Bill Presented — Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill
Richard Drax (South Dorset, Conservative)
I welcome the Minister to her seat. I would be grateful if she could nod if she has received a large brown envelope marked “Urgent” which I sent to her office in the House of Commons only two days ago. Perhaps she has not quite got it yet because she has had her feet under the desk for only a couple of days; however, it is sitting there somewhere. I mention it because it contains a report whose author is sitting in the Gallery, as is Jan Turnbull, who is chairman of the Swanage league of friends, and Dr Tim Morris, a former Swanage GP.I think they would like to be assured that I have done my job in getting that excellent report to the Minister.
I suspect that a lot of people have been down to Swanage; it is a beautiful place. I challenge anyone, whether they are healthy or ill, to go into Swanage hospital and not automatically to feel better. They will be in a cosy home where Claire Thompson, the cook, produces cakes to die for; I have been greatly honoured to have one given to me. That wonderful cosy atmosphere not only facilitates a good service but sends people home feeling better, which is crucial.
I ask, plead with, beg the Minister to carry out an audit of the 320 community hospitals in the UK before any are closed. I believe that the Government wish to increase care in the community. I always get slightly nervous when I hear that expression because that approach was tried once before by an eminent Prime Minister and I am not quite sure that it went entirely right.
In our neck of the woods, the proposal is to close Swanage hospital and instead to send community nurses out into residential care homes where mainly elderly people—former in-patients—would be put. I would like to give the House the image of these nurses—albeit well-intentioned, well-trained and all the rest of it—arriving at a certain time of day in their vans, unloading all the medical clutter, crashing into someone’s room and saying, “Don’t panic, Mrs Jones—care is here”, when instead Mrs Jones could be tucked up in bed in Swanage hospital, which has been there since 1890, being looked after 24 hours a day. Surely that is the better option, and I suggest that in the long run the other option would turn out to be far more expensive.
Swanage hospital provides outpatient clinics, 15 inpatient beds and a 24-hour minor injuries unit, and it is particularly noted for post-acute care for stroke victims before they go home. Twenty-one consultants visit the hospital weekly, some performing minor and intermediate surgery in its operating theatre, and one GP attends daily. This is not an underused facility. The hospital staff, the league of friends and consultants want the service expanded, not closed; yet the clinical commissioning group, bless it, or CCG, which sounds rather sinister—I do not like these acronyms—wants to close it and introduce a polyclinic in its place. I had wondered whether this was to be a home for parrots or carrots, but it is for people—a polyclinic is, believe it or not, for people. I am sure that the proposal is well-meaning, that it will be well-funded and built with a lot of plastic, and that patients will go there. Yes, it is true that it will provide minor day surgery and slightly more extended services than those
that GPs can offer at present, but it will not have in-patient beds or general anaesthetic, which are what the consultants want Swanage to retain.
Some miles down the road in Wareham, one of the options being suggested is to build a new hospital at a cost of, I guess, £24 million to £35 million, £36 million or £37 million. Why? Where is this money coming from? The league of friends has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds and invested it in its hospital. It now has £1.4 million sitting in a bank account waiting to be invested.
Sadly, the impetus behind this particular move is those GPs in Swanage who want to move to new premises. To be fair—they are not here to speak for themselves—their building is probably not fit for purpose. However, there is room next door to Swanage hospital, in a lovely, cosy place, for them to put their new clinic—it is in the town and ready to go. Instead, they want to put a polyclinic on the outskirts of town, which would be less accessible.
The situation is a tragedy. Again, I ask, plead with, demand that the Minister hold an audit of the 320 hospitals before any are closed, so that the Government can carry on doing what they are doing. In many ways, we all sympathise: money is tight, the cost of the NHS is rising inexorably and we cannot go on like this. We have to consider a more efficient way of providing a service for our patients, but closing a much-loved and much-used cottage hospital in Swanage is not the way forward. I urge the Minister to see this beautiful place, and I invite her to do so, and to meet Claire Thompson. Jan Turnbull is in the Public Gallery and we can guarantee the Minister a cake when she visits.
Before I close, I want to raise one last point that worries me, namely that there is evidence of referrals being suppressed. I have heard this in other debates and meetings that I have had about cottage hospitals. It is said that the aim of the NHS is to claim that such hospitals are underused, but that is entirely disingenuous and, if true, absolutely and categorically wrong. Again—I make no excuse for this—on behalf of my constituents, the hospital, the league of friends and the matron, Jane Williams, I plead with, beg, ask and demand that the Minister please, please, please hold an audit before anything else is done.