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Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 116 (Northern Ireland Grand Committee (Sittings)),

Question agreed to.

2 Dec 1998 : Column 1017

Harefield Hospital

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Jamieson.]

11.50 pm

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): It is only nine months since I secured an Adjournment debate on 6 March on the future of Mount Vernon hospital, Northwood. Many of the fears that I expressed then have been realised, notwithstanding a petition of some 80,000 signatures in support of the hospital being built up and not run down, and the public's particularly strong backing for the preservation of its regional burns, plastic and oral maxilla-facial surgery unit.

Now, the future of Harefield hospital nearby is in question and I crave the House's ear again, even though I have no illusions about how difficult it is to influence the direction of the national health service in favour of those who finance it: the taxpayers.

On Wednesday 18 November, the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mr. McWalter) secured a debate about West Hertfordshire health authority, which, among other health authorities, funds the treatment of patients both at Mount Vernon and at the regional and national cardiothoracic specialist hospital at Harefield. He complained that, despite the language of the West Hertfordshire health authority, which talks about a new super-hospital, the proposal represented a substantial cut in the facilities available to the people of west Hertfordshire. The hon. Member for Watford (Ms Ward), whose constituents attend Harefield hospital with chest and heart illnesses, echoed those complaints.

There was a shared and relevant anxiety in the debate, which was also expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire (Mr. Page), whose electors, too, are treated at Harefield and whose community health council has formally objected to West Hertfordshire health authority proposals. The Government will not grant money to maintain the status quo, which is crucial to build up existing centres of national excellence such as Harefield and Mount Vernon, but they have a predilection in favour of the construction of new hospitals funded through the private finance initiative.

When the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), responded to that debate--I am glad to see that he is present again--he admitted that the Government's modernisation programme was "extremely ambitious". I would not, however, contradict the conclusion that was drawn by the hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead about the proposals of the West Hertfordshire health authority. He said:

The Minister of State boasted that

    "work has started on the construction of eight hospitals under PFI"

and boasted about

    "the biggest new hospital building programme in the history of the NHS--31 new hospitals worth almost £2.4 billion, 25 of which will be built through PFI, with a total value of almost £2.2 billion."--[Official Report, 18 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 917-18.]

Where does that leave existing specialist centres of national and, in the case of Harefield, international excellence, which need, by comparison, very modest

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additional capital funding to modernise their facilities? If the dire precedent of Mount Vernon is anything to go by, they are left in a very vulnerable position. At Mount Vernon, between a mere £5 million and £7 million are required to modernise a superb burns, plastic and oral maxilla-facial surgery unit. However, West Hertfordshire health authority would like it to be moved into its new £150 million green-field site, private finance initiative hospital. Hillingdon health authority would like it to go to the new, costly inner-city Westminster and Chelsea hospital.

Harefield is known globally as the hospital that has done more heart and lung transplants than any other: well over 2,000 since 1980. Professor Sir Magdi Yacoub's internationally famous team has done an immeasurable service to the reputation of British medicine worldwide. It will be remembered that Diana, Princess of Wales attended, masked and medically gowned, an operation there.

Harefield hospital also has an extensive programme of heart and lung operations, more than 3,000 a year. The hospital makes a profit. Doctors from 60 countries have been trained, and patients from as many countries treated, there. Surgeons trained at Harefield have taken their skills of heart and lung transplantation back to the countries of their birth.

Research at Harefield is integral to the work of the hospital. As with the superb cancer and burns research facilities at neighbouring Mount Vernon, the research has been made possible by an impressive combination of public and charitable funding. As Sir Magdi has said about the Harefield heart science centre:

Phase 1 of the heart science centre was completed in 1993. It has developed the artificial heart, evolved therapies to reduce transplant tissue rejection and analysed the processes of heart degeneration and the causes of cardiovascular disease. Building phase 2 will cost £2.5 million at 1996 prices, plus revenue costs, but its work on the prevention and treatment of cardiomyopathy and studies of the molecular and genetic origins of heart disease and of means of preserving donor organs longer will save the NHS millions of pounds in the longer term. Above all, it will save countless human lives.

Harefield hospital owes its origin to the Australian great war hospital on the site at Harefield park where many thousands of wounded Anzac soldiers were treated when they were brought back from the battlefields of Gallipoli and France. The hospital has a numerically small, but inspirationally famous, focus on children. Giving children born with heart problems a chance to lead a healthy life is an important part of its work. When Harefield received funding as a supra-regional transplant centre, the next project was to raise money for a new children's ward. The give-a-child-a-chance appeal was most successful, and in July 1989 the ward was opened by Her Royal Highness, the Princess Royal. Sadly, this ward is due to be closed and its facilities moved to the Royal Brompton, although out-patient paediatrics may remain at Harefield.

When the Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals merged this April, it was my private fear that asset stripping at the expense of the country cousins at

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Harefield would occur, not only in terms of equipment and facilities but of its supreme asset, its personnel. This is now a grave risk, starting with paediatric surgery.

A west London cardiothoracic review was initiated. In mid to late October 1998, its conclusions were lodged with the Department of Health. It suggested three possibilities. First, that the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS trust should maintain its services in the existing locations. That would be the wise course, building on the hospitals' respective strengths and complementing effectively their talents and expertise.

Alternatively, it was suggested services at Harefield should be concentrated at the Royal Brompton, which could only involve a diminution of facilities and beds, to the detriment of patients in need of cardiothoracic treatment. It would also be a breach of faith with the joint message in the merger consultation document issued by Sir Geoffrey Errington, the then chairman of Harefield, and Sir Philip Otton, who now chairs the joint trust, which made no mention at all of closing Harefield, but spoke only of improvement of care for patients and better coordinated research.

Finally, it was suggested that both Harefield and Royal Brompton hospitals could be combined in a new hospital, to be built alongside St. Mary's on the Paddington basin site. We are told that it could still keep the proud title of Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS trust, but what consolation is that to the wonderful people who stand to lose their jobs? I do not know how much the project would cost or how it would be financed--perhaps through the private finance initiative, such as the project in west Hertfordshire. I also would not presume to know whether Chelsea needs another Lanesborough hotel, such as that constructed on the old St. George's hospital site at Hyde park corner.

I do know that closing Harefield hospital would tear the heart out of Harefield village. It is the only major source of employment in the last village left in what remains of rural Middlesex. In the words of the author of its history, the cardiothoracic surgeon Mary Shepherd, who worked there for some 20 years, Harefield hospital is "the heart of Harefield", the place where in the great war 50,000 wounded Anzacs were treated, and close to where 114 of their number remain to lie in St. Mary's churchyard, in graves bedecked and garlanded with spring flowers by local school children every Anzac day.

Between the wars, Harefield hospital treated the scourge of tuberculosis. In the second world war, Harefield dealt with casualties north of the river Thames and, with St. Mary's hospital, Paddington, enlarged its scope to deal with general and thoracic surgical war casualties, hence its current expertise.

Harefield hospital is, in short, a special place, and covetous eyes are cast upon its skilled and devoted staff--even Northwick Park hospital, in Harrow, might aspire to employ them. Its asset value must tempt potential developers, too. However, surely modernising the NHS means building on its strengths. Harefield, in peace and in war, has won a place not only in the hearts of its staff, of the villagers and of its patients and their families, but of the nation. Surely that transcends property valuations.

Harefield hospital's situation in rural green belt, at the nodal point of the M1, M25, M40, M4 and M3 motorway network, near to Heathrow and Luton airports, with its

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very own helicopter pad, ample space, surrounding quiet countryside, clean air and cheaper housing, is surely the right one to make it the right place for the country's premier cardiothoracic transplant centre, now and well into the century that is to come.

Developers, PFI financiers, and great and good committee men may have other ideas, but I simply pray that Our Lady of Harefield--whose image in glass glorifies a window in the hospital chapel--and of the parish church dedicated in her name may bring advent wisdom to Ministers and allow the work of the healing of hearts to continue in the village where England's first and only Pope, Nicholas Breakspear--Adrian IV--was born.

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