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Healthcare: Carshalton and Wallington

Volume 711: debated on Wednesday 30 March 2022

I will call Elliot Colburn to move the motion, and then call the Minister to respond. There will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up, as is the convention for 30-minute debates.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered healthcare outcomes in Carshalton and Wallington.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. It is also a pleasure to be here, because it is just over two years since I made my maiden speech in the Commons Chamber, when the House was debating the health and social care element of the Queen’s Speech, and I made it abundantly clear that afternoon that health and social care outcomes in Carshalton and Wallington would be a top priority for me, as they were for my constituents.

I want to read out some statistics that demonstrate why the issue is so important. I am particularly concerned about four areas of health, beginning with cancer. One in two, or 50%, of us will receive a cancer diagnosis in our lifetime. The London Borough of Sutton is very lucky to be home to the Surrey branch of the Royal Marsden and the Institute of Cancer Research. The plans for the London cancer hub will be truly groundbreaking in the UK and will deliver better cancer outcomes for all patients.

Dementia is another issue I am concerned about, after having my own family experience with it. There will be a predicted 25% increase in the number of people diagnosed with dementia in Carshalton and Wallington by 2030, which presents a huge challenge for health and social care services.

My third concern is obesity, which has got progressively worse—I have had my own struggles with obesity, having once been as heavy as 21 stone—so we need a decent obesity strategy to tackle the problem from a young age. My fourth concern is mental health. Throughout lockdown we saw how the rates of mental health cases spiked as people struggled to cope with isolation.

I am sure the House will be aware of my many contributions on health and social care issues, and one of the topics I raise most—unashamedly—is my local hospital, St Helier. I offer no apology for doing that, and it should come as no surprise that St Helier will feature as a major part of my speech today.

I was born at St Helier, as were most of my family. The hospital and the staff have supported my family and me through some of our darkest days and have saved the lives of people I know. They also saved my life at Christmas. It is difficult to articulate just how grateful I am, and the residents of Carshalton and Wallington are, for that local hospital and all the amazing work it does.

St Helier opened its doors in 1941, during the second world war. Despite a few bombings—and the birth of a former Prime Minister—the building has barely changed. At the time of construction it was considered a modern 1930s design, but almost a century later the way that we practise medicine has developed and improved, and the buildings are now anything but modern. Over recent years, particularly throughout the last two years of the pandemic, the limitations of that old building have become glaringly obvious. For example—this is one of the worst examples—some of the lifts are too small to fit a modern-day hospital bed, so money has to be spent on transferring patients from the back of the building to the front via ambulances.

When I made my maiden speech in the Chamber and spoke about St Helier, I never imagined that I would be serving as an MP during a global health pandemic. St Helier was hit hard by covid-19, as were all our hospitals across the country. I thank the staff for their tireless efforts and their uphill battle with the limitations of older facilities in trying to tackle the pandemic. There was a very worrying moment in the winter of 2020 when oxygen supplies nearly ran out, but thanks to the innovation and enthusiasm of the team there the situation was quickly resolved.

Over the 20th century, St Helier helped to raise our local care and health services to a much higher plane, but it is now time to take that care even higher. That is why I am incredibly grateful that the Government are using the nation’s resources to do just that by investing £500 million—half a billion pounds—in the NHS in Carshalton and Wallington. That does two things: it protects St Helier and Epsom hospitals, allowing them to make the improvements needed to become more modern medical facilities, and it allows us to have a third brand-new, state-of-the-art and built-from-scratch acute care hospital in Sutton. That record level of investment will do wonders to improve healthcare outcomes for local residents, so I am incredibly grateful to the NHS and colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care who developed the plan and allowed the funding for it to come forward.

I want to make it clear that, for the first time, the plan was developed by our local NHS services. We have heard so many times in this place about reorganisations of the NHS or plans for the NHS coming from politicians and bureaucrats, but this was an NHS-led initiative. The NHS came to the Government and asked for the funding, and I am so pleased that the Government listened.

It is therefore disappointing that my Lib Dem opposition in Carshalton and Wallington have turned their backs on St Helier and refused to support the £500 million investment. I would like to read out a statement I received only yesterday from a Lib Dem councillor, who does not want to be named but who is retiring and not re-contesting their seat at the elections in May:

“Hi Elliot, I wanted to pass this onto you as I think you’ve actually done a great job since taking over as the MP, but please don’t tell anyone I sent you this.

As you may know, I am standing down as a Lib Dem councillor. I was promised a lot by the party when I agreed to stand. I was told it would be easy and I’d be well paid, but it’s been hell frankly and the party’s been no help at all. I can’t keep asking my family to go through this.

I also cannot support my party’s u-turn on St Helier. We were all so excited when we heard the £500m was being announced for St Helier, but we were told we had to campaign against it as St Helier is one of the only reasons people used to vote Lib Dem.

This experience has not been what I was led to believe. I feel betrayed, let down and hurt.

Again, please don’t pass this onto anyone—they can be very angry and vindictive, anyone who raises any issue get shouted down, but keep up the good work, you have my support!”

That is a very striking and brave statement for someone to make, particularly to a member of an opposing party, and it demonstrates why it is so important to invest in St Helier Hospital.

I want to talk about the positives of the investment and why it is such good news. The new specialist emergency care hospital will treat the sickest 15% of patients in my constituency—those normally arriving by ambulance—and the specialist team will be available 24 hours a day to diagnose patients more rapidly, start the best treatment faster and help patients recover more quickly. St Helier and Epsom will also remain open 24/7, with updated and improved facilities. This will be absolutely ground-breaking for health and social care outcomes in Carshalton and Wallington. I cannot say how long we have waited for investment to come into St Helier. Time and again I have seen the threat of closure and loss of services, such as A&E and maternity going to St George’s, Tooting or Croydon, but they are now staying in the London borough of Sutton and can treat local patients, which is absolutely incredible news.

To reiterate, the purpose of the plans is to improve local health outcomes, which all my local residents want to see. Our priority has always been the outcomes for people’s health. Since the covid-19 pandemic hit, the NHS has slightly amended its plans for the project. It has learned from the pandemic to future-proof health and social care against future shocks. The new hospital ward designs will increase ventilation, and single room occupancy rates have gone up, which will help to reduce the risk of disease transmission.

In terms of timelines for the new project, a planning application is due to be submitted later this year. Over the next three years, some of the planned improvements will begin to be implemented at St Helier, including the building of a new pathology centre and a nursery. From 2025 onwards, the plan is to build a new main entrance to St Helier, to improve accessibility, and a new multi-storey car park, as well as to make major internal changes to A and D blocks and other improvements. As things stand, the new specialist hospital is due to open in 2026.

I have a number of quotes from local NHS professionals on why these changes are so important. When the independent reconfiguration panel last year backed the proposals for a new hospital and upgrades to Epsom and St Helier, it emphasised the need to expedite the project, stating:

“The problems facing the Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust are real and require urgent attention…The Panel understands the heightened sense of uncertainty created by Covid-19 but does not believe the interests of local health services will be served by pausing—rather work should proceed on the basis that there may well be benefits should another pandemic arise in the future.”

Commenting on the confirmation of the investment, Arlene Wellman, the chief nurse at Epsom and St Helier said:

“What covid-19 has shown the NHS is that for all our communities survival rates are higher if specialist hospital staff work together in one team, in one place to care for the sickest patients around the clock”.

Dr Andrew Murray, a GP and clinical chair of NHS South West London clinical commissioning group commented:

“Covid-19 has shown that there’s no time like the present to invest in our hospitals. Now more than ever we need to ensure the right healthcare services for local people”.

Finally, Surrey Downs integrated care partnership clinical chair and GP, Russell Hills, said:

“This pandemic shows we cannot afford to delay improving and modernising our local health services for the benefit of both patients and staff—and the independent analysis of feedback shows there is clear support for this vital investment.”

It is clear that the £500 million investment in our local healthcare system is much needed and very much welcomed by the NHS.

I hope the Minister will be able to provide an update on work on the project, which should be expedited and delivered as soon as possible. As always, I am more than happy to meet her and her departmental colleagues to discuss the issue, alongside my hon. Friends the Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), for Sutton and Cheam (Paul Scully) and for Reigate (Crispin Blunt), who have been fighting for this project longer than I have been in the House.

Unfortunately, attempts to frustrate the delivery of this record investment will no doubt continue for reasons of political point scoring. Nevertheless, I am not deterred, and I hope the Government will not be deterred. I am proud of what we are trying to achieve—prioritising health outcomes above everything else—so let us get on with the job and raise the plane of health and social care delivery, which has been almost a century in the making.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on bringing forward this important debate and on his commitment to tackling the range of health and social care issues that affect his constituents. A new hospital for Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust is part of our plans to build 40 new hospitals by 2030—the biggest hospital building programme in a generation.

The new hospital programme team is working closely with all schemes in the programme on how and when new hospitals will be built across the decade. I thank my hon. Friend for his praise and support for the new hospital programme. He campaigns tirelessly for his constituents, despite local opposition on purely political grounds. I assure him that we remain fully committed to the delivery of a new hospital for Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust to deliver improved local health outcomes.

The new hospitals will transform the way we deliver healthcare infrastructure for the NHS, prioritising sustainability, digital technology and the latest construction methods. This will result in outdated infrastructure being replaced by facilities for staff and patients—in his constituency and across the country—that are on the cutting edge of modern technology, innovation and sustainability. As my hon. Friend said, we can learn lessons from the covid pandemic to ensure that we future-proof our infrastructure.

The trust and the programme are working closely together on options for a new specialist emergency care hospital at the Sutton site, while general acute services remain in the current Epsom and St Helier hospitals. The programme team is in regular and ongoing discussion with the trust regarding the development of their plans, in line with the overall programme approach for delivery. This includes working closely on the trust’s expectations for the build and ensuring that those are in line with the financial envelope across the whole programme. The individual allocation for the scheme will be determined only once the respective full business case has been reviewed and agreed.

To date, the new hospital programme has approved over £31 million in public dividend capital allocation to the trust for a variety of works related to the scheme. This includes fees for design works, enabling funding for the construction of a multi-storey car park as part of the scheme, and a contribution towards the costs of a new electronic patient record system. Further allocations to the scheme will be decided through the proper process as the scheme is progressed.

The new hospital programme is working collaboratively with trusts across the programme to ensure that their plans get the most from available funding, while avoiding repetition of work and ensuring that the principles of repeatable deign, modern methods of construction and net carbon zero are met. This will maximise the potential benefits of a programmatic approach to the scheme, resulting in the best possible value for money to the taxpayer and improved health outcomes for local constituents.

I will briefly talk more widely about the ambitions of the new hospital programme and our wider investment in our nation’s hospital infrastructure. The Government have been doing incredibly ambitious work, providing substantial capital investment to support the biggest hospital building programme in a generation. On 2 October 2020, an initial £3.7 billion of funding was confirmed to support the delivery of 40 new hospitals, with a further eight schemes invited to bid for future funding to deliver 48 hospitals by 2030.

I am pleased that six of the hospitals in the programme are already in construction, including the Royal United Hospital Bath, which is the first of the 40 new hospitals to begin construction. In addition, on 19 August 2021, the Secretary of State opened the Northern Centre for Cancer Care, the first of the eight hospitals confirmed by the previous Government that now form part of the new hospital programme.

This hospital building programme is in addition to significant upgrades to over 70 hospitals, worth £1.7 billion, and a wider programme of capital investment. The commitment to fund a programme of new hospitals is an exciting opportunity to build the next generation of intelligent healthcare facilities, as well as to embed a long-term capability for future capital investments within the NHS.

While this major scheme gets under way, we are supporting Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust with other capital investments, including £6.1 million for the expansion of the emergency department and same-day emergency care unit at St Helier Hospital and the extension of waiting room space and mental health cubicles at Epsom hospital; £7.4 million for the relocation of services from the New Epsom and Ewell Cottage Hospital to Epsom General Hospital; and £11.6 million to eradicate the backlog in maintenance across the estate. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the amazing contribution our health and care staff have made during the pandemic—none more so than those serving the constituency of my hon. Friend.

In conclusion, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for all the work he is doing to support the new hospital scheme for Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust. My Department and I look forward to continuing to work closely with him, and we are happy to arrange a meeting with him and his colleagues, and to work with the trust, as these important and ambitious plans continue to develop and come to fruition, and as they deliver improved healthcare outcomes in Carshalton and Wallington and the surrounding area.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.