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North Tees Hospital

Volume 702: debated on Thursday 28 October 2021

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

I understand that Mr Cunningham has sought permission to speak briefly in this debate, and that Mr Vickers and the Minister have agreed, so after Mr Vickers has resumed his seat, I will call Mr Cunningham to speak.

I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to the House for the opportunity to hold this important and urgent debate, and to the Minister for his attention this evening. After much time spent securing the debate, I am delighted to have the chance to make the case for much-needed and urgent improvements to North Tees Hospital.

I pay tribute to all the amazing healthcare workers—the doctors, nurses, technicians, cleaners, and anyone who had a hand in making sure that our hospitals, including North Tees, stayed afloat during the pandemic. While many retreated to the safety of their own homes, they got on with the job, putting themselves at risk, to help keep us safe. We owe them all a huge debt of gratitude. I was recently fortunate enough to undertake a shift alongside the doctors, nurses and surgeons at North Tees Hospital, and I saw for myself the challenges that they are facing and the sheer scale of the elective surgery backlog created by the pandemic. Doctors and surgeons are being forced to make decisions on who gets their treatment first: the elderly lady who needs a hip replacement to deal with her arthritis or the youngster who needs surgery after a sporting accident.

Dealing with this backlog involves us all making the difficult decisions that are required to get our NHS back to full health. While none of us on the Conservative Benches wanted to increase national insurance or create the health and social care levy, having seen the waiting lists, and seen the work our surgeons are doing, I am confident it was the right thing to do. This funding is what our constituents need and what our hospitals so desperately need. Of course, this money comes on top of the record investment that the Conservative Government are placing in the NHS, with 50,000 more nurses, 50 million more GP appointments a year, and, as announced yesterday, an additional £5.9 billion, taking the total investment to date to £176.5 billion—a 27% increase since the Conservatives came into government in 2010. In the past year, we have welcomed £6.5 million invested in North Tees, including huge improvements to our now award-winning urgent care centre.

Seeing the hard work and commitment of all the people who work and volunteer at North Tees Hospital is inspirational, and the people there really are award-winning. Dr Iain Loughran, one of the physiotherapy consultants, won an award at the chief allied health professions officer awards for creating an app for physiotherapists who were deployed during the pandemic; nursing associate Lisa Tomlinson was shortlisted for the rising star award for her work as an ambassador for cervical cancer after beating the illness herself; and volunteer Stephen Pratt was awarded the British Empire Medal as part of the Queen’s new year honours. These incredible people deserve the facilities and resources they need to go about their great work.

Built in 1968, the hospital serves a population of 400,000 people—a population with some of the highest health inequalities and highest rates of deprivation in the country. It is a heartbreaking and outrageous fact that, according to Public Health England, Stockton has the nation’s biggest gaps in life expectancy. In central Stockton, male life expectancy is just 64 years, while just a few miles up the road a man can expect to live to 85. This cannot go on; it has to change. When it comes to levelling up, people’s life expectancy must surely be a priority, and delivering good health services is the key to that.

Unfortunately, the North Tees Hospital building does not live up to the standard fit for the great people who work there and the patients treated there. During my shift, I got to see the challenges of the estate and the staff’s frustrations. The building was constructed in the 1960s. It is a concrete building constructed at a time when medical needs and processes were very different, and the architects had no foresight when it came to design. As a result, the hospital is in a state of poor repair and is pulling resources from frontline services to address its issues. Structural and engineering elements of the major buildings are now well beyond their life expectancy. The NHS workers in my patch, who have worked with determination and perseverance to make the best of the facilities they have, have said that this is putting the trust’s ability to provide good care at risk.

It is time to replace this hospital, which is far past its sell-by date. The fact that the hospital is comprised of two towers, which host both wards and theatres, means that piecemeal improvement or ongoing gradual investments will struggle to ever make the change needed. It is not practical and barely possible to extend a ward or theatre above the ground floor. The building has a flat roof, and as a result the building suffers hugely during adverse weather conditions. Nobody should be greeted by buckets catching water from leaky roofs when sat in A&E, in a ward or when in theatre or losing a loved one. At those tough times, we need to do better than that.

The hospital is no longer fit for purpose. By national health building note standards, our wards are way too small, with too many shared rooms. HNB guidance suggests that 85% of rooms should be single occupancy. In our trust, the proportion of single rooms is just 16%. Our theatres are also far too small. HNB standards suggest that theatres should be 55 square metres, while some theatres at North Tees are just 28 square metres. That has a huge impact on what can be done in them. There is not the space for modern technology and robotics. Not being able to have that equipment means that some patients must go elsewhere for certain surgery. Moreover, it results in some surgery taking longer to perform and it extends recovery times, so longer surgery slots are filled more quickly and more time is spent in hospital beds.

Improving isolation facilities on wards, improving clinical adjacencies and increasing the number of single-bed rooms are all options that would improve health outcomes in Stockton South, but they can only be achieved if we invest now. No amount of paint slapped on the hospital and no amount of plastering over the cracks could hide the fact that it is no longer fit for purpose. A six-facet survey was recently conducted, and it concluded that demolition and replacement was by far the best option. The costs are only one of the factors that justify that approach.

The trust continues to invest significant capital in maintaining the facilities in a safe and operational condition, but the six-facet survey indicates a steep increase in the backlog, with more than £250 million-worth of maintenance to be undertaken in the next 10 years as a “do minimum” option. On the other hand, the consolidation of services on to a new hospital site would have estimated savings of between £5 million and £6 million a year. My trust does not want to spend millions each year maintaining a crumbling building; it wants to spend the money on doctors and nurses and improving health outcomes.

By far the most important justification for this proposal is the improved care it would provide for my constituents and others. A new modernised estate could support a health management programme that would address some of the health inequalities that exist in communities such as mine, because, sadly, we are still more likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or heart conditions or die earlier than the average citizen. Those problems are set only to get worse as our population ages.

Aside from that investment, there are so many other opportunities up for grabs that could revolutionise healthcare in North Tees. As the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the future of retail, I am a huge advocate of the “Health on the High Street” initiative, which I have been championing locally. By decentralising NHS estates and putting diagnostic centres in empty buildings on our high streets, we can bring healthcare closer to people’s doorsteps and bring some desperately needed footfall to our town centres. During the last year, I have taken that idea to my local NHS trust, and there is now a strong possibility of developing a hospital with diagnostic facilities in our town centres, but it all costs money, and we need cash in Stockton.

If there is one other thing we can do that would make the NHS fit for the future, it is getting rid of Labour’s crippling private finance initiative deals. The James Cook University Hospital, which is not in my patch, but serves many of my constituents, has a PFI scheme that costs £57 million a year. That is more than £1 million every single week and £18 million more than an equivalent hospital trust would ever have to pay. It is ridiculous. That £18 million could pay for 530 nurses in our hospitals.

I was delighted that the Conservative Chancellor announced in 2018 that those dodgy debt-loading schemes would no longer be used, but if we want to put the NHS on a surer footing, we need to get rid of the schemes that remain and hold it back. I ask the Minister to look again at what can be done to end Labour’s debt legacy on the James Cook University Hospital, so that that money can be spent on nurses, doctors and improving the health outcomes of people from our part of the world.

I will return to my main ask before I finish. To eradicate the risks associated with an ageing estate that is no longer up to the job, a new 21st-century hospital for Stockton is a must do. Now is not the time for sticking plaster. We cannot go on throwing good money after bad to maintain a building that is just not fit for purpose.

I hope that Ministers will back the bid that has been put forward by North Tees, so that we can build a new North Tees that is fit for the future, fit for patients, and fit for staff. I know that the Government are committed to modernising the NHS and have announced a massive investment that will fund healthcare across the region. The Minister is probably sick of hearing from me on the issue, but I will not give up until the amazing doctors, nurses and staff have the modern facilities and resources that they deserve.

In the light of that, I invite the Minister to the hospital to see the challenges and the improvements that must be made. If his diary does not allow that, however, North Tees will happily take a nice big cheque instead.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), my next-door neighbour, and to the Minister for agreeing to me making a short contribution to the debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South on securing it. I am pleased to see him following in the footsteps of Lord Wharton and Dr Paul Williams in championing the case for North Tees Hospital.

The speech of the hon. Member for Stockton South was excellent. I did not agree with everything he said, but it certainly made the case that many of us have been making for some time that we must have a new hospital in North Tees. Last year, the then Secretary of State visited North Tees and learned for himself—I hope the Minister will too—not just of the challenges we face with an outdated hospital, but of the plans and systems being developed to drive change and better healthcare in our area, where health inequalities are some of the greatest in the country, as the hon. Member for Stockton South said.

I have been calling for a new hospital to be built in Stockton for more than 11 years after the planned one was axed by the then Tory-Lib Dem Government. I often wonder what the health of our area would be like if that hospital had gone ahead. I wrote to the Minister in February requesting an update on the possibility of funding for the development work. To his credit, he has acknowledged that he owes me a letter. I am also grateful that he met the chief executive officer and the then chairman of the trust at my request just before that.

I will give a few short reminders. In Stockton North, 7.4% of the population suffer from asthma, which is higher than the 6.5% in England. In England, the level of COPD among the population is 1.9%, which rises in my constituency to 3.1%. Men in the town centre of Stockton-on-Tees, in both North and South constituencies, live 18 years less than their peers down the road. That inequality is appalling, but not inevitable.

I believe that the Minister is a good Minister—I do not say that very often—who wants to help and who recognises our challenges, but we need action now. We ask him to come good. We challenge him to join the two Stockton MPs as a champion for North Tees and convince the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister that we and our people need that hospital. We look forward to good news soon.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) and the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) for their words. Without prejudging what the application process for a future new hospital might come up with, in contrast to the hon. Member for Stockton North, I agree entirely with the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South in what was, as ever, an extremely powerful exposition, on behalf of his constituents, of the need for a new hospital. I congratulate him on securing the debate. He has been a tireless campaigner on behalf of North Tees Hospital ever since he entered this place, and he continues to be a great advocate for the people of Teesside and Stockton on healthcare and many other matters. They are extremely lucky to have him representing them in this place.

I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Stockton North for his kind words about me. I will bank that, though I may consider it an asset that needs to be renewed from time to time and not one that lasts in perpetuity. He mentioned how, when he raised the matter at Health questions earlier in the week, I said that I owe him an update letter. I undertake to write to him and to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South jointly to set out an update on the issue outwith the debate.

My hon. Friend was right to highlight that these have been incredibly challenging times for our NHS, including for the staff at North Tees Hospital and those across the trust and the country. I join him in expressing my gratitude to all of them for the work they have done and their dedication and commitment to caring for all his constituents and people across the region. I also pay tribute to him for the shift that he undertook at the hospital.

Before I turn to the substance of the case made by my hon. Friend, he kindly invited me to join him on a visit. I am due to bring my wellies to visit my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher), who secured a commitment for a visit earlier this week. If we can find a way to add that to the tour that it looks like I may be undertaking around the country, I look forward to visiting him and the hon. Member for Stockton North in the not-too-distant future.

Given that I have also committed to visiting places in Norfolk and—I think—Lancashire, it will be a pretty big tour. That is all I will say.

As I said, I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South on his campaign on behalf of the hospital and on the dynamism that he has brought to it and to this place. He set out clearly the context of the hospital in terms of his constituency and the healthcare needs of his constituents. Two things that he said in particular struck me as very powerful statements. First, he set out the difference in life expectancy at 64 years compared with over 80 just up the road. Secondly, I was struck by the age of the hospital—it predates my existence, so it almost certainly predates his as well—and the impact that the design standards of that time and the ageing of the hospital has on its operation and maintenance costs as well as physically keeping it functioning as an acute hospital.

The Government have made clear our commitment to levelling up outcomes across the country, and that will certainly extend to benefiting the people of his constituency. To level up effectively, we need to improve health outcomes, and we are committed to reducing health disparities between the most and least deprived areas of the United Kingdom. Yesterday, as my hon. Friend said, the Chancellor confirmed that the Government are backing our NHS with a significant capital settlement including £5.9 billion to cut waiting lists as well as for surgical hubs, community diagnostic centres and IT improvements. That will create a step change in the quality and efficiency of care up and down the country. Of course, giving people greater opportunity to get diagnosed and scanned earlier may lead to an increase in the need for services at his hospital and others as people have their illnesses identified and need to have them treated. I will turn in a moment to his powerful plea for a new hospital.

My hon. Friend also touched on the critical need for trusts to maintain their estates. We are pleased to confirm that the spending review continues to back trusts with significant annual operational capital investment to do that, enabling them to maintain and refurbish their premises. Crucially, that is with multi-year predictability and certainty. We all know how, in capital spending, the longer the settlement in years, the easier it is both to plan for it and to get a better deal for the investment from those being employed to carry it out. More broadly, we previously confirmed an initial £3.7 billion over the four-year period from spending review 2020 to make progress on the building of 48 new hospitals by 2030. Thirty of the hospitals already announced are due to be built outside London and the south-east. Of course that comes on top of additional funding to upgrade hospitals.

My hon. Friend is, as ever, passionate and persistent in putting the case for North Tees to be among these new hospitals, as is the hon. Gentleman. I reassure my hon. Friend that I never tire of having the opportunity to talk about this with him and having him putting the case to me; he is always very welcome to do so. I will turn shortly to the process and timelines for these additional eight new hospitals on top of those already announced, but first I want to highlight a little of the significant investment that North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust has seen in recent times.

That investment includes: £3.5 million as part of our 2020-21 critical infrastructure risk fund to help it address backlog maintenance across the locations of services in the trust; £3 million as part of our A&E upgrades fund for covid measures, including funding additional streaming capacity for the emergency department at the University Hospital of North Tees; and as part of our £200 million diagnostic investment to replace diagnostic machines that are more than 10 years old, the trust has received a new CT scanner that has been installed and operational since 2020 at University Hospital of Hartlepool.

Of course, we are aware of the need for further investment across the NHS estate, and that is why the Government have been doing ambitious work providing substantial capital investment to support the biggest hospital building programme in a generation. As my hon. Friend has already highlighted, the Government have launched the next phase of implementation for our hospital building programme. On 15 July we invited expressions of interest from trusts who wished to be considered for inclusion in the next wave. The deadline for submitting expressions of interest passed in early September and, without prejudicing the decision, I was pleased to receive a submission from the University Hospital of North Tees.

We are of course committed to a robust selection process for these next eight hospitals, and as such I am sure my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman will understand that I cannot comment on individual bids substantively while that selection is ongoing. The submission and assessment of expressions of interest is the first of a two-stage process for the selection of the next eight, to be followed by a more detailed process for long-listed schemes later in the year, considering schemes against multiple priorities, including: transforming services to deliver better, joined-up care; creating stronger and greener NHS buildings; and of course looking at need and the state of buildings that need to be replaced. Another key criterion is the fair allocation of investment by addressing levelling-up criteria. We aim to make and announce a final decision on the next eight hospitals in spring 2022.

My hon. Friend highlighted his concerns about private finance in the context of the legacy of the previous Labour Government and what that meant for his hospital trust. As he is aware, the Government have retired—that is the nice way of putting it—the private finance initiative used so extensively by previous Labour Governments, so, in future, new hospitals built for the NHS will no longer be privately financed. My Department continues to work with the NHS to do more to maximise the value of existing PFI contracts. I would encourage any trust concerned about their PFI contract to contact my officials for help. I continue to have discussions with Her Majesty’s Treasury more broadly and strategically about addressing the costly legacy of PFI in the NHS.

To conclude, I reiterate my gratitude, both to the hon. Member for Stockton North for the tenor in which he always approaches campaigning for his constituents and their hospital, but particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South for the work he is doing to support the refurbishment of North Tees Hospital. As I said, he brings a passion and a dynamism to this place on behalf of his constituents, and I am very conscious of the fact that, terrier-like, he will not let go until he has achieved what he seeks to achieve on behalf of his constituents. I commend him for that.

The Government are committed to delivering their improvement programmes to hospitals and the NHS estate across the country and look forward to delivering the step change in the quality and efficiency of care underpinned by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s announcements yesterday.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.