Capital Funding: New Hospital in Harlow Debate

18th October 2017

Philip Dunne responds to a debate on capital funding for a new hospital in Harlow.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. You have chaired the debate admirably in allowing my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr Prisk) to get in to support my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) in his excellent speech, which was both concise and heartfelt.

I visited the hospital with my right hon. Friend a year ago, shortly after the trust went into special measures. I share his view about the commitment of the staff, which was evident to us on that occasion, at a time when, it would be fair to say, there was a state of some unease, the trust having just gone into a special measures regime. In part, we were there to reassure them that it could be a learning process from which they could improve the services offered to their patients, notwithstanding the challenges presented by the consequences of the CQC report.

My right hon. Friend is a consistent and persistent champion for his area and for this project, which has been in germination for some time. It is timely that he should bring it to the House’s attention; I will go on to explain why. I may not be able to satisfy him completely on the questions he has put to me, but I will do my best.

The Princess Alexandra Hospital faces many issues with its estate, as is evident to anyone who visits the site. My right hon. Friend has explained that it has an aged infrastructure and a strong reliance on temporary buildings—it has “sub-optimal clinical adjacencies”, which is the civil service phrase for bits of activity dotted around the place in an unco-ordinated way—much of which is in a fragile condition. There are also capacity challenges posed by the growing demand that he referred to from a combination of demographics and increases in housing, which are happening all around him. That is a shared picture recognised by the Department and the local NHS.

Any service change that might come to the Princess Alexandra Hospital is primarily a matter for the local health authorities. They recognise that and therefore have come up with various proposals. As my right hon. Friend would expect, any proposed changes that are pursued will be subject to the usual procedures and public consultation.

My right hon. Friend pointed out that the local NHS trust looked at five options for a potential redevelopment of the Princess Alexandra Hospital. The strategic case for change concluded that a new hospital on a greenfield site would be not only the most affordable solution but the one that would deliver the most benefit for the local population. West Essex CCG, as lead commissioner for services provided by the Princess Alexandra Hospital NHS Trust, supports that proposal.

Harlow is due to undergo significant economic and residential housing growth in the next 10 years. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend referred to the contribution that Public Health England will be making to that: it remains our ambition to create a world-class health life sciences facility in his constituency. I understand that as part of the potential development of some 10,000 homes in the Gilston area to the north of Harlow, there is the possibility of a new junction for the M11. That gives rise to potential greenfield sites and the opportunity for significant planning gain. That will be available to the local authority as it considers assisting with the financing of any scheme. That puts the proposition in a somewhat unusual light in relation to other competing claims for capital on the NHS.

Before I return to the central issue of capital raised by my right hon. Friend, I will touch on the special measures regime, which the hospital has been in since October last year, following a CQC report that rated the trust as “inadequate” overall. He identified the new management and since we visited, the trust has got a new improvement director in post. I think the new chair was in post when we visited, and he has recently recruited a new chief executive with whom he worked in a previous trust to drive through turnaround improvement. They are individuals in whom the Depatment has considerable confidence. It is good to hear that much of that improvement work is starting to come through.

A multidisciplinary transformation team called “quality first” has been established, which aims to drive through quality improvement and service reconfiguration across the hospital. Peer reviews are taking place on a two-weekly basis, which are being fed down to departments and wards within the hospital to drive improvement from the bedside. The most recent external peer review was conducted in June and helped to highlight areas of focus to assist the trust in its journey out of special measures status.

A consequence of that work is that there is now compliance at the trust with referral-to-treatment waiting times, which is not universal across the NHS at the moment—would that it were. It is also meeting cancer standards and ensuring that cancelled operations are rebooked within 28 days. That is positive concrete evidence of progress coming through the regime. There have also been improvements in critical care and end-of-life care since the CQC inspection. The trust has developed and launched a framework for a five-year plan, “Your future, our hospital,” and is currently preparing for its next CQC inspection, which will take place next month. We will all look at the outcome of that with great interest.

To return to the core question of capital, my right hon. Friend is right to identify the emergence of Department funding from which Harlow benefited: waves 1 and 2 of the current £100-million A&E pot. There is a bid in train for the final tranche of that funding. We will see whether or not that succeeds, but, certainly off the top of my head, I think Harlow has achieved more than any other trust in securing capital to help improve the situation in its emergency department.

More significantly, the trust has submitted additional capital bids to cover funding for other ancillary aspects of improving care in the hospital: a second maternity theatre, urgent estates infrastructure work and strategic estates transformation. All capital funding bids have to follow the same course as those of any other trust in the country. As a result, I am not in a position to confirm the trust’s prospects for success in this competitive round. The timeliness of the debate is that all STP areas have submitted bids for the next round of capital funding. I confirm that a proposal has gone in for Princess Alexandra. We await the Budget this autumn to see whether the Chancellor will allocate phase 2 capital for STP transformation. He indicated in March that he was intent to do so, so we are hopeful that that will occur. The extent to which there is capital available to support very significant projects will depend on how much is made available by the Treasury.

My right hon. Friend has rightly pointed out that this is a high priority for the region, for the county and clearly for the residents of Harlow. I wish him every success in advancing his cause—as he has done so admirably here today—when we see the allocation of that capital following the Budget later this year.

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