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Diagnostic Hospital: Stockton

Volume 721: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2022

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

I thank the House for allowing me the opportunity to raise this important and urgent issue, making the case for one of the Government’s new diagnostic hospitals to come to Stockton.

First, I would like to take the opportunity to thank the incredible workforce who are the backbone of my local NHS. Having volunteered during the pandemic and shadowed shifts in my local hospitals, North Tees and James Cook, I have seen at first hand their incredible commitment and dedication; the doctors, nurses, porters, domestic staff, care workers and everyone else each day provide a lifeline to those most in need. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude. These people deliver grade A public service and deserve grade A resources and workplaces.

I welcome the fact that a Conservative Government have given the NHS the biggest cash boost in its history. I welcome the incredible difference that this additional £33 billion of funding will make, and I welcome the commitment to build 40 new hospitals by the end of the decade and to create a network of diagnostic hospital hubs to tackle the post-coronavirus backlog. In recent times, I am delighted to have seen tens of millions of pounds of capital investment put into my local hospitals. At South Tees, that has meant, among others things, upgrades to life-saving radiology equipment, and at North Tees we have seen upgrades to our award-winning urgent care centre and the provision of a new respiratory unit.

However, nowhere is investment in healthcare needed more than in my area. There is a debate about health inequalities in this country; this is about the difference in access to care, the impact on people’s quality of life and the differences in the resulting life expectancy. It is an appalling fact that there is a street in Stockton where if someone travels from one end to another, just 5 miles, they pass through two areas where the difference in life expectancy is 20 years! Those living in Yarm in my constituency can be expected to live until the age of 84, whereas those living in Stockton Town Centre, in neighbouring Stockton North, can expect to live, on average, only to the age of 64—that is equivalent to the life expectancy of those living in Ethiopia. That is entirely unacceptable in Britain in 2022; we cannot go on like this.

I realise that a new hospital or diagnostic hub is not the entire solution to this problem, and that it requires interventions from the health service, social services, the local council and other agencies, but investment in our local health service is part of that solution. I have already held an Adjournment debate on the need to improve North Tees hospital and I have talked of the huge maintenance costs that consume the hospital’s budget, the fact our operating theatres are not big enough to house modern robotics and the fact that the hospital is just not fit for the 21st century. Our bid is in to the new build hospital programme, but today I am here to make the case for us to have one of the Government’s new diagnostic hospital hubs.

The pandemic has created a huge pressure on our NHS; with elected surgery paused, the waiting lists and backlogs have grown to unprecedented levels. During a shadow shift at North Tees, I saw the unbelievable challenges facing our doctors as they have to decide which patient’s surgery is the most urgent and who must wait, whether it be the youngster involved in a car accident at the weekend or the elderly person awaiting a hip operation. These are harrowing choices for clinicians to make and we must do everything we can to help tackle that backlog. Among the 88,000 people on waiting lists across North Tees, South Tees and County Durham NHS trusts, more than 2,500 have waited more than a year for an appointment. So as well as pushing the bid for a new hospital at North Tees, I believe Stockton would be the ideal place for one of the Government’s new diagnostic hospital hubs. Such a hub could save lives in my area, by ensuring that people can get the checks and tests they need more quickly. They could get the MRI scan that could detect cancer and ensure they get the treatment they need in time, or the CT—computerised tomography—scan that detects the stroke and ensures the right care to aid their recovery.

I realise that the Minister, and several of her predecessors, may well be sick of hearing from me on these two bids, but I am not the only person who believes this diagnostic hospital hub needs to come to Stockton.

Both North Tees and South Tees NHS trusts have agreed that Stockton should be the home of such a hospital hub. I spent my summer delivering tens of thousands of leaflets and knocking on doors across my constituency, speaking to residents about the plan. Thousands of people signed the petition and backed the plan. Our proposal is to build the new diagnostic hospital in Stockton town centre, which is due to be reconfigured and made fit for the future, thanks to £16.5 million from the Government’s future high streets fund. Putting the hospital hub here will mean that it is accessible to all by public transport, as well as driving footfall and breathing life into our town centre to support the local economy. 

 It would be remiss of me to discuss this without mentioning the challenges in attracting radiographers to operate and man such a hospital hub. It is great that, thanks to a Conservative Government, there are now 30,000 more doctors and 40,000 more nurses working in our NHS than there were in 2010. However, there remains a problem in attracting radiographers. A chronic workforce shortage means that a diagnostic centre would need additional staffing rather than extracting from the teams already based in acute hospitals. 

The north-east is hit worst by these shortages with a vacancy rate of 17%, the highest vacancy rate in England and, worryingly, 90% of those vacancies have been unfilled for more a year. Alongside my plea for a diagnostic hub, I urge the Government to invest in local clinical radiology training places. 

This Conservative Government and their levelling-up agenda have meant huge investment in my area, improving infrastructure with upgraded roads, new cycle lanes, railway stations and the saving of our airport. We have seen new jobs and training opportunities delivered through the UK’s first and biggest freeport, supporting the development of a new training hub to upskill local youngsters and increasing investment in local schools. Tens of millions of pounds of funding have been put in to improve town centres in Stockton, Thornaby, Yarm and—hopefully soon—Billingham.

Now it is time to level up on health, so that people from my area can live long and happy lives and we can eliminate health inequalities that have no place in modern Britain.

My hon Friend is making a fantastic speech on the importance of diagnostic hubs in the north of England. Does he agree that that levelling up also applies to areas in the south, particularly my area of Sidcup, where we have also been lobbying for a diagnostic hub? We also need to level up and provide that local service for my hospital, Queen Mary’s, in Sidcup.

I agree. I know how much work my hon. Friend has put in to try to seal the deal in his part of the world. I am sure that the Minister will have good news for us all. It is well earned if it is there.

I hope that Ministers will back the bid that has been put forward to provide my area with the much-needed increase in diagnostic capacity so that my local NHS is fit for the future, fit for patients, and fit for its amazing staff. I know that the Government are committed to modernising the NHS and have announced massive investment that will fund healthcare across my region. I know that the Minister is probably sick of hearing from me on this issue, but I will continue to push for the resources we need to tackle the heartbreaking health inequalities that my area faces. 

I thank the Minister for her attention and look forward to her response.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for calling me, especially given that I arrived late.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers), my constituency neighbour, on securing this important Adjournment debate. I apologise to him for missing the opening paragraphs of his speech. We do not agree on very much politically, but we agree about the need for improved health provision in the communities that we both serve. I agree that Stockton desperately needs better health provision so that we can tackle the entrenched health inequalities that blight our communities. We have got fantastic staff—the hon. Member referred to them—but they need the support of proper facilities.

I have cited appalling statistics many times on the Floor of the House. I will do that again tonight and keep doing so until the Government take the necessary action. Men in the town centre of Stockton-on-Tees in both my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Stockton South live 18 years less than their peers just down the road. In Stockton North, 7.4% of our population suffer from asthma—a higher figure than the 6.5% rate across England. The figure for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in my constituency is 3.1%, again higher than the rate of 1.9% across England. In England, 14.1% of people have high blood pressure. That figure rises to 16.2% in Stockton North. I have been calling for a new hospital to be built in Stockton for the past 12 years after the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition Government axed the one we were promised in 2012. In the past 12 years and over the course of the pandemic, the health inequalities in our area have actually grown wider; they have not narrowed.

The hon. Member talked about our town centre in Stockton. We have an innovative local council. The idea of bringing together health and council facilities in the town centre was a tremendous initiative between the council and the North Tees and Hartlepool Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust—a trust that I have had the honour to serve on for some years. I pay tribute to all of its staff for the tremendous work that they have done over the years to get to the point where we just need a final Government decision for this project to go ahead.

There are all manner of reasons why we need the new hospital, but for me it is because we need certainty in our community about the future of structures in the health service. There is now a proposal to merge the chief executive role for North Tees and South Tees hospitals. I am against that, and I want to see a situation where whoever is the chief executive concentrates on delivering for people north of the River Tees—and, of course, part of south of the River Tees served by the hon. Member for Stockton South. It is critical that we achieve that sometime in the near future.

I know that the integrated care board has a tremendous responsibility in all of this, but, again, much of its focus seems to be on structures rather than on getting things done. I hope the Minister will encourage the board to back this tremendous proposal, so that the hon. Member and I can see our constituents get the services that they require, and that we can end these health inequalities that are killing people day in, day out in communities such as ours.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South (Matt Vickers) on securing this debate. He will appreciate that I am standing in for my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick), who has been promoted to the Cabinet and the Home Office, so I ask him to forgive me if I do not have the answers to all of his questions, but I will ask the Department to write to him with those.

I know that this is an important subject for my hon. Friend and that he works tirelessly for the people of Stockton South on healthcare and on other matters. The waiting time for a diagnosis or an all-clear can be a very anxious one. It is something with which all of us who have been on a waiting list, or who have had a family member, a friend or a loved one on a waiting list, will be familiar. It is right that we do all we can to support services to recover from the pressures of the pandemic and to innovate and improve so that patients can have tests and receive diagnoses in a quicker and more convenient way.

Today, I will outline the work being done through the elective recovery programme to improve access to diagnostics and how that will impact patients across the UK, including in Stockton South. The waiting list for diagnostic tests in England currently stands at more than 1.5 million patients. Some 30% of those patients are waiting more than six weeks. That is up from a little under 1 million in 2019, before the pandemic. In the north-east and Yorkshire region, the waiting list for diagnostic tests is more than 213,000 patients, 26% of whom have been waiting more than six weeks. Community diagnostic centres are part of the answer and are a fantastic example of how we are providing more efficient, easier and more convenient access to vital services in the community.

The Government have committed £2.3 billion in capital spend as part of the 2021 spending review to support diagnostic services to recover and improve and to ensure that patients have access to often life-saving diagnostic tests that they need. This includes money to allow the NHS to continue to roll out a community diagnostic centre programme across England. This is a new way of delivering care, and it will ensure that elective diagnostic services are resilient in the face of winter pressures, because they have ring-fenced elective diagnostic activity.

Local healthcare systems, including NHS trusts, integrated commissioning boards, and local authorities, which know their patients and communities best, are being empowered to plan and bid for funding for new CDC sites, ensuring that they are placed where there is the greatest community need and the most clinical value, with successful bids ultimately signed off by the Secretary for Health and Social Care. I am pleased to say that 89 CDCs are currently operational across the country in a variety of sites, including hospitals, football stadiums and shopping centres, ensuring that patients have access to the care they need where they live. Those centres and hard-working NHS staff have so far delivered more than 2 million tests and are well on their way to providing capacity for 9 million tests a year by 2025.

With regard to the provision of a community diagnostic centre in Stockton, I am pleased to be able to inform my hon. Friend that the business case for the centre is currently in development. He will be pleased to learn that a large-model CDC, including capacity for imaging, physiological measurements, pathology and endoscopy, is planned for construction on the Castlegate shopping centre site, with plans for the centre to be fully operational by March 2025.

Castlegate is an ideal site for a CDC because of its accessibility for different population groups experiencing health inequalities, with excellent transport links. It is exactly the sort of area where the new centres can have the biggest impact. The Castlegate CDC will add to the 12 existing CDCs in the north-east and Yorkshire region and the four hub and spoke sites in the Tees Valley area, which have delivered more than 200,000 tests for patients in the north-east and Yorkshire region. Ten further sites across the north-east and Yorkshire are due to be approved in the near future and will all be operational by March 2025 to support our target of up to 160 CDCs.

I heard the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr French), but I am afraid I do not have the answers for him today. I will ask the Department to write to him with information on his specific bid.

This is music to my ears. We have all worked very hard for this—local authority, health authority and politicians—and I am grateful for the positive message the Minister is giving us. Now I am going to be even cheekier and say that we desperately need a new general hospital to serve Stockton and the wider Hartlepool area. We need new facilities there. I hope, 12 or 13 years after the original hospital was cancelled, that this Minister will be the one to deliver it.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. The building new hospitals programme is in process and bids are in play, so I am afraid I cannot comment any further, as he will appreciate.

In conclusion, I encourage my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton South to continue his productive conversations with both his local ICB and NHS England to ensure that new developments in Stockton continue to support the local community health needs. I will ensure he is made aware when the proposal for the new centre has progressed further and when he can expect to see it open in his constituency.

I look forward to continuing to work with NHS England, local NHS systems such as the North East and North Cumbria ICS and fellow Members of the House to ensure that as a Government we meet the challenge posed by diagnostic waiting lists and ensure that patients are able to receive the often life-saving diagnostic tests that they need, as quickly and conveniently as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.