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New Airedale Hospital

Volume 697: debated on Tuesday 15 June 2021

I beg to move,

That this House has considered a new Airedale Hospital.

I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I am grateful to Mr Speaker for granting this urgent debate—it is urgent for reasons that I will outline in my speech—and giving me the opportunity to continue my campaign in this place for a new Airedale Hospital in my constituency. I would also like to record my thanks to the Minister, who has met me on multiple occasions to allow me to raise the issue with him.

I am lucky enough to represent such a diverse constituency. My constituency is home to different towns, different communities and, with that, different challenges. Yet one thing that I hear from all four corners of my constituency—be it in Keighley, Ilkley, Silverstone, Worth Valley or any other part of my constituency—is that Airedale Hospital needs and deserves a rebuild. I am not alone, because the issue is being raised by many constituents.

Airedale Hospital serves a huge catchment that reaches right up into the Yorkshire Dales and into Lancashire, serving many residents in West Yorkshire. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), whose constituents benefit directly from the hospital’s services, is also fully behind my campaign for a new rebuild, as are my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) and my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson). They have all worked tirelessly with me on our joint endeavour to secure the hospital long into the future. Even the Chancellor’s constituents use the Airedale.

I will outline the background and explain why my ask for a rebuild of the hospital is urgent and very important to our communities. The Airedale employs over 3,500 members of staff and volunteers, serving a population of 200,000 while providing training and education, creating lifelong careers for many of my constituents. The hospital was opened in 1970, construction having started in the 1960s. The original life expectancy of the 1960s build was only 30 years, but last year we celebrated the hospital’s 50th birthday.

Like many buildings constructed in the 1960s, the hospital is constructed predominantly from reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete, or RAAC—aerated concrete for short. That material is widely known for its structural deficiencies. A staggering 83% of the hospital is made from this material, including the roof—the Airedale has the largest NHS hospital flat roof in the country, compared with any other NHS asset. That does not help when you take into account our lovely Yorkshire weather. Given our geography, our area where the Airedale Hospital is situated is one of the wettest areas in the UK. Coupled with its 1960s-design flat roof, that means that the Airedale unfortunately experiences more leaks than any other hospital in the country, creating challenges with water pooling, which of course increases the weight on the concrete roof panels. It also means that the flat roof soaks up the hot summer sun, and years of heat, rain and frost through the tough winter months all take their toll on the current design of the building.

While many of these 1960s constructions have come and gone, Airedale Hospital remains. It is thought to be the oldest aerated concrete hospital in the UK. Aerated concrete is present in the roof and walls and the hospital is the only NHS trust asset that has aerated concrete in its floor panels. In fact, in total the hospital has over 50,000 aerated concrete panels, which is five times more than any other hospital affected by reinforced aerated concrete design.

Aerated concrete is known to have about one 20th of the strength of normal concrete. The Building Research Establishment has identified that aerated concrete roof panels are prone to fail when deflections between 50 mm and 90 mm come about. It is deeply concerning that Airedale Hospital has identified a significant number of aerated concrete panels with deflections approaching that threshold.

Time is of the essence. I cannot stress enough to the Minister how important and urgent this is. The warning signs are there for everybody to see, hence my lobbying hard with colleagues for a complete new rebuild of the Airedale Hospital, so that we can completely remove the risks of aerated concrete construction. My worry is that no matter how much surveying and mitigation works are undertaken, all we are doing is delaying the potential risk of a collapse at a later date.

The Minister will be well aware, from our previous conversations, of a school in Scotland where the roof, constructed by aerated concrete, unexpectedly collapsed in May 2019. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed, but that was a matter of timing and luck, nothing else. The collapse was not due to mislaid bricks or improper contracting. The Standing Committee on Structural Safety concluded in its report:

“The cause of the collapse was a shear failure due to inadequate bearing following some structural alterations made by the school. The failure was triggered by outfall gutters becoming blocked which allowed ponding of water on the roof to quickly build up during a storm”.

I understand from previous reports by the Building Research Establishment that it was thought that aerated concrete planks gave adequate warning through visual deterioration before failing. However, recent failings, including the school roof collapse in Scotland in May 2019, showed that this can no longer be relied on. It is therefore necessary to reconsider maintenance and inspection regimes. In fact, the same Committee issued an alert stating that pre-1980 aerated concrete panels

“are now past their expected service life”.

I reiterate that my hospital was built in the 1960s.

The reality is that the longer the hospital remains in its current state, the greater the possibility that such a tragic event could happen, if action is not taken. Should there be such a collapse, even if only in one small part of the hospital, imagine the consequences: the impact on life, services and the day-to-day operations of our much-loved hospital.

I have had several visits to the hospital since becoming an MP, including going on to the roof to see the issues for myself. I also visited parts of the hospital that are currently closed to the public, sealed off for reasons directly linked to mitigating the risk from the fact that the hospital is built from aerated concrete.

When one thinks of how much we rely on the NHS every day, particularly over the past year, the idea of any hospital, or even just a small part of it, having to shut its doors temporarily really hits home. Members of Airedale’s trust have also made it clear to me their fear of a loss of public confidence in the hospital, given its structural deficiencies. Such a loss of confidence would be through no fault of their own. They have a brilliant team and I have been working incredibly closely with them. However, it demonstrates why the problem must be dealt with as soon as possible. The more time goes on without acting, the greater the risk of structural failure.

What is currently being done to mitigate such risk? The Airedale NHS Foundation Trust performs several procedures to try and mitigate the dangers created by aerated concrete. It carries out regular inspections of the hospital, but those inspections have found more than 500 related structural failure incidents caused by aerated concrete, including 27 cracked concrete panels, 327 roof leaks and one incident of falling debris. The trust is regularly forced to make changes within the hospital to deal with those problems and ensure that it can operate.

During the winter months, the trust must act quickly to remove rainwater and snow to prevent the flat roof from leaking and ensure that gulley drains remain unblocked. As one would expect, that work comes at significant cost and the trust has already had approval for emergency funding of £15 million, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The backlog maintenance for the site currently stands at £480 million, making it financially unviable to consider removing or replacing aerated concrete from the existing structure.

Of course, it is not just about the maintenance cost; it is also about the impact on healthcare service. The trust has predicted that if a temporary closure were to happen, 45,000 referrals to treatment across West Yorkshire and Harrogate would be delayed. Some 60,000 diagnostic tests and procedures, including MRI scans and ultrasound therapy treatments, and 2,000 maternity deliveries would also be affected. Overall, the trust has estimated that if an emergency closure were to happen, up to 346,000 patients across the local area could be affected. Those are chilling figures that make a new Airedale Hospital a necessity.

A modular approach has been suggested and provides a potential means to regenerate Airedale Hospital, in line with the Department for Health’s commitment to eradicating aerated concrete from NHS buildings by 2035. In my view, while that is an option, it comes with significant challenges in terms of structural connectivity with existing parts of the building—not to mention the impact on the provision of healthcare services. We cannot forget that the trust’s independent structural engineers’ report warns that the hospital’s aerated concrete panels must be replaced by no later than 2030, which is in only nine years’ time. I make my case and I know that the Minister, with whom I have had many a meeting and conversation, gets my concerns. However, we need action and we need to make decisions now.

As I continue to lobby with my right hon. and hon. neighbours, Airedale Hospital continues to provide an incredible service to many of my constituents in Keighley and Ilkley, as well as the wider area. A service delivered by incredible doctors and nurses, and other NHS staff, with a real sense of duty. At this point, I must extend my personal thanks to Brendan Brown, the chief executive of the Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, and his team, and of course I also thank Friends of Airedale, a fantastic local charity whose volunteers do so much to help staff and patients.

We need to look ahead at what the next stage is for Airedale Hospital. I am delighted to say that the trust has provided an ambitious, detailed and affordable plan for a complete new rebuild that we can make into a reality. The proposals are convenient, in that they would not disrupt the current workings of Airedale Hospital in the same way the current problems do, or in the same way that any sticking-plaster approach would. A strategic outline case was completed in January 2021, when a full appraisal recommended that the most cost-effective and future-proof solution would be to build a new hospital for Airedale within the 43-acre grounds owned by the trust. That work could be completed in as little as three years from sign off.

These are exciting plans, with a strong environmental case. The Airedale trust’s vision is to create Europe’s first carbon-neutral and fully digitally enabled hospital, with the capabilities to generate renewable energy on site. The financial, environmental and practical case for a new Airedale hospital is clear for all to see, and I am delighted to invite the Minister to come and join me, chief executive Brendan Brown and his brilliant team for a visit to the Airedale, so that we can continue our discussions and get some concrete commitment from him that a new rebuild is the way forward.

Of course, I welcome the announcement that the Government will invest in another eight new-build hospitals, but we want to have an update now on how and when we will be able to bid for this funding, and to know whether those eight places will be ring-fenced for NHS trusts with hospitals that have the highest risk profile.

I will end by sending a message that is loud and clear to the Minister. I cannot stress enough the urgency of this issue and the desperate need for clarity now, so that we can take matters forward in a sensible manner and so that we are not simply throwing good money after bad. I am not in the game of seeking a make-do or half-hearted approach to solve this challenge. Given the facts, the high structural risk profile of the Airedale hospital—the highest of any hospital in the UK—the solution I seek is a complete new rebuild to eliminate any risk and to provide the healthcare service at the Airedale site long into the future for many generations to come.

I have known you a very long time, Sir Edward, so it is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship in this place.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Robbie Moore) on securing this debate. I know that since his election to this House, he has worked tirelessly for his constituency, not just on healthcare matters but in representing all of his constituents’ needs, particularly, in the context of my role within Government, on the issue of the hospital estate at Airedale.

Quite rightly and justifiably, my hon. Friend thanked the team there and I hope that he will allow me to join him in doing so. I ask him to pass on to them my thanks for everything they have done, not just during the past extraordinary 18 months, when they have been amazing, but year in and year out. They do so not only for his constituents but for those of the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith), and of course my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I know that all of them join with him in pressing the case for a rebuild of Airedale General Hospital.

In a sense, my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley is also putting his money where his mouth is, because, if I correctly recall my reading of Keighley News, one of the things that he is doing—he is certainly a braver, or at least fitter, man than I to do it—is running 100 km in, I think, 10 weeks, to raise money for a number of charities, including Friends of Airedale, which he rightly paid tribute to. I wish him all the very best with that.

As my hon. Friend alluded to, I had the pleasure of meeting him and other local MPs back in February to discuss this important matter; indeed, he and I have spoken about it on several occasions. Since his election to the House, he has never missed an opportunity to lobby me, very politely but firmly, and to raise this issue with the Secretary of State and I, on behalf of his constituents.

My hon. Friend set out the history of the hospital site and quite rightly highlighted the vital issue, which is the fact that reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete—the light form of concrete used primarily for roofs from the mid-1950s to the mid-1980s—is the key component part of these buildings. He also quite rightly highlighted the limited durability of RAAC roofs, saying that it has been long recognised but that recent experience suggests the problem may be more serious than previously appreciated.

My hon. Friend also highlighted in his comments that surveying is continuing at Airedale General Hospital to assess fully the extent and condition of the RAAC planks, and I believe that completion of that survey is expected in the coming months. I have asked to be updated when that full survey becomes available. However, I understand that preliminary survey findings have found issues relating to the deflection of rack panels, which I know caused his trust concern.

I fully recognise the need to invest in improving health infrastructure across the country. These safety risks are no different, and my hon. Friend emphasised the urgency of this. At the spending review 2020, courtesy of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, we provided the NHS with £4.2 billion in 2021 for operational capital investment to allow hospitals to maintain and refurbish their infrastructure, including a £110 million ring-fenced allocation to address the most serious and immediate risks posed by RAAC planks. Within that ring-fenced allocation, as my hon. Friend mentioned, is a significant multimillion-pound allocation earmarked to mitigate RAAC risks at his local hospital. That will go towards re-roofing, as well as decant facilities while work is under way, helping to improve safety for patients and staff. We will continue to review business cases and progress at RAAC-affected trusts, including his, to ensure that we make the full and best use of all those funds over the coming year.

My hon. Friend highlights an important point: at what point does fixing or mitigating something cost more than actually eliminating the risk by having a modern, fit-for-purpose facility going forward? I fully recognise the need to mitigate RAAC risk beyond this year, alongside further investment in mitigation, which I have to confess will be a matter for my right hon Friends the Chief Secretary of the Treasury and Chancellor in the spending review. My hon. Friend would not expect me to pre-empt them, as that can sometimes have unfortunate consequences.

My hon. Friend will know, in that context, that RAAC remediation is not the only area we are investing in at Airedale, because of course on top of that the foundation trust received just shy of £250,000 to upgrade its emergency department from the wider package of £450 million for A&E improvements announced last year by the Prime Minister. Last year, the trust also received a £1.7 million allocation to address backlog maintenance at Airedale General Hospital from the £600-million critical infrastructure risk fund.

Of course, my hon. Friend wants me to speak about the future. He highlighted his strong campaign for investment in a new hospital for his constituents beyond the investment we are making to manage and mitigate the immediate risks. As he will be aware, the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary confirmed that 40 new hospitals will be built by 2030, with funding of £3.7 billion confirmed for the first tranche. I know my hon. Friend was disappointed that Airedale was not in that first tranche, but as is typical of him—ever undaunted—he continued his campaign to persuade the Government with ever-renewed vigour. I can offer him some hope on that, in terms of the prospects for the eight hospitals to which he referred.

An open process will be run to identify those eight further new schemes, delivering on the Government’s manifesto commitment. He asked a couple of specific questions about those, which I will endeavour, in so far as I can, to answer now. The details of this, the criteria and how that process will be run are due to be announced soon, with a generous period for trusts and sustainability and transformation plan and integrated care system partners to respond. To put a little bit more colour on that, I hope that we will be able to make that announcement of the process before the summer recess. I will of course keep him fully aware of progress on that.

My hon. Friend also asked about funding and how it might be allocated. Again, with the caveat that I cannot pre-empt any spending review announcement and the Chancellor’s decision on that, I would not anticipate that all eight of those would be ring-fenced for hospitals such as his. However, I would say, which I think will encourage him, that clearly one of the key criteria and considerations in the allocation of whatever funding is made available will have to be safety considerations and the urgency of any need for a new hospital. That will not be the only factor, but I reassure him that the Secretary of State and I will bear that very much in mind. I also reassure him that any trusts that receive and spend money in the interim to mitigate safety issues will not find that having undertaken that work will in any way count against them in a bid for a new hospital. It will be fairly and openly considered. I am sure the points he has made will be reflected in that.

We continue to work closely with trusts and regions to ensure that the criteria for selection best meets the needs of the NHS both nationally and locally and, of course, achieves value for money for the taxpayer. In that context, those schemes that we will consider will be based on the balance of benefits realised for staff, patients and local communities, condition—going to the safety point—and affordability and value for money.

As part of a national programme, seeking to achieve value for money, we will look for a greater degree of standardisation across those new hospitals, with modern methods of construction and modular builds, where appropriate. I note my hon. Friend’s points and, should we get to that point, I suspect he will want to be engaged in the discussions to ensure we get value for money. Were his hospital to get the go-ahead, it would also deliver what is needed locally. As my hon. Friend touched on in his speech, we are looking for new hospitals to be digitally fit for the future, clean, green and sustainable.

I suspect my hon. Friend will continue, until I, the Secretary of State or the Chancellor relent, to make the firm case for Airedale’s inclusion in our hospital building programme of those next eight. I very much look forward to seeing the bids for the remaining slots when the time comes for them to be submitted. I suspect, though I cannot pre-empt it, that his hospital might be one of those bids that I see put forward by the trusts.

In conclusion, as ever I want to commend my hon. Friend’s work to raise support for Airedale hospital, and personally raise money for the friends of the hospital. On numerous occasions in this House, he has raised the estate issues faced by his hospital. We are taking action in the short term to help mitigate those risks, but he continues to make the case for the long term. His constituents are incredibly lucky to have a Member of Parliament who is so assiduous and determined in carrying out his role in representing them to Government and in this place.

He kindly invited me to sunny Airedale—hopefully sunny, if I go in summer—to visit the hospital and the trust, and I would be delighted to take him up on that. He may face the challenge, given my risk of vertigo, of getting me up on the roof, though I suspect that will not deter him from trying to persuade me to see the issues for myself. I am happy to come and visit him and other right hon. and hon. Friends in the area.

More broadly, I look forward to continuing to work closely with him; my right hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon; the Minister of State, Department for Transport, my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle; and my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, in seeking to deliver on the Government’s ambition of levelling up and improving the NHS services available across the country to our constituents.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.