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Furs Estate

10.1 pm

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): I wish to present the public petition of residents of Furs estate, South Woodford and others. The lead signature is that of Mr. Edward Blackwell of 13 Broadwalk E18, who is a campaigner on the matter. Twenty-two other residents of the estate have signed it.

The petition

To lie upon the Table.

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Hospitals (Hertfordshire)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Claire Ward.]

10.2 pm

Grant Shapps (Welwyn Hatfield) (Con): I originally wanted to call the debate, "Financial crisis in Hertfordshire hospitals" but a wise-looking man in the Table Office said that only the Government can declare a crisis in this country, so I had to resort to calling it merely, "Financial deficit in Hertfordshire hospitals". However, to my constituents, many of whom are watching the debate, it is a genuine crisis.

In Welwyn Hatfield and Hertfordshire, circumstances developed that led to an acute hospital, which was responsible for all manner of health care, becoming little more than a community or cottage hospital. It all started approximately six years ago, when the original two trusts merged to form a single East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust. At that time, we were reassured beyond doubt that it was simply an administrative merger that would make the trust's running costs much lower.

Time went on and we found that the Tewin children's ward was being closed down. To our surprise and without notification, the ward was initially closed at weekends, and then permanently, so that people who would otherwise use the Queen Elizabeth II hospital in Welwyn Garden City were expected instead to take their children 14 miles up the motorway to the Lister hospital in Stevenage. That might have been okay if, as we were promised, the paediatric assessment unit had remained open for the first 24 hours of stay. However, constituents learned with some surprise last year that the paediatric assessment unit would also be closed at night, leaving a PAU in place only in the daytime.

Far worse and much more specific, the deficit of some £49 million in Hertfordshire health care this year has compounded matters so that, in East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, a rescue plan has been put in place. It is always said that it is bad news when the experts are called in to talk about how to make further cuts, and so it was when PricewaterhouseCoopers came to the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust to explain how more money could be saved to try to right the deficit that had got out of control. A deficit amounting to £49 million over the next three years has been projected. As a result, in addition to losing the children's ward and the night-time operation of the paediatric assessment unit, we are now to lose all children's services during the day, all our blue-light accident and emergency services, and all our maternity services. My twins, Tabytha and Noa, who were born there just 20 months ago, will be among the last children to be born at that hospital because the maternity services are to close. That is not all. All operational activity is to cease. There will be no further operations if the restructuring plan is put in place.

The list goes on, and it is an extensive one. Similar situations are being experienced by my colleagues around the country. This is all in the name of recovering
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from a financial deficit that is simply going to put lives at risk in Welwyn Hatfield and other parts of Hertfordshire.

Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is a disgrace that these cuts are being implemented for reasons not of clinical need, but of financial mismanagement?

Grant Shapps: My hon. Friend is right to pinpoint that issue. When the children's services were first being closed, the bosses of my NHS trust made it sound as though the cuts were all to do with clinical outcomes. Now, however, they do not even pretend that that is the case. They simply say, "We must cut this deficit." The carrot that they hold out in regard to these significant cuts to hospital services is that one day, somewhere along the line—perhaps in about 2013—we might get a hospital in Hatfield. A £550 million private finance initiative project has been on the cards for some years, yet as it supposedly gets nearer, the completion date gets further away. It is three years since the project was announced, yet its completion date is now three years further away.

We learned this morning from the front page of The Times that certain multi-billion pound PFI schemes are likely to be scrapped. When we put the Hatfield scheme into that context, we realise that it is worth more than £500 million and that, so far, PFI has paid for only £2 billion of investment in total, so this project represents a quarter of the entire PFI budget to date. This morning, we found out that projects worth a further £12 billion are among those that Ministers are reviewing. I ask the Minister this evening whether she can confirm that the Hatfield PFI project was included in those projects that might not now happen.

I understand, because I am in close contact with the health bosses in my local trust, that the problems there are systemic and that they go back many years. Every year for the past six years, there has been a need for interim funding to the tune of £15 million to £16 million, year on year. I put it to the Minister that that is not simply a question of a local health trust spending money badly, although there might well be some of that involved. This is the story of the county of Hertfordshire, which simply does not get the per capita spending that it requires.

Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): My hon. Friend has mentioned a systemic difficulty in his part of Hertfordshire, and I can confirm that we have similar problems in west Hertfordshire. I should like to elaborate on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning) about the fact that the proposed cuts are driven purely by financial rather than clinical need. My hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead and I met the chief executive of the West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust shortly after the general election and made it absolutely clear that we believed that the cuts were being driven by financial need. I fear that my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps) faces the same problems.

Grant Shapps: My hon. Friend is exactly right. West Hertfordshire has similar problems driving similar, rather draconian solutions, which mean cuts in services to local people.
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Let me ask the Minister a simple question. How will a trust that has run up such deficits over the past few years, that thinks that its problems are probably systemic—that additional funding is simply needed on a per capita basis—and that is in so much financial difficulty today, ever be able to afford a repayment on half a billion pounds of extra debt? I am sure that she will explain to me a list of facts of figures, and I understand and welcome the fact that more money has gone into health care. I do not welcome the fact that that money is not getting through to the front line, however. In our local health care economies, our hospitals are suffering cuts. My hospital is suffering really sharp, deep cuts that are making a horrendous difference to people's lives. It is no good listing how many extra doctors, nurses and consultants there are in Welwyn Hatfield and our part of Hertfordshire if there is no hospital for them to work in. That is the simple problem that we face.

I would wager that the money has gone into all manner of different areas. We know, for example, that the consultant and GP contracts have been expensive to fulfil. We know that the 1 per cent. on national insurance hit no organisation in this country harder, in an attempt to help the health service, than the health service itself, which paid that 1 per cent. We know that money has gone into various layers of bureaucracy. When constituents write to me to ask why they have not had an operation, I often have to refer to a ladder including the Secretary of State for Health herself, the regional health offices, the strategic health authorities, the primary care trusts, the NHS acute trusts—the list goes on. There are simply too many layers involved in the process.

If somebody has a heart attack in Hatfield, for example, and they are expected to be driven in, for whatever reason, a private car 17 miles up the motorway to Stevenage, they will find that the motorway is clogged at rush hours, as it is every single day. It is impossible to see how we will get emergency care to that constituent on time. We are reaching a life and death situation.

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