessary'. After 'much pressure and persuasion', people were prepared to accept the project. . . which is now apparently to be abandoned, she said.

The sense of betrayal has been heightened by the government's rhetoric 'that there has never been money quite like it' in the NHS, she says, and yet apparently not enough to retain local community beds.

Charges of 'health vandalism in the health infrastructure' are asking for trouble when made by Mrs Bottomley to Labour ministers.

Junior health minister Gisela Stuart initially responded on a subtle tack: 'The right hon lady said that change is necessary. . . it is interesting that there were no substantial or contentious changes in West Surrey between 1989 and 1995' (when Mrs Bottomley was in the Department of Health).

She may not make much headway among the NHS community with her claims that the suffering burghers of Surrey get a raw deal on the NHS compared to the pampered denizens of Tony Blair's Sedgefield constituency.

But her patented scattergun approach to statistics and figures to ward off criticism may yet make a comeback as Labour ministers go on the defensive over health.

Ms Stuart answered her ministerial predecessor with a long and dreary recital of government 'achievements' both in the the NHS nationally and in West Surrey - 'After 18 years of neglect we have started to put right. . .' - that was positively Bottomleyesque.