Skip to main content

Hospital Provision: Tees Valley

Volume 730: debated on Tuesday 28 March 2023

I beg to move,

That this House has considered hospital provision in the Tees Valley.

It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I start by thanking all the hard-working staff of the three main hospitals in the Tees Valley: the University Hospital of North Tees, the University Hospital of Hartlepool and the James Cook University Hospital, south of the Tees. They include my son, who I am proud to say is a student nurse at one of those hospitals.

While we have had some welcome new additions to provision in the Tees Valley, for example the new diagnostic and mental health care hubs in Stockton, in the light of the state of disrepair at the North Tees hospital, we are still in need of improved hospital facilities. The trust and the wider Tees Valley are experiencing severe challenges around current estate capacity, which is not suitable for the needs of the population it will serve over the next 10 to 20 years. For example, a significant volume of elective surgical procedures are performed within the private sector because of a shortage of resources within our NHS trust.

It is my contention that the University Hospital of Hartlepool could fill that provision gap, and that it is underutilised in providing services to the people of the Tees Valley. Not only can it play a greater part in delivering these services, but it can take some of the pressure off the other hospitals, which are undergoing renovations. It can do both those things with a relatively small amount of investment.

It should be pointed out that, in its heyday, Hartlepool hospital served not only the people of Hartlepool, but all the communities north of the Tees. Its position in the north of the trust’s geographical area meant that it also provided vital health services to the mining villages to the north and west, in County Durham, which saw Hartlepool hospital as their local hospital, too. It has provided much-needed healthcare to all those communities since it was founded in the late 19th century. The hospital’s generous 28-acre site has a lot of potential, with a significant amount of cleared land that we should use to build more services for the people of Hartlepool, of the Tees Valley to the south and of the ex-mining communities to the north.

I am grateful to my next-door neighbour for giving way. I congratulate her on securing the debate and her son on his role in the NHS. Does she remember that it was her Government who cancelled our new hospital 13 years ago without a plan for future health delivery? Recently, the Health Minister, who is in his place, wrote to the Labour candidate for Hartlepool, Jonathan Brash, turning down the funding for a centre of excellence in the town despite cross-party support, including from the Conservatives in Hartlepool. Does she have any thoughts about how we might change the Minister’s mind and deliver for Hartlepool and wider Teesside?

I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman has brought that up, because he has mentioned two things that I want to address. I will talk about the new super-hospital later in my speech. I think we dodged a bullet there, because it would have created another private finance initiative like the unsustainable one at James Cook University Hospital.

It was. The other thing I want to say is that this is an extremely good example of Labour putting politics above the people of Hartlepool. The Labour candidate in Hartlepool, the councillor Jonathan Brash, has had no interest in the hospital. He has had no interest in anything in Hartlepool for a long time. However, every time it looks like I am going to succeed in bringing something forward for the people of Hartlepool, Jonathan Brash is there, ready to have a photo opportunity or write a magic letter to try and take the credit. I am grateful to hon. Gentleman for raising that so I can clarify the situation.

Some may wonder why there is a need to invest in new services. If the hospital had been properly loved and maintained, there would be no need to do so. Sadly, Hartlepool has not been championed by my predecessors —the Labour MPs who went before me—resulting in a significantly lower amount of investment compared with surrounding regions. The Labour centralisation policy of the mid-2000s meant that it became Labour party policy to close down Hartlepool hospital. Indeed, the candidate who stood against me in the by-election, Dr Paul Williams, co-authored the report that recommended that critical care and other services be taken away from the hospital and moved elsewhere. As I have said, there was Labour talk of a new super-hospital, to be funded by one of Labour’s public-private finance initiatives, and we have seen the issues that have arisen from that at James Cook—a prime example of the huge amount of money that the schemes now leech from our NHS.

Labour’s health legacy on Teesside is a dodgy Labour PFI deal that still costs James Cook hospital £1 million every single week. Does my hon. Friend agree that that money would have been better spent on doctors and nurses supporting our residents?

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, less than a year’s-worth of the £1 million a week that goes into propping up James Cook’s PFI deal—£40 million—would be enough to upgrade and put in the services that we want Hartlepool.

Sadly, my constituents got caught in the political crossfire and were left with a shell of a hospital at Hartlepool and faced with long journeys to North Tees and James Cook for many hospital services. When the accident and emergency unit was closed down in 2011, local opposition was so strong that roughly a third of the population of Hartlepool signed a petition organised by the “save our hospital” campaign. It was incredible—there were more than 30,000 signatures, and there were marches through the town.

I was elected in 2021 on a promise of bringing positive change. That includes bringing education, skills, jobs and prosperity to the town, but there was also an overriding call on the doorsteps for the return of services to our much-loved Hartlepool hospital. I set about trying to find a solution for this long-standing and ignored issue. I have therefore been working directly alongside North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust and its excellent chief executive, Julie Gillon, for in excess of 18 months. During that time, I have built a strong working relationship with Julie. Sadly, she has recently announced her decision to retire from her role and pursue other things, but she intends to dedicate the next six months to championing our proposals for Hartlepool. She will be a sad loss to health provision in the Tees Valley, and I will be one of many who will miss her. She is a competent leader and a good, strong woman—the sort we excel at in the north-east.

I need to make some progress.

The first plan that Julie and I favoured was an upgrade and return of services to Hartlepool, new diagnostic hubs in Hartlepool and Stockton, and a new hospital closer to the A19 in Hartlepool, which would be the major trauma centre. This was a bold new model. It would allow people to access diagnostic and out-patient facilities very locally and to travel to the true central point of all the communities in the Tees Valley for major procedures in a state-of-the-art new facility. Sadly, with the huge pull on public funds created by the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and the rising cost of living, it has become clear that that project will not be possible in the near future.

Undeterred, Julie and I returned to the drawing board with a plan to upgrade Hartlepool further and maximise the return of services to that site. I mentioned that there is not enough capacity for the significant volume of elective surgical procedures in Tees Valley NHS sites. The upgrade at Hartlepool, with a proposed 40% increase in operating theatres, would address that lack of resources and increase capacity to perform those elective procedures in a new centre of excellence. That would be alongside a new, much-needed primary care hub and a community hub, which would enable patients to be fully rehabilitated before being discharged. That would free up hospital beds on wards.

I also point out to the Minister that, like most things that I inherited in my constituency, hospital services had not been championed by predecessor Labour MPs for too long.

My hon. Friend is a fantastic champion for Hartlepool and is doing incredible work to secure the hospital. Representing as she does the former lands of Mandelson, Milburn, Mowlam and Blair—all who are here today represent such places—does she agree that there is very little to show in our region for their years in office, save for costly PFI deals?

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The fact that we are here now is the proof of the pudding; people got tired of being ignored by Labour MPs who took the heartlands for granted.

Exactly. The Minister might be surprised to learn that the trust has not received significant capital investment to improve its services since its initial construction more than 50 years ago, while neighbouring trusts have received funding more recently. That results in a significantly lower per capita spend for the population served by the trust—around £60 per head in the region, compared with neighbouring trusts that receive more than 11 times that amount, at £680 per head. I am sure I do not need to point out to him that positive change means productivity and prosperity. Those things are limited by a high local prevalence of chronic disease.

Our local population has a higher prevalence of 17 out of 21 chronic conditions recorded on the quality and outcomes framework in 2020-21. Both long-term and temporary sickness are cited as the main reason for unemployment in Hartlepool; at 33%, that is higher than the national rate of 25%, suggesting that poor health outcomes are the main driver of unemployment in the region and underlining the significant need for a return of good health services locally.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way once again; she is being incredibly generous with her time. We were all elected on a mission to level up, and levelling up is about delivering on those health outcomes. Does she agree that levelling up health inequalities in the north-east is a key part of why we are here?

Absolutely. It is incredibly important because, without levelling up health disparities, we cannot get growth or productivity, so it is very important to make sure that we have a happy, healthy population.

The historic lack of prosperity means that a disproportionately high percentage of the local population is in the lowest 10% for deprivation in England, based on the index of multiple deprivation. That puts Hartlepool in the bottom 10 of 147 local authorities nationally. High levels of deprivation also contribute to the fact that life expectancy in Hartlepool and throughout the Tees Valley is considerably lower than the national average in the most deprived areas.

It is the lack of prosperity and the deprivation that I was elected to fight. The people of Hartlepool voted for me to bring positive change. They wanted an MP who finally listened and did something about it. I will not rest until we get the local health services that we deserve and have been so cruelly deprived of. We have been ignored for too long. Will the Minister commit to meeting Julie Gillon and me to discuss the matter further?

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Jill Mortimer) on securing this important debate about hospital provision in the Tees Valley. I know the issue is important to her and that she works tirelessly for the people of Hartlepool on not just healthcare but many other issues. As she knows, responsibility for the new hospital programme sits not with me but with Lord Markham, a fellow Minister at the Department of Health and Social Care. I am, however, hugely grateful to her for giving me the opportunity to update the House about the ongoing work in this area.

I have been trying to meet Lord Markham for many weeks. Will my hon. Friend commit to helping me secure a meeting as soon as possible?

I absolutely guarantee and assure my hon. Friend that I will get that meeting with Lord Markham arranged as soon as is practically possible, but certainly in the next few days.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to highlight how the Government are prioritising capital spend in our NHS in order to transform and improve healthcare outcomes for people and put healthcare financing on a sustainable footing. She understandably and rightly focused on the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, her local trust, and of course the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton, which serves many of her constituents. I will, of course, turn to that, but before I do I will briefly reference our capital funding plans more broadly, because the context is important.

We have already provided record sums to upgrade NHS buildings and facilities so that trusts up and down the country can continue to provide the best possible quality of care. Currently, the Department’s capital budget is set to reach upwards of £36 billion for 2022-23 through to 2024-25—a record capital settlement—and we are using that level of investment to address current care delays.

My hon. Friend made a strong case for why new hospitals are important. As important as they are, the broader health economy is, of course, about far more than that. It is about surgical hubs; it is about community diagnostic centres such as the one in Stockton, as she rightly pointed out; it is about ambulance hubs, and it is about discharge lounges. It is about all those value-adding capital projects too. As part of our urgent and emergency care recovery plans, the 5,000 extra beds that are being added to existing NHS hospitals ahead of next winter are also hugely important.

As I said, new hospitals are, of course, important, and we are aware of the need for further investment in the NHS estate. We are investing an extra £1.7 billion to 2025 for more than 70 hospital upgrades. As my hon. Friend alluded to, the Government have committed to building 40 new hospitals, backed by an initial £3.7 billion for the first four years of the new hospital programme.

We are incredibly grateful for the £40 million invested recently in the North Tees and James Cook hospitals, and for Stockton’s new diagnostic hospital and mental health crisis hub, but the incredible, committed, dedicated, grade-A workforce at North Tees deserve grade-A facilities. Will the Minister ensure that North Tees’s bid to rebuild and upgrade the hospital is given the fullest attention?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know from his persistence in campaigning for the community diagnostic centre that his continued persistence in campaigning for a new hospital and upgrades will not have been missed by the relevant Minister, Lord Markham. I will come on to talk about the new hospital programme and the selection of the next eight hospitals.

As I said, the Government are committed to building 40 hospitals, backed by an initial £3.7 billion. Two schemes are already complete and five are currently under construction. The programme is delivering facilities that are at the very cutting edge of modern technology. Critically, it is engaging with clinical staff to ensure that we provide a better working environment for them. We know that enables increased efficiency; importantly, it also promotes staff wellbeing and improves retention.

First, I apologise to the Minister—he was not, in fact, the Minister who turned down the funding for the centre of excellence in Hartlepool. I pay tribute to Julie Gillon, with whom I have worked for 16 years; she is a tremendous officer and I am sorry she is moving on. I very much welcome the diagnostic centre in Stockton, which is the result of many years of work between the local authority and the health trusts. We heard a tale of woe from the hon. Member for Hartlepool (Jill Mortimer), who spoke of a lack of capacity, difficult buildings, buildings falling down—all manner of problems after 13 years of Conservative rule. Does the Minister agree that we should work together to secure what we need: new hospital facilities to serve our communities on Teesside?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that we need to invest in new facilities up and down the country. From spending time in Hartlepool speaking to residents, certainly during the by-election, I know how frustrated they are with public services more generally—or certainly they were, because they did not feel like they had a champion at the heart of Government making their case. However, they now have that champion in my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool, whose dogged persistence in campaigning for not just better health infrastructure locally, but broader investment in Hartlepool, is critical. My hon. Friend is making that case today, and I know she will continue to do so. On his point, the hon. Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) is absolutely right that we need to work together to deliver better services for people.

Turning specifically to my hon. Friend’s constituency, I am pleased to say that we have received an expression of interest from the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust for the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton to be one of the next eight hospitals to be included in the new hospital programme. I can confirm that we have assessed the expressions of interest we have received, and the Government aim to make an announcement in due course.

I am sure my hon. Friend will understand, because we have had many such conversations in the run-up to the debate, that I cannot comment on individual bids while the selection is ongoing. However, she has made her case very articulately and eloquently, and certainly very strongly, and she has put it firmly on the record. I will ensure that her representations are brought to the attention of both the Secretary of State and Lord Markham, and that she secures the meeting for which she has been waiting too long.

If my hon. Friend will permit me to digress for a moment, I will take a couple of minutes to highlight some of the significant funding that North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust has been allocated recently, largely down to her campaigning efforts. The funding includes £23.9 million for a community diagnostic centre in Stockton-on-Tees—I note the nods from my hon. Friends the Members for Cleethorpes (Martin Vickers) and for Darlington (Peter Gibson); they too have been champions of that centre—£3.9 million as part of the targeted investment fund for elective recovery, which is really important because too many of our constituents are on waiting lists for surgery and out-patient appointments; £8.4 million from our community diagnostic fund; £6.5 million as part of the critical infrastructure risk fund to address some of the backlog maintenance issues in our hospitals; and £3 million from our A&E upgrades fund.

In addition, the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust has been allocated £3.4 million from the mental health crisis fund to improve urgent and emergency care facilities for mental health, as mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool. That is really important for taking the pressure off our accident and emergency departments. I know that my hon. Friend will agree that this investment has been invaluable in updating outdated infrastructure and ensuring that modern and sustainable facilities are available for both staff and patients.

Once again, I want to put on the record my sincere thanks to my hon. Friend for all the work that she is rightly doing to support her hospital and, more broadly, hospital and health provision in Tees Valley. She is absolutely right to champion the needs of her constituents and to hold me, Lord Markham and the Department to account on this important issue. Let me take this opportunity to reassure her that the Government are committed to delivering our improvement programmes and upgrades to hospitals and, importantly, to our NHS estate across the country. We very much look forward to delivering the step change in the quality and efficiency of care that we have promised.

Question put and agreed to.

Sitting suspended.