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Shotley Bridge Community Hospital

Volume 681: debated on Tuesday 6 October 2020

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(James Morris.)

When I applied for this Adjournment debate, the situation was by no means as clear as it appears to be following the announcement from the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary last week. Shotley Bridge has been at the heart of the community in North West Durham since it was founded as a sanatorium for tuberculosis in 1912. Following the first world war, it was leased to the Ministry of Health to house and rehabilitate military casualties. It was transferred back to local authority control for use as a facility for mental illness before again becoming involved in the war effort in 1941, when it became an emergency hospital and the 16 now demolished huts that adorned the site were built.

Following the Beveridge report of the 1940s, the “A National Health Service” White Paper of 1944 by Sir Henry Willink, and finally the formal beginnings of our national health service under Aneurin Bevan, Shotley Bridge joined our NHS in 1948. It is on the same Liberal, Conservative, Labour cross-party consensus that the new plans for Shotley Bridge Hospital—or the replacement for it—are founded. I pay tribute to some of the local councillors I have met on the Shotley Bridge reference group, particularly Councillors Alex Watson, Owen Temple, Alan Shield and many others, and to the excellent staff at the clinical commissioning group and the local hospital trust who have met me on many occasions over the last few months.

Partly as a result of the steelworks at Consett and also due to its wartime use, Shotley Bridge became known for its plastics and burns treatments. A new out-patient block joined in 1950, and the tower built in 1969, which is still there today, was the last major investment in the site. The opening of the new University Hospital of North Durham, known locally by everyone in the area—including, I am sure, the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones)—as Dryburn, was opened in 2001, and with that, many services moved from Shotley Bridge to other parts of the county. In 2005, the majority of the old hospital buildings on the site were demolished and they have now become part of the growing Consett housing estate. In 2005, the majority of the old hospital buildings on the site were demolished and have now become part of the growing Consett housing estate.

However, Shotley Bridge Hospital still very much forms part of the community and is a real source of local pride. I am reliably informed that you can tell if a nurse has trained at Shotley Bridge by the way they are and their professionalism. Sir Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS, himself did his early training at Shotley Bridge Hospital. Perhaps one of the reasons that Shotley is such a part of the community is the fact that anybody who lived and grew up in Consett and was able to vote at the last general election was likely to have been born there, although since 2001 the maternity services have moved.

Now a community hospital with an eight-bed ward, an urgent care centre and a number of out-patient treatments, Shotley Bridge is still very much at the heart of our local area. During the recent coronavirus outbreak, it particularly showed its worth, as places like Shotley Bridge were really able to step up and provide some of the facilities that were needed. Even at the height of the covid-19 outbreak, over half the floor space at the hospital was still in use—a fact that I got from the chief executive of the local hospital trust recently—although it was briefly stepped up to 24 beds. With almost all the buildings now at least 50 years old, and many much older, the cost of running repairs amounts to over £1.5 million a year. As services have slowly moved away, local people have been campaigning hard to stop the hospital closing completely. I pay huge tribute to the efforts of many local people over many years.

Securing the future of local hospital provision was at the core of my election campaign in North West Durham. Since being elected, I have been pressing Ministers on it remorselessly in the House—in my maiden speech, at Prime Minister’s questions, in questions and debates with Ministers from the Minister’s Department, and, indeed, with the Minister himself. In fact, even before today, Shotley Bridge Hospital had been mentioned by me seven times in the past 10 months, which is a significant uptick on the previous 10 years in which it had been mentioned just twice.

I was delighted to have the Secretary of State join me on a visit to Shotley Bridge last month—the first time that any member of staff could remember a Health Minister visiting the facility. I had actually initially invited my hon. Friend the Minister to come, but the Secretary of State clearly decided to steal it for himself, which is fair enough. The Secretary of State was really impressed by what he saw, particularly some of the nurse-led units, the huge integration with local GP practices near the site, and the fact that chemo services from across Durham had been moved to the hospital during the coronavirus outbreak—a sensible innovation to keep very vulnerable patients away from acute centres. That is something that has happened at Shotley Bridge that I hope will be replicated in other community hospitals across the country.

With Shotley Bridge now joining the list of 40 hospitals that the Government are committed to, I would like to offer my personal thanks, as well as that of many of my constituents, for the support that the Government are providing. The overall programme of over £3 billion is one of the largest capital investments for many years, and this is on top of the extra £33.9 billion a year that will be going into our NHS by 2023-24. That is helping to provide some of the excellent extra doctors and nurses we can now see starting to come through on the frontline. The announcement from the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary is obviously hugely welcome. However, I am not the sort of MP who will just go away and shut up, to borrow a phrase from a Government Minister I once worked for—although, I must add, not when I was a special adviser—so I would like to push the Minister on a few points about the announcement.

Last year, it was made clear that some of the moneys for the hospital had been secured, but they were well short of what would be required for a new facility, as outlined by the Secretary of State in his letter to me on 2 October. I would appreciate it if the Minister confirmed publicly the details of the Secretary of State’s letter to me, which included a new 16-bed hospital, unscheduled care services and out-patient services, including chemotherapy and X-rays.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate. He is right about the community support in not only his constituency but North Durham, which the hospital also serves. If the moneys are in place, that is welcome news, but there seems to be confusion locally about where the site will be and whether there will be 16 beds. Does he have an update on those details?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for mentioning that. My understanding is that there are still three sites under discussion, but it will be around Consett. I am pushing the Minister on whether there will be 16 beds, because that is what was in the Secretary of State’s letter to me, and I want to ensure that that is the case.

Those community beds are needed for respite and other things in the area, and the hon. Gentleman is right about the cancer treatment done at the trust, but the CCG wrote to me this week saying that there is not yet clarification about whether there will be 16 beds.

We are both pushing the Minister on that exact point.

Crucially, I would like the Minister to confirm that Government funding from the hospital programme will cover the difference between moneys sourced so far from local trusts—the £17 million confirmed last year—and whatever will be needed for this facility. It is great to see capital investment delivering on the levelling-up agenda on which I was elected. It is not all about capital—it is also about investment in schools, so it was great to hear the investment announced last week in skills and training—but part of it is, because communities like mine feel that over decades, they have not been given a fair crack of the whip and have been left behind.

I would also like the Minister to confirm that this will not be done under any form of private finance initiative deal, which my constituents have mentioned. They are concerned that, over the last few years, and especially under the last Labour Government, hospitals have been left with essentially very large debts, which caused them problems in the longer term. That has afflicted hospitals and facilities across County Durham.

Finally, I want to highlight the great work done at Shotley Bridge and by all the great NHS staff across County Durham and Darlington, some of whom were seriously ill, and a couple of whom died from covid. There are a lot of local questions about covid at the moment. Could the Minister talk a bit about the work he is doing to ensure that none of the measures taken at either a local or national level—including those asked for by local authorities in our area—will be in place any longer than they need to be? We want to see our communities back up and running as quickly as possible and providing the healthcare services that people want across the board.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on securing a debate on this important issue. His timeliness in doing so is, as ever, perfect, as was his impressive history lesson and his relating that history of the hospital to the present.

The future of Shotley Bridge Hospital is, as my hon. Friend said, an issue that this House has become familiar with in recent months, through his regularly raising it in the Chamber on behalf of his constituents and his local campaigning on it—something well attested to on his website and well reported in recent weeks in both the Chronicle and Consett Magazine. As he said, he kindly invited me to visit his constituency to see Shotley Bridge Hospital for myself. However, I cannot blame him for upgrading last month and securing a visit instead from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, although I hope I might yet enjoy North West Durham and County Durham hospitality and a welcome if my invitation still stands.

The invitation definitely still stands, and the Minister is welcome whenever he would like to visit.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Having secured that re-invitation, I look forward to that. I would like to put on record, as he did in his speech, my thanks to all who work in Shotley Bridge Hospital and more broadly in the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust for the amazing work they have done for his constituents and more broadly during the pandemic, and indeed for the care that they all provide day in, day out, all year round, regardless of the public health context.

Shotley Bridge Hospital is, as my hon. Friend said, a key part of the local healthcare landscape in the services it provides, but he has effectively made the case that it has the potential to do even more. I know that the sustainability and transformation plan set out the long-term approach to the strategic delivery of health services in these areas, but the CCG and the trust itself have undertaken considerable work on this as well. As I say, the staff are doing an amazing job, but the current hospital faces challenges. In the last financial year—I am sure my hon. Friend will correct me if I get this wrong—it had total running costs of around £1.7 million and £570,000 annual maintenance costs simply to keep the buildings working. These annual costs are a challenge, but so too is the nature of the physical space, including its usage of the current site and the access to it.

The case for, and commitment to, the hospital is clear. As I understand it, there has already been a consultation on elements of this matter in spring 2019. I was therefore extremely pleased that my hon. Friend’s campaigning had paid off and that a new hospital for Shotley Bridge was included in the list relating to the £3.7 billion investment in 40 new hospitals to be built, which my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister announced late last week. This is a reflection of a Government delivering on their pledge to build 40 new hospitals, and it is a fantastic example of this Government delivering on their commitment to levelling up.

This new hospital for the people of North West Durham, and indeed more broadly, reflects the healthcare needs of the local population and the local context. As I understand it, the CCG and the trust are continuing to work out the details and consult further, and I encourage my hon. Friend to continue to work closely with them in that endeavour, as I believe he is doing. Let there be no doubt about what he has achieved with this announcement, less than a year after being elected and after a decade of this matter barely being raised in this House. I make an honourable exception to that, because I know that the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) has continued to raise it, and that he has worked with my hon. Friend. However, I know that it is my hon. Friend’s passion, as the Member for North-West Durham, that has delivered this result.

I congratulate the hon. Member for North West Durham (Mr Holden) on his efforts, but a lot of work has been done on this over many years, including by many councillors. I know that the hon. Gentleman mentioned councillors, but he excluded the Labour councillors and Durham County Council, who have been working with the CCG and others to deliver this. It is something that will benefit the entire area, and yes, I congratulate him, but the important thing is that a lot of this work was done before he even knew where Consett was.

I suspect that my hon. Friend has long known where Consett is, and he has been campaigning hard since his election, but I shall take the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention in the spirit in which it is meant. I have alluded to his work on this, which is only right, but he is right to point out, in relation to my earlier references to the work that had been done previously during the consultation by the CCG and others, that I should also recognise the work done by councillors and other local campaigners and, indeed, by local people in that context.

The new hospital for the people of North West Durham —and the broader region, as the right hon. Gentleman rightly says—will be part of a model of care developed to reflect the healthcare needs of that local population. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham, in working to understand those healthcare needs and working with others, as is his way, has secured agreement for the delivery and funding of one of his key local election pledges when he stood for this House in 2019. To answer some of his questions specifically, we will fund this new hospital, and I have no intention of that being through a PFI.

My hon. Friend has been clear, and I agree with him, that this new hospital will not only contain, as he has set out, an enhanced range of services, but, crucially, those in-patient beds that he has been so very clear about. As the trust and others work through—

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(James Morris.)

Mr Deputy Speaker, I should have seen that coming. As a former member of the Procedure Committee, I should have remembered it would be coming. However, I will pick up where I left off.

My hon. Friend’s commitment is clear, and I agree with him that those in-patient beds are absolutely crucial. I know, initially, there was some talk or some suggestion of no in-patient beds or of a small number. He has been very clear that the number needs to be 16, and I heed what he says.

I look forward to receiving the detailed business cases in the coming months and—presuming, as my hon. Friend and other hon. Members would expect, that they meet the standards we would expect for the spending of public money and robust project delivery—to approving them and securing their approval from the Treasury. I also look forward, subject to that consent being forthcoming, to seeing construction start in 2022-23, I hope, with a swift construction so that his constituents and those of the right hon. Member for North Durham can enjoy the facilities of a new hospital as swiftly as possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham mentioned one other point, which was about restrictions related to tackling the covid pandemic—and, indeed, their impact on the health service and the provision of normal health services—only being in place as long as they are necessary to protect public health. I entirely agree with him. None of us wishes to see them in place a day longer than they are necessary to achieve that primary purpose, but regrettably, they do remain necessary at the moment to ensure the safety of patients and others accessing those services.

The subject of this debate is the future of Shotley Bridge Hospital. Thanks to the staff at the hospital it has a bright future and thanks to the local people, local campaigners and their passion for this hospital it has a bright future, but thanks to my hon. Friend it has an incredibly bright future. He has secured that future—that brighter future—through his campaigning and his success in his campaign. His is a plan about which, if I recall correctly, according to a survey of local residents or local constituents he undertook, 92% of those responding agreed with the approach he is proposing.

This is a Government who deliver on our pledges, and my hon. Friend is a local MP who delivers on his pledges to his constituents. They are lucky to have him representing them in this place. He is a strong voice for them, and he has played a central role in delivering that brighter future for Shotley Bridge Hospital.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.