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Kettering General Hospital Redevelopment

Volume 721: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2022

Order. Can people kindly leave the Chamber, please? I will call Philip Hollobone to move the motion, and then the Minister to respond.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered redevelopment of Kettering General Hospital.

It is a genuine pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Dowd. I thank Mr Speaker for granting me this debate, and I welcome the Minister to his place. The redevelopment of Kettering General Hospital is the No. 1 local priority for all residents in Kettering and across north Northamptonshire because our hospital is a much-loved local institution. It has been in the town of Kettering since the year of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee, in 1897. That was a great year for Kettering because of the establishment of not only the hospital but the much-loved local newspaper, the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph. Here we are, 125 years on, with an extremely exciting programme of investment going into the hospital. It is such an important issue that this is now my ninth debate on Kettering General Hospital and my sixth since September 2019. We really want this redevelopment programme to succeed.

I want to start by acknowledging the Government’s commitment to the hospital, because they have pledged a massive amount of money, totalling £563 million. That includes the write-off in 2020 of £167 million of trust debt; an award of £46 million, initially to develop an on-site urgent care hub; and the main investment of £350 million—which was always going to be for 2025 to 2030—under health infrastructure plan 2 funding, for the major redevelopment of the hospital. I welcome that very much indeed. However, pledges of investment are one thing; actually delivering the cash is another. That is why this is now the sixth debate since September 2019. I see it as my role to constantly prod the Government to ensure that the investment is forthcoming.

We need that investment because Kettering and north Northamptonshire are among the fastest-growing places in the country. The hospital serves the population of Northamptonshire and south Leicestershire, which has already grown by double the national average over recent years. The latest Office for National Statistics data estimates above-average percentage population growth of up to 40% over the next 30 years in all three components of population change—net within-UK migration, net international migration and net births and deaths. Corby also has the country’s highest birth rate. The hospital expects a 21% increase in the number—

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

On resuming

As I was explaining before our debate was interrupted by votes in the House, the redevelopment of Kettering General Hospital is badly needed. Corby has the country’s highest birth rate, and the hospital expects a 21% increase in the number of over-80s in the local area in the next five years. The area has committed to at least 35,000 new houses over the next 10 years, and the local population is set to rise by some 84,000 to 400,000 people. The accident and emergency unit already sees up to 300 patients every single day in a department that is sized to safely see only 110. Over the next 10 years, the hospital expects the number of A&E attendances to increase by 30,000, up from 100,000. That is the equivalent of almost 80 extra patients a day.

Basically, the A&E is full. It was constructed in 1994 to cope with just 45,000 attendances each year, but 170,000 attendances are expected by 2045. Seventy per cent. of the buildings on the main site are more than 30 years old, and there is a maintenance backlog of £42 million. Sixty per cent. of the hospital estate is rated either poor or bad. Local people all know that investment is badly needed, and the Government have rightly accepted that.

I was delighted when the then Health Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk Coastal (Dr Coffey), and the newly reappointed Health Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay), came to visit the hospital on 22 July. The Minister has a photograph, which I have shared with him, of the Health Secretary standing in front of the temporary power plant, which is now 10 years old. It was hissing, spluttering and sneezing in front of us. That is why the newly redeveloped hospital needs a new energy centre.

One month after the visit, I was delighted to get a nice letter from the Secretary of State, which stated:

“Further to my visit on 22 July to Kettering General Hospital. I write to confirm approval of the funding you requested for enabling works for the next phase of the new hospital.

We discussed how the hospital presently relies on a temporary steam boiler plant and your concerns with the main high voltage electricity supply. You made a compelling case. I can therefore confirm that up to £34m is approved for investment in the new Energy Centre and enabling works, together with a further £4.1m for the high voltage cable. This will now enable this work to commence, and is a positive step forward in providing the facilities staff and patients need.

At our meeting we also discussed the scope to apply the new Hospital 1:0 design, through which the NHS will now procure and build new hospitals, enabling a quicker Treasury approval process, economies of scale delivering better value for money, and faster construction timescales unlocking earlier operational delivery. I look forward to working with you on this as we progress the wider programme of work at Kettering General Hospital.”

That is fantastic news, and we need the project to start as soon as possible. The present timescales that the hospital has provided me with suggest that the electrical work for the new high-voltage cable, for which the hospital has the money, can start in April or May 2023 and be complete by the end of the year. As for the energy centre itself, between now and January 2023, the hospital intends to appoint a construction partner. It aims to complete its final business case by early summer next year, with subsequent approval by the Department of Health and Social Care. Construction will potentially start in December 2023 and be complete by December 2024. The good news is that local residents can expect to see works starting on site in the spring of next year.

The trust has received written approval, not only from the Secretary of State but from the joint investment committee of the Department of Health and Social Care, to progress with the next stage of its plans to build the new energy centre. The next stage is to appoint a construction partner to take the scheme to the final stage of design and to submit a full business case. The total cost is £38.2 million, which includes £4 million for upgrading the electrical intake to the site. To manage the risk of further inflation—which is running at 10% nationally—the trust is looking for commitment from the Department’s new hospital programme team to work on the final business case together, in order to prevent delays in later approvals. I would welcome the Minister’s support for that.

There is also a number of other small enabling works that are “final scheme option agnostic”—in other words, whatever the final design of the newly redeveloped hospital after 2025, those enabling works will be required. They are on a critical path for the hospital to start now in order to keep things on track. Those costs, including the £38 million that has been allocated, are all covered by the initial allocation of £46 million already awarded to the trust. They sit outside the national new hospital programme budget. However, the trust has been told by the new hospital programme team that it cannot proceed with those additional small enabling works. I seek the Minister’s intervention to try to unblock that refusal.

The national new hospital programme team has stated that it is not reviewing overall outline business cases for the main build after 2025 until the end of this year at the earliest. That is a shame; I think it should be sped up. The 2025 timeline for the main new building works to start therefore remains at risk. Will the Minister support Kettering hospital trust with £400,000 of capital in this financial year to progress a small number of other works that are on the critical path? That is not a huge sum of money, and it would enable the scheme to be completed earlier.

Will the Minister encourage the new hospital programme team to co-produce, with the hospital trust, the full business case for the energy centre to minimise further inflation risk related to delays? Will he recognise the advanced position of the overall Kettering scheme, its minimal risk and its ability to make visible, significant progress faster than bigger, more complex schemes, by prioritising it among the current wave three and four schemes?

Since the Secretary of State’s visit, the trust has received official approval from the joint investment committee of the Department of Health and Social Care for the energy centre business case. That approval understandably came with a number of conditions, which the trust and the national team are proactively working through together. That is based on the estimated cost of £38 million. Importantly, it has been agreed that the trust can start the procurement process for a ProCure23 construction partner to develop the energy centre scheme to the next level of detail, and to build the centre.

Following a question from the joint investment committee chair, the trust itself has made a proposal for how it could work with the national team to co-produce the full business case for the energy centre, so that the approval process can be as speedy as possible and inflation and procurement matters can be best managed. That was warmly received by the joint investment committee chair. Timescales for completion remain late 2024, but they could be advanced through such an approach. I encourage the Minister to actively support us in that bid.

In terms of moving other smaller enabling works forward, the trust has set out which elements are on the critical path for a main build start date after 2025. All elements are agnostic about which final option is approved for the main build, but if they do not start soon, they will affect the trust’s ability to make visible progress on the main scheme once approved. Those elements include the creation of a new car park for patients and staff to replace those lost once construction starts, and moving staff and clinical services into Kettering town centre to free up space on the site for any new build to begin. That also supports the levelling-up agenda and the regeneration of Kettering town itself. I remind the Minister that Kettering is a priority 1 area for levelling-up funding.

The trust is requesting £400,000 in the current year to help to progress those elements, but it will require a total eventual early drawdown of around £8 million for the essential enabling works across the calendar years 2023 and 2024. It is worth noting that adding that £8 million to the £38 million for the energy centre brings the total to the original £46 million sustainability and transformation plan wave 4b funding, which is already part of the trust’s allocation. It is not subject to the larger new hospital programme budget; however, up to this point the trust has so far been told that it cannot progress the additional enabling works.

The hospital’s business case for the main £350 million clinical scheme was submitted on 6 July, and the current national position is that none of the waves 3 and 4 schemes is being considered or reviewed. The trust scheme is a wave 4 scheme, and therefore the hospital is unable to progress any further until the timescales are improved. I emphasise to the Minister that the Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust scheme continues to be ready to progress to the next level of detail, and remains a relatively low-risk scheme to deliver visible progress for the national programme quickly. The hospital already has pre-application planning approval. It does not require public consultation or new land negotiations. It is fully supported by the relevant clinicians and the local integrated care board, and it meets all the key national requirements in terms of net zero carbon and digitalisation.

The hospital is confident that, compared with other larger, more complicated and less advanced schemes, the Kettering scheme offers the national programme an excellent opportunity to push forward a scheme to construction stage by early 2025. Kettering General Hospital and its redevelopment is the No. 1 local priority for local residents. The Minister’s own constituents use Kettering General Hospital on a regular basis. This is a nimble scheme that will deliver early clinical benefits to local patients. I urge him to get fully behind it, so that Kettering can have the redeveloped hospital that all local residents want and need.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I congratulate my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone), on securing this important debate. The fact that he has managed to trigger so many debates on this subject shows what a relentless champion he has been for the project. It was pleasing to hear about the good progress that is being made, in no small part thanks to his help. As he says, I should declare an interest: many of my own constituents use the hospital; and, as I come through his constituency on the train each night, I see the expansion of Kettering that he described, and which makes the investment so necessary.

My hon. Friend asked a number of technical questions that I am afraid I will have to take away and come back to him on, because I want to give precise answers rather than ones that are wrong; however, I undertake to do that with the Department. Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust continues to work closely with our new hospital programme team as part of the plan to deliver 48 hospitals by 2030. I am pleased to see that, to date, the scheme for Kettering General Hospital has received £4.4 million, and on 14 October—these are live events—we wrote to the trust confirming £38.2 million for the package of enabling works that he talked about, including the new energy centre, which as he said is much needed, and the high voltage cable.

On 20 October, just six days ago, officials from the new hospital programme met with the trust to discuss the next steps for the enabling works, to ensure that the funding can be accessed swiftly. It was a very positive meeting and, subject to some technical assurances being met, which are progressing rapidly, we are working towards a memorandum of understanding that will be signed to enable the drawdown of the funds. That will enable the works to commence and is a positive step forward in providing the facilities that the staff and the patients need. All the hospital projects that are part of the new hospital programme, including the one at Kettering General Hospital, will work with that central team with the support of regional system and local trust leadership to design and deliver that new and exciting investment.

The collaborative approach is intended to help each trust to get the most from its available funding, while avoiding repetition of works. For example, modern construction methods and net zero techniques will be embedded in the programme from the outset, as my hon. Friend called for. That will maximise the benefits of the programme and ensure that we get the best value for money for taxpayers in Kettering and across the country. 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 to manage future capital investment into the NHS, which is much needed.

We are working closely with Kettering on how it will deliver better and more efficient design through the standardisation that comes from the approach we are taking. The intention is that end-to-end delivery timescales will be reduced and we will be able to deliver more quickly. That will also allow the new hospitals to benefit from efficiencies and economies of scale and from being built concurrently with others of the same kind. For Kettering General Hospital, that will mean state-of-the-art facilities to ensure world-class provision of healthcare. That will improve patient outcomes, which is what we all want to see.

The Government have been doing ambitious work, providing substantial capital investment to support the biggest hospital building programme in a generation. In 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 in Bath, which is the first of the 40 new hospitals to begin construction. In addition, in August last year, the northern centre for cancer care opened, the first of the eight hospitals confirmed by the previous Government. This hospital building programme comes in addition to significant upgrades to over 70 hospitals worth £1.7 billion, and a wider programme of capital investment.

In conclusion, I pay tribute to my neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering. He has done such good work in continuing to push in such a constructive way to ensure that the meetings are happening as quickly as they need to, that everyone is playing their part and that both sides are working together to fix the issues that he has talked about, to deliver the opportunities that he sees so clearly. I am delighted that we have now approved the business cases for the £38 million-worth of enabling works for the energy centre and the cable, which will enable the work to commence at the site. We will make sure that this ambitious and innovative approach to building new hospitals is a success, not only at Kettering General Hospital, but across the country.

Question put and agreed to.