Bill Presented — Infrastructure (Financial Assistance) Bill
James Morris (Halesowen and Rowley Regis, Conservative)
Shortly before I was elected, I was contacted by some nurses from Rowley Regis community hospital in my constituency who had just been told that the hospital’s in-patient wards would be closing. Rowley hospital was one of the last community hospitals to be built under the last Conservative Government using central funds rather than through a private finance initiative project. It had always offered a mix of in-patient and out-patient care, and with about 100 beds it was considerably smaller than nearby hospitals such as Dudley’s Russells Hall, West Bromwich’s Sandwell general or Birmingham’s City hospital.
The last Government’s preference for large super-hospitals meant that the local NHS trust, like others around the country, felt under pressure to move in-patient services from small community hospitals such as Rowley. Staff at the hospital and members of the local community feared that the closure of the hospital’s two remaining wards was part of an agenda to turn it into a polyclinic, which the Government were pushing heavily. There is no question but that without in-patient care, Rowley would be more like a walk-in centre and clinic than what most people think of as being a hospital.
The campaign to keep in-patient care at Rowley brought the whole community together. Working with local residents, staff and patient groups, we gathered petitions against the loss of in-patient care, manned town centre stalls, delivered leaflets and wrote letters. The independent Facebook group alone attracted well over 1,000 supporters. Local people wanted to keep services at their local community hospital.
I know that, as other Members have mentioned, Members of all parties will have run similar campaigns in their constituencies. The campaign was a great success. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, who was then the shadow Health Secretary, joined me for meetings
at the hospital with the NHS trust and hospital staff. He promised that under a Conservative Government services would be maintained where the local population, as service users, and local GPs as commissioners, demanded them. I was therefore proud when, last year, the trust invited me to open the Henderson reablement unit, a new in-patient ward that cares for patients recovering from serious illness. The Henderson unit is now a busy and successful part of the hospital, and I know that the trust is exploring ways to bring further in-patient services to Rowley hospital.
Community hospitals such as Rowley are an essential part of the national health service. They are important because the NHS is not just about drugs and operations, it is about care and about helping people make a full recovery in a supportive environment. Rowley Regis hospital cares for patients who are recovering from life-changing illnesses and injuries while they are unable to care for themselves. The care goes beyond medical treatment and physical therapy, helping patients to regain the ability and confidence to carry out necessary everyday tasks in a safe and supportive environment.
The staff at the hospital are fantastic examples of the very best of our national health service, showcasing the blend of professionalism and compassion on which the NHS at its best relies. Patients feel that they are given more individual and personalised care than would be possible at a large district general hospital.
The hospital itself is a pleasant place to be, which is particularly important for elderly patients whose lives, after a lifetime of independence and living at home, have been turned upside down by a serious fall—such as the one mentioned by my hon. Friend Rory Stewart—or a stroke. Patients can enjoy the beautiful gardens, and socialise in the well-designed communal areas, and when I talk to in-patients at Rowley I find that they are overwhelmingly positive about their environment and the care they are receiving. Being at the heart of the local community, rather than in a larger town a long bus journey away, helps to soften the anxiety of being away from families and friends, and it is easier for families to visit and help relatives through their recovery.
People are extremely proud of Rowley Regis hospital, and I would be pleased to welcome the Minister to Rowley so that she can see it for herself. I know, however, that Rowley is not unique, and other hon. Members have mentioned their experiences of local community hospitals. Community hospitals around the country are important to the patients they care for and treat—the kind of care that is extremely difficult to replicate in a larger hospital. I hope the new Minister will ensure that community hospitals remain a key part of a national health service that, at its heart, recognises that one size really does not fit all.