Confirmation before Easter that the Treasury and Department of Health had approved the funding case for up to £312m investment in our acute hospitals at Shrewsbury and Telford, was really welcome news for all of us who have campaigned for better healthcare in Shropshire.
My colleague Lucy Allan, MP for Telford, stood up in Prime Minister’s Questions to say it was the proudest day of her political career, and I felt equally buoyed by the news. I had called for this funding ahead of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement, so to see the NHS in Shropshire recognised as the top priority for investment by the NHS nationally, backed by the government, was extremely welcome.
To put this announcement in context, it is the largest ever public sector investment in healthcare in Shropshire. But it also represents the largest new capital commitment anywhere in NHS England this year, and is 40% of the total funding announced for transformational capital projects across the country, to modernise and transform buildings and services in the year of the NHS’s 70th birthday. So this is a huge win for Shropshire.
It is crucial to keep up the momentum for local residents from right across Shropshire to get engaged with the public consultation, due to get underway in coming weeks. I know all too well what can happen to investment in Shropshire healthcare if public support is derailed by those resistant to change, even if this is designed by clinicians to improve services – it risks losing its priority within the NHS.
Some specialist services have already been taken out of county. At the moment, if you have a heart attack you are taken by ambulance to the specialist centre in Stoke or Wolverhampton. Further delays to Future Fit risks losing less specialist existing services. So with £312m at stake, we should not wait any longer and get on with the public consultation as soon as possible.
While either proposal within Future Fit will involve changes to what is provided at each hospital, this new capital funding will deliver for patients across South Shropshire, with a wide range of improved services at the acute hospitals, releasing more services into community settings. Foremost amongst these will be a new Emergency Department and Critical Care Unit, with 50% more capacity than the current A&Es combined, including 32 more hospital beds, and a new Cancer Centre in Telford. There is a lot of information on the options proposed for consultation on the Future Fit website, at nhsfuturefit.org, and I encourage readers to take a look at what the proposals would mean for them.
The reaction from within Shropshire from patients and NHS representatives has been really encouraging, with many constituents getting in touch to say how pleased they are at this news. So I hope sincerely the public support is there to see through this investment and Shropshire healthcare gets this much needed boost.
But I do recognise there will be some concern about change, and that is why ensuring the public consultation is as inclusive as possible is important, especially reaching those of us in rural areas. So I encourage everyone reading this to have your say in the public consultation, to ensure South Shropshire voices play a strong role in shaping the future of acute healthcare provision in the county for decades to come.