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18 Dec 2006 : Column 1250
9.9 pm

Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): May I start by declaring an interest? My son is a neurosurgeon at the new hospital.

The people of Romford are indeed lucky, not just to have a new hospital, but to have such an assiduous Member of Parliament, who is never found wanting when it comes to fighting not only for their interests but for those of the people of this country. Given his renowned love of the royal family, I hope that the Minister will have listened carefully to his call to reconsider the naming of the hospital. The Royal Romford hospital resonates extremely well in the House, as it would in Romford.

The new hospital is more than just Romford’s. With its state-of-the-art angiogram facility and 14 new operating theatres, it serves people in many constituencies in Essex, including mine. It does that, for instance, through its tertiary referral centre for neurosurgery, which is an important and growing facility in the region.

Any move to a new hospital involving patients in bed and those who have had operations is a nightmare logistically. Patients need great care, and the planning of such a difficult event needs careful consideration. The move, however, went extremely well. It was well planned and executed excellently. Clinical, administration and other staff, including secretaries and managers at the hospital, got up early, many of them voluntarily and unpaid, arriving at work from 5.30 am. They moved files, patients and equipment to the new hospital. They enjoyed the job, as there was a great community spirit to the days of the move. They had breakfast together in the hospital—provided free of charge, and quite right too. They are real heroes. They are stars who deserve our congratulations and warm thanks, as I am sure the Minister agrees.

May I make one serious point to the Minister? The new hospital has a dedicated London trauma helicopter landing site. It covers a large and, sadly, busy area, including difficult parts of London, parts of the M25 and parts of Essex. Planning restrictions on that helicopter landing site, however, might limit landings to only a few each year. I want some good old-fashioned common sense to come into play. We have a wonderful facility that can save lives. We do not want it to be bureaucratically restricted. If it is necessary, because of a major incident in the east of London, for instance, to use that site more than the current planning restrictions allow, I hope that it will be used to save lives and to do the humanitarian thing. I ask the Minister to examine that fine detail and make sure that we are not missing a trick.

We all agree that clinical circumstances and medical need must dictate the use of that site, rather than bureaucratic planning constraints. I am sure that local residents who must suffer the noise of helicopters would completely understand the need for that to occur in such exceptional circumstances. God forbid that a major incident should ever occur. In case there is one, however, I hope that the Minister will ensure that that landing site is useable.

9.14 pm

Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I thank my neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) for allowing me to contribute to
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this debate, because the Queen’s hospital serves the people of my constituency as well.

I thank everyone who contributed to the success of building that hospital, whether in relation to project management, design or equipment, for bringing it to fruition. The management challenge of moving staff, patients and equipment from the old Oldchurch hospital into the new Queen’s hospital was a great one. What happens to that hospital has a knock-off effect in the other three hospitals in Barking, Havering and Redbridge Hospitals NHS Trust.

It has been an enormous boost to the morale of staff to have wonderful new, clean surroundings that are also bright, encouraging and comfortable for patients. I am delighted to learn that the four-patient bays will be single-gender. If the first patient to go into a bay happens to be a man, the next three will also be men. I am more pleased than words can say that patients of different genders will no longer share facilities. In fact, there has been an enormous boost to morale across the board. There is a wonderful oncology department with its own entrance, and patients can be brought to the door. It also has its own parking facilities, so that people arriving for cancer treatment need not wander around the large car park but can be taken to the door. That is a great advantage for them.

Bob Spink: The Minister should also know, however, that staff parking has not yet been sorted out. I realise that my hon. Friend is well aware of that, and that she will probably raise it herself.

Angela Watkinson: I was trying to start on a positive note by telling the Minister how welcome the new hospital has been. Last but not least, I should thank the taxpayer who has paid for this wonderful new facility. I do not know why the Minister thinks that funny. There is only one place from which money can come, whichever route it takes, and that is the taxpayer’s pocket.

It is very sad that before the hospital opened, one or more people broke into the wonderful new building and damaged it before the patients had even been brought in. I cannot imagine what on earth goes on in the minds of people who can do such a thing. It was a blot on an otherwise very successful project.

The project has had a knock-on effect on the other hospitals in the trust. Maternity services that were based at Harold Wood hospital are being moved to the new Queen’s hospital. Every year 6,500 high-risk maternity cases will be dealt with there, and 3,500 low-risk cases will be handled at King George. That is the largest number of cases in London and possibly in the country, according to what the chief executive told me last week. It represents an enormous challenge and a very high level of demand that will have to be met. One of my constituents’ main worries, they tell me, is capacity. They all think the hospital is wonderful, but their overriding concern is whether it will be big enough and whether it will be able to meet an ever-increasing demand. Ours is an ageing population—I believe my constituency contains one of the largest proportions of elderly retired people in Greater London—so there is enormous pressure on beds.


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I was a little concerned to learn that, historically, patients in this trust have on average stayed in hospital longer than those in other areas. Shortening patients’ stays is one of the ways in which the hospital plans to increase capacity. I hope that decisions on length of stay will be made on a clinical basis, and that doctors and clinicians will not be under pressure to move patients out before they consider it medically safe to do so.

What really concerns me now is the future. Next spring there will be two concurrent consultations, one on the “fit for the future” programme and the other on the future of St George’s in Hornchurch and Harold Wood in Upminster, and what facilities will remain on those two sites after housing has been built on them. There are a number of options, on which people will be consulted at the same time as they are consulted on “fit for the future”, which concerns hospitals in a wider area.

There are five options for “fit for the future”, all of which involve Queen’s. Option 1 is to have Queen’s hospital as a major acute hospital with Whipps Cross and King George hospitals remaining as district general hospitals, and with an independent sector treatment centre at King George. Option 2 is to have Queen’s hospital as a major acute hospital, with Whipps Cross having an emergency focus and King George having an elective focus, with an independent sector treatment centre at King George. Option 3 is again to have Queen’s hospital as the major acute hospital, with Whipps Cross having an elective focus and King George an emergency focus, and the treatment centre at King George. Option 4 is to have Queen’s hospital as the major acute hospital, with King George hospital with an ambulatory care centre. Option 5 would have Queen’s hospital also remaining as the major acute hospital, with King George as a full hospital and Whipps Cross as an ambulatory care centre, and with the treatment centre at King George.

All those options will be consulted on at the same time as will the facilities that should remain at Harold Wood hospital and the St. George site. I am concerned about how those two consultations will progress in parallel as the results of each of them will affect the other. We are very concerned about the overall capacity in the wider area. If either King George in Seven Kings or Whipps Cross is closed, that will put pressure on other hospitals nearer the centre of London. As we have increasing demand and seemingly fewer beds and the only positive solution put forward is that patients should have a shorter stay in hospital, constituents are naturally concerned about how the proposals will produce a high-quality health service for the wider area. I hope that the Minister is able to answer some of my questions.

I shall conclude by remarking on the name of the hospital, which my hon. Friend the Member for Romford has been engaged in correspondence about. We have a Queen’s theatre in the borough. People do not say, “I’m going to the Queen’s theatre”; they say, “I’m going to the Queen’s.” It seems an extraordinary choice to name the main hospital the Queen’s, which is the same name as our only theatre. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) that the Royal Romford has a certain alliterative ring to it, and that it might have been a better choice.


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9.22 pm

James Brokenshire (Hornchurch) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on securing our debate on the new Romford hospital, and I echo the comments of my hon. Friends that it will be an important and valuable asset in the provision of health care in Havering in north-east London and in Essex. However, as the Minister will have gathered from the contributions made this evening, there are concerns. The project management team and the professionals have pulled all the necessary strands together to secure the new hospital, but doubts remain as to the level of provision that will be available in the surrounding areas and what the consequences might be for other facilities in the community.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) highlighted the “fit for the future” review that is currently being undertaken of hospital facilities—emergency and acute care facilities—in north-east London. That covers the new Romford hospital, but also the King George hospital within the same hospital trust, as well as Whipps Cross. As has been explained, there has been a review of capacity and services. From the briefings that I have received, I understand that, as a result of the clinical assessment and now the financial assessment, option 4 has emerged as the favoured option thus far. It would maintain the Romford hospital as the main acute hospital in the area, with Whipps Cross remaining as a district general hospital and King George being an ambulatory care centre.

It is important to note that the review has taken into account the clinical needs, feedback from the stakeholder groups, and an assessment of the finances moving forward on a current year basis. However, we understand that the review could not, and therefore does not, take into account historical financial deficits within the NHS in this area. So having gone through this whole process, it seems that we may end up with something very different from what is currently being considered. I hope that the Minister will explain what that might mean. In the light of the briefings that I have received from NHS London, it would seem that facilities could be closed, notwithstanding the process that is being gone through. That would put additional strain on the new hospital in Romford, and it raises further questions about its ability to deliver the quality of care that we all hope it will deliver.

It is worth noting that, in reporting the financial position in London, NHS London itself said that, although it was forecast that the budget for the forthcoming year would put the London area in deficit by some £90 million, according to the latest forecast at the end of month seven, the deficit will be £135 million. So the budget is already £45 million out, which raises the question of what that means for facilities at the Queen’s and its ability to deliver quality care for my constituents and those in the surrounding area.

The question of capacity—the number of beds—has also been raised. The Minister will doubtless reassure us by saying that that is predicated on a different model of care—in other words, that facilities will increasingly be directed out into the community to ensure that bed capacity at the new Romford hospital can cope with demand. The sight of a brand new, gleaming hospital
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will, in itself, draw demand to it, so the capacity issues under examination might have to be factored in in the light of that fact. That is why it is so important that we have high quality primary care facilities in the community—so that we can deliver the different models of care that underpin the capacity modelling put in place in the new Romford hospital. I hope that the Minister will give an assurance tonight that that point has been properly taken into account. The primary care facilities in some parts of my constituency are certainly not fit for purpose. They are not capable of delivering the diagnostics and various other services that will be required if the new Romford hospital is to function in the way intended.

An associated issue is the step-down care that is provided when people are admitted to the new Romford hospital who may not require the same level and standard of continual care that is needed in the acute setting. Currently, such services are provided in my own constituency at St. George’s hospital in Hornchurch, but as my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster said, there are some big question marks over what is going to happen. In conducting a review of intermediate and long-term care bed requirements, the primary care trust narrowed down the options for our community to two. Sixty intermediate and long-term care beds are required to service the needs of people living in Havering, and those beds will either be retained at the St. George’s site, or located at the new Romford hospital site. Given the capacity issues that have already been highlighted this evening, it is absolutely crazy even to consider putting the 60 additional beds in the Romford hospital.

Even if the Minister is unable to give an assurance this evening that that will not happen, I hope that he will consider carefully the two options now on the table in terms of intermediate and long-term care capacity in Havering, so that we can secure the beds and the capacity at St. George’s in Hornchurch, because the new Romford hospital will not be able to cope with the additional demand, given the increasing pressures that are already being placed on it—as my hon. Friends have pointed out.

The situation is uncertain and any clarification that the Minister is able to give would be very helpful in making it clear when the issue will be resolved. I know that the “fit for the future” process is going on and the intermediate and long-term care bed requirement is part of that review, but there are question marks over that process and the underlying deficit issue still has to be addressed. The requirement issue needs to be disaggregated so that we may have certainty about the services, capacity and facilities that will be made available at the new Romford hospital, and so that the doctors, nurses and other staff at St. George’s in Hornchurch know what will happen. The primary care trust in Havering sent out a notice only a few weeks ago to all its staff to determine whether any were interested in being made redundant. The trust made no firm commitment to making any redundancies, but the fact that it sought expressions of interest highlights the pressures that have been put on trusts and the valuable staff of the health service. They must know what is going on as quickly as possible, given the impact that the situation is having on morale locally.


18 Dec 2006 : Column 1255

Maternity services are also an issue and I have received complaints from mothers who are upset that they are unable to have their babies at the new Romford hospital because they do not fall into the high-risk category. Low-risk mothers have to go to King George hospital. I hope that the Minister will listen carefully to the concerns that have been expressed by my constituents. Expectant mothers are angry and upset that they will have to travel a considerable distance to have their babies. It is provoking anxiety at a time when they are under stress anyway. They want the choice of where to have their babies.

There are still some significant challenges in meeting the health care aspirations and needs of people living in our community. It is fantastic that we have that wonderful new facility of the new Romford hospital, but health care is actually delivered by health care professionals and other systems and facilities. Certain areas of provision require huge improvement. I would highlight the pain management clinic, which will continue to be delivered from the new Romford hospital. Two years ago, I raised the concern that it was taking 18 months to receive spinal injections for pain relief at that unit. In the past few weeks, I have discovered that the waiting time is now 19 months. Those are the sorts of issues that arise from the delivery of high quality health care. They have to be addressed through better systems, efficiency and the correct number of health care staff on the front line to deliver the services that my constituents and those of my hon. Friends rightly expect.

I hope that the Minister will, in responding to the debate, accept that we acknowledge that we have a fantastic and wonderful new facility, which I hope will boost morale and the quality of care received. I hope that he will also recognise that there is still an awful long way to go—particularly on issues such as pain management, where an 18 or 19-month wait to receive treatment to alleviate significant suffering is, frankly, unacceptable. I hope that that will be addressed in the future as the new hospital beds down. I hope that it will be able to deliver the 21st century health care that we want to see and that our constituents rightly expect.

9.36 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Ivan Lewis): I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) on securing this Adjournment debate on what is an important issue for his constituents and, indeed, those of other hon. Members who have contributed. I also agree with the hon. Gentleman in his tribute to a whole series of individuals who made this possible and made it happen within his community. I thank him also for being good enough to pay tribute specifically to his predecessor, Eileen Gordon, whom he kindly acknowledged was a staunch campaigner on behalf of health services within the constituency.

I would like to say to the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) that he must be incredibly proud of his son and that when he talks about car parking spaces, perhaps he should declare an interest.

Having made those positive comments—I will deal in a moment with the points that the hon. Member for
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Romford raised—I have to say that Conservative Members have absolutely no shame whatever. It is a bare-faced cheek to come to the House and fail to recognise that this brand new, state-of-the-art 21st century facility is being built in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency because of the investment that the Government have put into the national health service—the very investment that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have voted against time and again. Frankly, we are not going to tolerate such a rewriting of history.

Conservative Members not only voted against the investment that made the hospital possible, but they advocate, as the Leader of the Opposition advocates, operational independence for the NHS. What that means is that Ministers like myself would not be able to respond to any—I mean any—of the requests that Conservative Members have made this evening about local decision making based on clinical need, made by local people looking at the best interests of their local communities. Yet those same Conservative Members look to Ministers to direct from Westminster and Whitehall those NHS decisions that are more appropriately made locally. That is a complete contradiction of what they say their policies are nationally with regard to the future of the NHS.

It may not be appropriate, Mr. Speaker, to use the word “hypocrisy” at this time of year, so I shall rest on the word “inconsistency” in respect of what Conservative Members say in their own constituencies, what they say in the House and the action they took in voting against the investment. Let us go down memory lane for a few moments— [Interruption.]

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Lewis: I am not giving way.

The reality of the NHS that the Conservatives left us in 1997 was bed blocking—an annual winter crisis that was the norm, as it was nothing to do with the particular winter in which it occurred. Patients were lying on trolleys for hours in hospitals all over the country, shocking waiting lists— [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan) laughs, but it was not funny for the patients who experienced it day in, day out, in our national health service.

There was a criminal shortage of doctors, nurses and training places. There were run-down Victorian buildings and outdated equipment. The hon. Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) has the audacity to talk about the taxpayer making this facility available, so let us be clear what happened during those years. There was money—the economy was doing reasonably well at times—but the Conservatives chose to spend that money on tax cuts for those who least needed them rather than invest it in public services and a modern NHS. That is why, when we came to government in 1997, we inherited such a disgraceful NHS.


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