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St Helier Hospital Improvements and New Hospital: Sutton

Volume 746: debated on Friday 1 March 2024

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

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to raise in this House my local hospital, St Helier Hospital, once again, and of course the delivery of a new hospital in the London Borough of Sutton. A rudimentary search of Hansard tells me that I have mentioned this over two dozen times, so I am grateful to the House for indulging me once again. Indeed, it was just one week ago last year that I had an Adjournment debate on a similar topic.

I committed a year ago that as soon as the new hospital was built and St Helier upgraded, I would stop banging on about it. I reconfirm that commitment here today. St Helier Hospital is not just close to my heart; it has a long history. It has been a vital part of the community long before it saved my life, long before it saved the life of my family and my partner in recent years, long before the new hospitals programme or covid, and long before I was born. In fact, as I have said in this Chamber before, the hospital is older than the national health service itself. It opened in the early ’40s during the second world war. Soon after opening it was bombed in an air raid, but remained open and operational. It has served generations of our local community, including my own family. Through my constituency work as a Member of Parliament and as someone who used to work for the NHS before I was elected, I have seen the fantastic work done by St Helier Hospital, the Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, and the wider NHS.

I take this opportunity to place on the record my sincere thanks and gratitude to the fantastic NHS staff, who do such a fantastic job in keeping my constituents healthy. They are an example to us all, and I know at first hand how good their care is, often in the toughest of circumstances. It is about the work not only of our doctors, consultants and nurses but of all the other healthcare professionals, as well as the support of admin staff, porters, cleaners, pharmacists—I am so glad we are starting to recognise how amazing pharmacists are—and many others who help keep the NHS moving.

I mentioned earlier that I never miss an opportunity to mention St Helier. Indeed, my first mention of it was in my maiden speech, in which I praised the Government’s commitment to deliver over half a billion pounds’ worth of investment in the hospital, and to build a new hospital. I would like to do so once again today. Before being elected in the last general election, I campaigned to improve healthcare by protecting St Helier and building a second state-of-the-art hospital in my borough. I am thrilled that, despite what some people might say, it is this Conservative Government who are delivering that vital project. Some people’s lack of recognition of the work that has been done so far is appalling. They should be supporting any positive progression in our local healthcare. Our staff, our patients and my constituents deserve an improved St Helier Hospital that will continue to be there for them and, indeed, a second brand-new hospital to deal with the most complex cases.

To properly discuss St Helier and the need for this vital work, it is important to go back and look at the background. In July 2017, the trust began a comprehensive engagement exercise on the long-term future of the trust’s healthcare services. Years of work followed with the local clinical commissioning groups—the predecessors of integrated care boards—in Merton, Sutton and Surrey Downs, which led to a formal consultation being launched in early 2020, when it was proposed that the trust would take ownership of the consultation and the delivery of a new hospital as part of the Building Your Future Hospitals programme, with work starting on an outline business case.

Throughout the years, and throughout covid, the work continued. In May 2023, the then Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Steve Barclay), announced that the Building Your Future Hospitals programme would be fully funded and completed by 2030. The trust has been very quick to get on board and be ready to go at a moment’s notice, and it is eagerly awaiting confirmation while progressing with some of the work that need to be done in the interim. The trust has recently received the excellent news that it will get additional fees for 2023-24 from the new hospital programme, and hopes to have confirmation of the fees for 2024-25 shortly.

The trust is already doing great work, at pace, to deliver parts of the programme on an accelerated timescale, and I understand that a final decision on the next financial year’s fees will be made alongside consideration of the business case later this year. I join the trust in hoping that it is confirmed as part of an early cohort of schemes, because it has already demonstrated how ready it is to go. However, some of the work that needs to be done in earnest includes land acquisition from the Royal Marsden Hospital, junction improvements, site demolition and the like. This is an issue that I will come back to later.

I fully understand the difficulties that exist with St Helier’s current site and the difficult situation facing the hospital. I can reassure my constituents—I know that the NHS trust wants to reassure people, because we see such an old building that is struggling to cope with delivering modern healthcare—that St Helier is progressing and pushing ahead with much-needed maintenance. As I have said, much of the St Helier estate is older than the NHS. In fact, 90% of the buildings are older than the NHS, and every year the trust invests millions of pounds to try to address the urgent challenges and improve the building and facilities, to ensure the environment is safe for patients and staff. A small fortune is spent each and every year on maintenance, and it becomes harder and harder as modern medical practices demand more sophisticated technologies.

That serves to highlight the vital need of this project and why we need to move at pace. Epsom and St Helier are ready to fully mobilise as soon as their fees are agreed and approved, and it is vital to fully spell out what this will mean for local residents. The programme will deliver a brand-new, state-of-the-art specialist emergency care hospital in Sutton. It is simply not true to say that St Helier is closing; in fact, quite the opposite is true. The project will upgrade the existing infrastructure at Epsom and St Helier hospitals. That means that we will have not one but two hospitals in the London Borough of Sutton. It will represent the largest healthcare investment in our local area for decades, replacing outdated infrastructure and attracting new staff to face down the challenges that are currently plaguing our local hospitals.

The new specialist emergency care hospital will provide critical emergency care, acute medicine, paediatric and childbirth services to the 15% most complex and sickest patients in the borough, while the remaining 85% of services will continue to be provided at Epsom and St Helier hospitals. That means that, despite all the times in the past when other Governments before us considered closing St Helier Hospital and getting rid of A&E and maternity, we finally have a plan that keeps all those services within our borough.

I will say once again for the benefit of those listening that this is a brand-new hospital in our borough, alongside a new and improved St Helier Hospital. That is incredible news for local patients, but we have to get on with it. Some incredible work has been done already to prepare the site at Sutton. Other work includes the recent refurbishment of B and C blocks at St Helier Hospital. Nothing could put it better than a recent Care Quality Commission inspection of services at Epsom and St Helier, which highlighted how difficult the infrastructure is for the patients cared for there and the staff delivering that care. It recognised the need for investment in the infrastructure. I am glad the Government have met that commitment, but we need to let the trust move as quickly as possible, because it is ready and raring to go. We must meet its ambition. I take the opportunity to invite the Minister, who is in her place, any Minister from the Department of Health and Social Care or the Secretary of State, to come and visit the trust, look at the site in Sutton, and see how excited the trust is and what amazing plans it has.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister confirmed at the Dispatch Box last June that the Government were fully committed to the new hospital programme, and that

“the Department is working closely with the trust to make sure that we can progress work as soon as possible, and we expect the new hospital to be delivered by 2030.”—[Official Report, 14 June 2023; Vol. 734, c. 295.]

I would very much like to receive that same reassurance today. The trust has been working within the constraints of what it can do so far, but, as I want to hammer home, it is ready to go at pace. I sincerely hope that we can match the trust’s ambitions. I hope that the Minister can update me or, perhaps when she is in a position to do so, write to me to confirm when the 2024-25 fees will be announced, which are fundamental to the preparatory works needed to deliver the new hospital. I hope she can reassure me that those fees will be substantial enough to fully allow the trust to move at pace, as it is ready to begin delivering these projects.

The trust is so excited, as are my constituents and I, about what this means. I cannot stress enough how many times there has been a question mark over the future of the hospital—at least our A&E and maternity services. We now have a plan, which was developed by our NHS colleagues and funded by this Government, to prevent any of that from happening. In fact, it is the largest investment in our local healthcare in decades. The trust is ready to go. We need to ensure that we deliver the finances and the infrastructure to allow it to do so. We can see progress this year, as the trust has a plan to deliver that visible progress, so I sincerely hope that I can tempt the Minister and her Department with that visit.

I look forward to continuing to work with the Department, and I must say how constructively it has worked with me and my constituency neighbours when we speak about how much we want the programme to be delivered at pace. I thank the Department for that, and I hope that the Minister can give me some good news that the Government are equally excited to ensure that the project continues at a very quick pace.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Elliot Colburn) on securing this debate. I assure him that the Department is also very excited about this project. He is a tireless campaigner for healthcare in his constituency, and I know he has advocated for this new hospital on many occasions. I am delighted that the trust has done an amazing job of decreasing backlog maintenance year on year across its sites, particularly at St Helier Hospital.

We are working closely with Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust on its plans for a new specialist emergency care hospital in Sutton as part of our new hospital programme. The trust is currently preparing its refreshed outline business case, supported by the new hospital programme team, to ensure that its plans are aligned with the national approach to standardisation, are deliverable and, of course, provide value for taxpayers’ money.

The plans for the new specialist emergency care hospital will include a new major emergency department, acute medicine, emergency surgery, critical care for intensive monitoring and paediatric care, as well as both midwife-led and consultant-led birth units. However, 85% of care will still be delivered at Epsom Hospital and St Helier Hospital.

I could kick myself for forgetting to mention that we have not only those incredible services but a brand-new working partnership between the Royal Marsden, an incredible cancer hospital that we are very lucky to have in Sutton, and the specialist emergency care hospital. We can provide more and improved services for cancer patients with the two trusts working closely together.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting the importance of working across specialties to deliver the best possible care.

I am delighted that the trust continues to work collaboratively with the programme on developing designs for its new hospital scheme, following our national approach to standardisation, Hospital 2.0, through which we will see the most benefits from economies of scale and efficiencies.

The scheme had received more than £23 million in development funding by the end of the 2022-23 financial year. This funding has supported the trust’s activities to prepare for main construction, including the vacation of blocks at St Helier ready for demolition, and a new electronic patient record system that will be implemented next year. In the current financial year, we have released over £1 million in fees to support the trust to develop its business case for early works to prepare the site for main construction.

Part of the funding is for a programme of demolition and groundworks to prepare the Sutton site, which we expect will start later this year, as well as to ensure that vital utilities are available at the new site, including power upgrades and junction improvements. I assure my hon. Friend that Ministers are committed to keeping him updated as further funding is released.

I am pleased to note that the trust has received additional funding from national programmes in recent years, including £7.3 million allocated for the relocation of services from the new Epsom and Ewell cottage hospital and The Poplars to Epsom General Hospital. The construction is complete and has been patient ready since August 2023. The trust previously received £6.1 million for A&E upgrade works at both Epsom Hospital and St Helier Hospital, to improve flows through the emergency departments by increasing A&E capacity and capability.

I take this opportunity to provide a general update on the new hospital programme and the ambitious work it has been undertaking. I am very pleased that four of our new hospitals are now open to patients: the Northern Centre for Cancer Care; the Royal Liverpool Hospital; stage 1 of the Louisa Martindale, also known as the 3Ts Hospital, in Brighton; and the Northgate and Ferndene Hospitals in Northumberland. A further four hospitals are expected to be opened by the end of the next financial year: the Salford Royal major trauma centre, Dyson Cancer Centre, the National Rehabilitation Centre and Midland Metropolitan University Hospital. A further 18 hospitals are either in construction or have early construction activity well under way or completed to prepare their sites. That includes surveys and crucial work on non-clinical infrastructure, such as energy centres, demolition and car parking. The programme will deliver facilities that are at the cutting edge of modern technology, and we are engaging with clinical staff to ensure we are providing them with a better working environment, enabling increased efficiency, promoting staff wellbeing and improving retention.

I thank my hon. Friend for his continued engagement on his new hospital scheme. I know that my ministerial colleague with responsibility for the programme, Lord Markham, is arranging to meet him and other colleagues to discuss the new hospital plans in more detail. I appreciate how tirelessly he campaigns for his constituents, and I assure him that we are committed to delivering the new hospital for Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust by 2030.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.