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Super Health Hub in Plymouth City Centre

Volume 721: debated on Tuesday 25 October 2022

I will call Luke Pollard 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; that is the convention for 30-minute debates.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Government support for a potential super health hub in Plymouth city centre.

It is good to see you in the Chair today, Ms Nokes. Plymouth’s NHS is in crisis. Our brilliant NHS and social care staff are working their socks off. The health crisis is not their fault. Things in Plymouth are getting worse, with severe ambulance waiting times, a critical shortage of hospital beds at Derriford Hospital, a social care system in crisis, a shortage of GPs and gaps across our NHS that we simply cannot fill, and we have dentistry waiting lists that last for years. I am here today to deliver a very simple cross-party appeal from Plymouth for the funding we need to build a super health hub, or Cavell centre, in Plymouth city centre.

I know the Minister is familiar with what a super health hub is, but the genesis of the project is important to understand as it shows Plymouth’s health services and our political parties all working together to deliver something truly transformational for our city. The super health hub project is one that I have been associated with for many years. In October 2018, I proposed that Plymouth should build on the success of the network of health hubs across the city with a super health hub in the city centre, repurposing one part of our city centre and bringing health to the high street. That was in response to GP practices, including the one that I was registered at, handing back their contracts and closing.

The proposal was swiftly adopted and advanced by Plymouth City Council and then ultimately rolled into the nationwide Cavell centre programme. Both Conservative and Labour-run councils in Plymouth recognised the importance of the scheme, which enjoys considerable and locked-in cross-party support. The project goes by many names—the super health hub, the West End health hub, the Cavell centre. They are all different names for the same pioneering development.

The Minister will know that the Cavell centre’s programme, developed by the NHS, has six sites under consideration nationwide, of which Plymouth is by far the furthest advanced. Although it was not funded in the comprehensive spending review, the Plymouth Cavell centre project advanced thanks to financial reassurances from the NHS about using capital underspends elsewhere in the national budget. I am sorry to report that the promised funding is no longer available and the project is now at risk. The Minister confirmed to me about the funding last week. So my job today is simple: to ask the Minister to restore or find from elsewhere the £41 million NHS funding that we need for Plymouth to build the super health hub.

Plymouth’s primary care crisis is acute. In 2019, the BBC’s “Panorama” programme showed the severe problems that staff face at the North Road West medical centre: GP vacancies unable to be filled, severe illness and far too few staff. The practice was due to move into the new super health hub—the West End health hub—into modern facilities, and that is now at risk.

Hiring a GP in Plymouth is almost impossible, especially for the practices in the most deprived areas. We are moving at pace to move to paramedic and senior nurse-led practices, because there are simply no doctors available to provide the healthcare that they might provide elsewhere. As a city, we are innovative and creative because we have to be. One third of Plymouth’s population is currently covered by GP practices with emergency standing contracts, but as more GP surgeries close in our communities and practices hand back their contracts, we need an alternative long-term and large-scale intervention. That is what the super health hub, the Cavell centre project, delivers in buckets.

The new super health hub would provide a number of considerable health benefits. At least three GP surgeries in substandard accommodation, currently with large lists of patients—North Road West medical centre, Adelaide surgery and Armada surgery—would relocate to larger premises where they could see more patients. There would be space for 24/7 out-of-hours GP surgeries and pharmacy and X-ray facilities, enabling earlier diagnosis and better management of conditions, such as weight management, smoking cessation, district and practice nursing facilities, physiotherapy and occupational therapy space, mental health services, drug and alcohol treatment, and nutrition. Importantly, alongside that would be advice and information services, debt assistance and housing support, and access to training and employment, volunteer support, social care and prevention services, all under one roof with a single entrance. People would not have to travel miles and miles and fork out for buses or taxis to see someone who can help. In short, the super health hub in Plymouth is about giving people better chances to live longer, healthier and happier.

The benefit that the super health hub would bring to the area cannot be underestimated. The super health hub is to be built on Colin Campbell Court car park, in Stonehouse. Stonehouse is a community with extreme levels of poverty and deprivation. It is an area full of life and full of good people, but the economic and social picture is challenging and the cost of living crisis is making it worse. Stonehouse is in the bottom 0.2% of communities for super output in the entire country, and in the bottom 1% for nearly every other major economic indicator.

Life expectancy in that community is a full 7.5 years lower than the national average; health outcomes are poorer; cardiovascular and heart disease are found in younger people than elsewhere. A third of our private rented homes are classed as non-decent in that community, school grades are a third lower than the city average, and crime is a considerable scourge. Health problems are exacerbated by poverty. This community is responsible for approximately 20% of Derriford Hospital’s emergency admissions. I say this not to talk Stonehouse down but to make the case that this is a community worthy of investment, priority and attention.

The Cavell centre’s focus on early prevention and good healthcare is key not only to dealing with the health inequalities that we have face as a city but to cutting the ambulance queues at Derriford hospital. At this very moment, nearly 20 ambulances are queuing outside our hospital. Derriford has the fourth worst record in the country for ambulance queues. The pressure on our emergency department is critical. Staff there do an extraordinary job, but we need to find ways of reducing the number of people going to the hospital—not just building better facilities at the hospital but reducing the flow.

As more surgeries and dentists close in our community, the case for a super health hub—a centrally located facility—is more profound and powerful than ever. Bringing health to the high street really helps: it repurposes the city centre with the creation of a new health village, with the super health hub at its heart. Plymouth city centre is a very large, post-war city centre serving a population that has found new ways to shop, so we need to repurpose many of the empty buildings. The Colin Campbell Court part of town is an area that could do with a bit more love. It would not only regenerate a part of our city centre but would create more local jobs and, importantly, healthcare accessible to local people. Every bus in Plymouth goes to the city centre—it is not just about supporting people in Stonehouse; it would support people right across our city to access first-class healthcare services.

We have had some mixed messaging from the NHS about this project. It is well regarded and supported. One part of the national health service believes that the £41 million of capital funding would be available for the project. However, it now seems apparent that the intention to make that funding available is no longer present. I thank the Minister for investigating the funding options and speaking to me and my neighbour, the hon. Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter), so frequently. This issue matters right across Plymouth. A predecessor of the Minister, the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), has also been very helpful. I encourage the Minister to continue being helpful as we look at the options to ensure that we can build a super health hub in Plymouth.

There is considerable support for this project from our local NHS infrastructure, the NHS system and the city as a whole: from the primary care sector to the acute hospital at Derriford; Livewell, our health social enterprise; NHS England; the University of Plymouth; Nudge Community Builders; our local councillors of every party; and our integrated care commission. The project is well supported. But the Minister knows that the capital funding does not exist in the Devon healthcare system to deliver the project without Government support. Without the spending commitment being honoured, the plans for the super health hub in Plymouth will not be able to proceed. The intention was that spades would be in the ground in the new year, once demolition of the site was complete. At this very moment in Plymouth, JCBs are knocking down buildings surrounding the Colin Campbell Court car park in preparation for construction to begin in the early new year.

The business case for the super health hub has been praised locally and regionally, and is supported nationally, but it cannot proceed unless the funding can be allocated within an NHS budget. Because the hub does not neatly fit into an NHS line item, there was always going to be a challenge of sweeping up underspent capital funding from other projects, but being able to do so was the route whereby we could construct this project, as a trail- blazer for the country.

I would like to propose the three ways to proceed that could rescue this project. First, I ask the Minister to look again at the capital underspends across the NHS to see whether a combined effort with our local NHS groups’ funding could deliver this project as a national pilot for a Cavell centre roll-out in every town and city in the country. I would like a research and evaluation project to be attached to this project, so that when it is rolled out the expected massive benefits can be calculated, valued and understood.

Secondly, the Minister knows that so many of the so-called new hospitals are exceeding the spending envelope that has been allocated for them, so that without huge extra sums being allocated to many of the 40 new hospitals, they simply will not be able to proceed. Extra funding is very unlikely given the state of the national finances, but there is a way through. Will the Minister consider whether as part of the Government’s new hospitals programme, funding could be allocated to the Cavell centre programme, delivering a new fleet of pocket hospitals or health hubs before the next general election? It would use only a fraction of the allocated capital budget for the so-called new hospitals.

Work at Derriford’s new emergency department extension starts in the new year. That is because as a city we were further ahead in wanting to invest in our NHS facilities, before the Cavell centre and new hospital programmes were even invented. I encourage the Government to not punish us for being innovative early. I do not mean to do the Government’s PR for them, but I suggest that the super health hub could be the Tesco Express of new hospitals, with everything people need on a regular basis, while still allowing for a big shop at a larger store on an irregular basis. There would be GPs, nurses, physios, diagnostics, X-rays and prevention services on the high street, with the emergency cases, complex treatment and scans at larger hospitals, thus taking pressure off the acute hospitals and ensuring that healthcare is more accessible.

The super health hub is precisely what Dr Claire Fuller’s stocktake of primary care recommends in many ways. The Minister will know that report’s vision for integrating primary care and improving access, with more personalised care available locally to the individuals. The integrated offer is powerful. More importantly, it is more cost-effective than the distributed model we have today, which is failing. It also gives patients more of what they want—more same-day services, less travelling and greater continuity of care—not to mention the expected boost for recruitment and retention of GPs and medical staff in more integrated and better facilities.

The Cavell centre in Plymouth would deliver these objectives, the Government’s own objectives and so much more. That is why I am here to ask for a rethink on the funding—not just to help Plymouth, but to provide a national pilot that the Government could champion nationwide. The building’s design is already set, and it is common across all six Cavell centres across the country. Why not replicate that model elsewhere as well? These pocket hospitals could revolutionise primary and social care.

To raise an issue that is closer to home, we need to be bolder about reimagining our high streets. I have heard the Minister in a previous role talk about the need to put health on the high street and have more innovative city centre and high street models. That is precisely what the Cavell centre model could deliver. I would like to see the Cavell centre in Plymouth be part of a new Plymouth health village, attaching to Plymouth not just a super health hub, but a dental development centre and community diagnostics hubs. It would be a new destination for healthcare. That would not just be for Plymouth; it would be a model for elsewhere. Importantly, that would take pressure off Derriford Hospital, allowing it to breathe and ensuring a better flow through the hospital, which is what we need. While the super health hub project is on pause until we find the funding, can the Minister give reassurances that the other ambitions for the health village—the dental development centre and the community diagnostics hub—will not be sidelined as part of that integrated plan?

If the Minister is looking for shovel-ready projects that demonstrate the Government’s commitment to addressing ambulance times, backlogs, care, doctors and dentistry, this project would be an excellent way of delivering it and, importantly, delivering it quickly. The Minister needs to know that, although I am making the case for this project as a Labour MP, it enjoys cross-party support. Richard Bingley, the Conservative leader of Plymouth City Council, said:

“The Super Health Hub will critically reduce demand on Derriford Hospital and is a key development in addressing some of the vast health inequalities in the area.”

Labour’s Councillor Mary Aspinall said:

“I am absolutely shocked that the rug is being pulled from under this huge investment in our city which would provide about 3,000 appointments a day and employ 250 staff and we will fight for it tooth and nail. People in Plymouth do not deserve to be treated this way.”

I thank all the NHS staff who have been working so hard on the project, not just in Plymouth but in the regional NHS and the national Cavell centre programme. I know the work that they are doing. I will be grateful if the Minister looks again at where £41 million could be found to support our work. For many people, today is the day they learned that that £41 million has been lost. Work was expected to start in just a few weeks’ time, and the news will be a gut punch for many of our GP services, which were hoping to move out of dilapidated premises and into the super health hub. It will be a real dent to our confidence. We know that the problems in primary care will worsen over the winter, and for many people, this was our hope that better days would be ahead.

Such is the strength of feeling that I alone cannot hope to do justice to the case for the super health hub. Will the Minister therefore commit to visit Plymouth and hold a cross-party multi-stakeholder roundtable, so he can hear about the real benefits that the hub would bring to our community? It would be not only a nation-leading project for Plymouth but a trailblazer for healthcare in the rest of Britain.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) on securing the debate, and also make honourable mention of his constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Sir Gary Streeter). The hon. Gentleman raised this matter with me within, I think, hours of my appointment as a Minister, and he raised it assiduously with my predecessors, so I know that it is something about which he is extremely passionate. He has made a very persuasive case for the new centre this afternoon. I join him in thanking NHS doctors, nurses and other staff in Plymouth. I appreciate the strain that services are under at the moment and are likely to be under this winter as we continue to move out of the long shadow cast by the pandemic. I thank them for their service to the NHS.

I will first set out the current situation regarding NHS capital funding and the new arrangements for allocating that funding, as that is critical to understanding the prospects of the health hub project, the merits of which have been laid out very persuasively this afternoon. The Government are backing the NHS with a significant capital settlement, which is welcome and will be a step change for the quality and efficiency of care up and down the country. The NHS has a significant budget, but has been marked in recent years—indeed, decades—by under-investment in its capital and estate. Subject to the state of the public finances, we need to correct that as a country. The capital settlement includes over £4 billion a year for each of the next three years, and a total of £12 billion in capital for systems to invest in the estate. Those are part of our changes to health and social care capital funding arrangements.

We are greatly increasing the role of local health system planners in determining local health infrastructure in collaboration with NHS England. In line with nationally published guidance, integrated care boards can decide how the NHS operationally capitalises the spending for their own area. Although we have a range of nationally funded projects, to which the hon. Gentleman alluded, they are already quite well defined. For example, we have committed an initial £3.7 billion over four years to make progress on delivering 48 hospitals by 2030, and 70 upgrades to hospitals, worth £1.7 billion. I want to highlight the fact that much of this investment is benefiting Devon. Over the last few years, there has been £15 million for estate improvements and A&E upgrades at hospitals in the Plymouth NHS trust, and £17 million in hospital upgrades funding awarded to the integrated care board; that includes £9.3 million for imaging facilities at Derriford Hospital and Barnstaple.

Turning to the specific project, I am pleased that the system continues to develop plans so that we can consider a pilot. Plymouth has been able to progress through the business case process more quickly than expected. That is a testament to the hard work of local partners and the strong stakeholder relationship management by the council. The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to the role of the council, and I echo his remarks.

The health centre is designed to address the needs of the local population by providing exactly the kind of one-stop-shop facility the hon. Gentleman described, incorporating GPs, community and mental health services, dentistry, out-patients, diagnostics and pharmacy, as well as space for several community and voluntary groups. That will help to tackle the root causes of poor health and poor wellbeing in the area, which contains some of the most deprived communities in the country.

As I said, we have changed our capital funding mechanisms and introduced integrated care boards to ensure that local investment decisions are guided by local priorities. To that end, it is the local integrated care board that is empowered to invest in the Plymouth health centre if it deems it to be a priority. I understand that Devon integrated care board has been allocated £250 million over the next three years. For the scheme to progress, the NHS Devon integrated care board would need to prioritise its construction via this operational capital budget or other locally sourced funding solutions. I appreciate that this is not the answer that the hon. Gentleman was seeking, but as things stand, there is no additional national funding to deploy for projects like this. The new hospital programme, which he alluded to, is already allocated. Indeed, as he acknowledged, it is possible that that cost of the programme will be greater than the existing budget, so a great deal of work will be required in the years ahead to deliver those hospitals alone, without adding further projects to the programme.

However, given that the hon. Gentleman has brought this debate to the Floor of the House and I have been unable to give him quite the answer that he wishes, I would be more than happy to visit Plymouth and to broker a meeting between his local ICB chair, the stakeholders, such as the council, that have been involved in the project and have advocated it so strongly, and NHS England, to see whether there is anything innovative or creative that we might be able to do to try to move this forwards. I can see the arguments for it are very strong, and it must be frustrating to the hon. Gentleman and to the local stakeholders that its further progress seems to be in doubt.

I am all in favour of the idea of a health village and community diagnostic centres. That is something that we are taking forward on a national scale and so what the hon. Gentleman is trying to achieve here is entirely in line with national policy objectives. If I can, I will revert to him as soon as possible after this debate and arrange that visit and, perhaps more importantly, arrange that meeting in which we can explore why NHS England ultimately was not able to provide the funding that he hoped for. As I understand it, it was never approved funding, but there had been a discussion with NHS England as to whether it might be available. But it never ultimately committed to do that. Perhaps we can explore whether there are any other potential routes, so that we do not close the door on what seems to me to be an extremely valuable project.

I thank the hon. Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport—I thank my hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon as well—for the extremely constructive manner in which he has handled this debate and our previous conversations. I hope that I will be able to take this forward and move it to a successful conclusion.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.