Hospitals, Brighton and Health Services (Report)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 8th August 1966.

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Photo of Mr Luke Teeling Mr Luke Teeling , Brighton, Pavilion 12:00 am, 8th August 1966

In raising the question of Brighton hospitals, I hope that I am not being too localised. The area with which I am concerned contains four constituencies and has a population of about 250,000 people. Its problems are very much the same as those which are developing all over the country, especially concerning doctors, consultants, the general medical profession and hospitals, as against the regional boards. That is the first reason why I want to raise the matter.

My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) is, unfortunately, unable to be here this evening. The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemp-town (Mr. Hobden) has told me that he is supporting me, but is not well enough to be here either, so it remains for my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan) and myself to try to put the case for the Brighton hospitals.

There is also the fact that in Leicester and many other districts to which our consultants have been to talk to doctors they are equally worried about the way things are developing in respect of the regional boards.

There is a second reason, which I never imagined when this problem first arose about a year ago would occur. That is the present financial crisis. I never thought that I would have to stand up against a Labour Minister of Health at this time of crisis and beg him to spend much less money and, at the same time, give greater benefits. Instead of spending £20 million on dealing with a ramshackle old hospital and one or two others, I am asking him to spend £6 million on some bright new ideas, which, I would have thought, interested him. I should have thought that he would follow instead of oppose me on this problem. It is £20 million against £6 million, at a time when everybody is asking us to economise at all costs. He refuses to economise and says that the main reason is that it was all decided long ago.

Admittedly, a scheme was definitely decided and scrapped in 1964. The Government could scrap it in 1964, and just because they have now rushed things two or three months ahead they say that they cannot possibly scrap it again. Of course they can. Not only that: they have pretty well paid all the architects already. There are very few amounts of money which they could not pay off and still save about £13 million or £14 million. That £14 million could easily go towards building other hospitals which are so badly needed in other parts of the country. I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman would try to explain why this is not happening and cannot hapepn.

The third reason for bringing up this question is that I want it to go on record that a group of youngish doctors—in their forties and early fifties—have thought out, in a selfless way, how the people of Brighton and Hove can suffer less and have better equipment in their hospitals and can be generally looked after. They have gone abroad to Scandinavia, the United States and other places to get the most modern ideas.

What they have come up against is a regional board of people in their early, middle and late sixties and in their early seventies.

I can appreciate the Minister wondering why he should worry about this, when he has so much else to do. He may feel that this board should deal with it. When I first came into the House as a young man, I was told that if I ever had any doubts about what I should do I should always do what the Whips suggested. I am not suggesting that the Minister is doing only what the Whips suggest, but I do say that he is taking what he thinks is the easiest way out, because he does not want to quarrel with the elderly gentlemen who have been looking after the regional board for years, but who really know precious little about Brighton and Hove. I will come back to the chairman. He doubtless knows quite a lot about Brighton and Hove, but the others do not.

Another reason for bringing this matter up is to discuss the undemocratic side of the present system. The right hon. Gentleman gave me an Answer in the House today in which he said, "No" when I suggested that we might do something to bring in people who were locally connected, locally elected and locally knowledgeable on medical matters, not only in Brighton and Hove but all over the country. Would he tell us in some detail why these things cannot be done?

These are the main reasons for raising the question, and I will now point out the problems. A little lecture to the House on the geography of Brighton and Hove will do no harm. It is a long area with the Downs behind it. It is very thickly populated and is becoming fast much more thickly populated. We had good hospitals in the 1880s, 1890s and the early twentieth century, very suitable for the people of those days, but since then these hospitals have become extremely out of date, and I defy the Minister to point out much that has been done in any of them to make them modern.

It was decided about 1959 that we should have a new accident centre in the Sussex County Hospital and a little improvement in one or two of the other hospitals. It soon appeared to most of us that this would be a stop-gap arrangement, like plastering up a house which was falling down to keep it going for another few years. It seemed that once we had plastered up the accident centre we should be told that so much money had been spent there that we could not possibly open a new central hospital.

During the last three or four years we have developed a new university in Stanmer Park, Sussex University, and there is a possibility of having there a central hospital in an area which is easily accessible both to Hove and to the other end of Brighton. Why cannot we have the hospital there? It is this feeling which inspired our doctors to try to have the hospital in that centre. We feel that if too much money is spent on accident centres at the Sussex County Hospital at one end, or in Hove at the other, we shall not be given enough money to build a hospital in the middle of the area. That is why we are anxious, before too much money is spent on these accident centres, to see whether we can change our minds and do something for the central hospital with all the modern aids which have been offered by these doctor friends of mine.

I do not pretend to be a doctor, or to be intensely knowledgeable of hospital buildings, but, having heard these people talk and met others in the town who support them, I feel that they are right and that I should bring before the House the point of view which almost everyone in Brighton and Hove regards as right. May I quote from a letter which these people sent to the British Medical Journal on 11th June this year: The consultants' plan was overruled by the South Eastern Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board in favour of three district hospitals, two of which were to be built on the cramped site of the Royal Sussex County Hospital and the Brighton General Hospital by a process of serial demolition and rebuilding. In fact, to date the only detailed plans to be drawn up are based upon a redevelopment of the Royal Sussex County Hospital, where there is the new accident centre and casualty department and work such as boilerhouses which are necessary for subsequent phases, for which only outline plans have been developed. They say: When in April, 1965, the Regional Hospital Board decided to postpone for two years the building of the accident centre the consultants immediately and virtually unanimously decided to ask the Regional Hospital Board for a complete reappraisal of the general hospital plans. They felt strongly"— and how right they were— that in 1965 this plan was even more inadequate and out of date than it had been six years earlier. Some people do not seem to realise that in America, Scandinavia and elsewhere, in six or seven years, they can make brilliant inventions for hospital development and plans which some of the members of the South Eastern Regional Board simply could not imagine. The older members never go abroad. They take their holidays at places like Bournemouth. These doctors, on the other hand, go abroad, to places like America, and study, and when they return they bring back ideas which are of great moment. However, when they put their ideas to the regional hospital board the board refuses to discuss them, as happened with this memorandum.

The doctors got together the consultants of the whole area who agreed, by 53 to 3, to support the memorandum. During my discussions with the Minister of Health I was told that I had no backing for this case. Does he consider that 53 to 3 does not represent the back- ing of the consultants of the area? Having gone that far, they took expert advice from the leading hospital architects and quantity surveyors and a fresh memorandum was drawn up. This was considered by the regional hospital board on 14th April at Guy's Hospital. The representatives of the board heard what we had to say and reserved judgment. However, eventually they turned us down, but without giving any reason whatever. I trust that tonight the Minister will give that reason and say why the board would not support us.

The right hon. Gentleman may not know that these quantity surveyors and architects were the exact same ones who were working on his scheme. They decided that they could do theirs for £6 million, as against £20 million. Coupled with that, it should be remembered that one site of the Royal Sussex Hospital is proposed to be built at the far end, the eastern end, of Brighton, which will mean that one will have to go right through Brighton to get to it. It will mean that many people, particularly those coming from Hove, will have to travel through the heart of the town, and in October, through the midst of the Labour Party conference, to get to the hospital. It might even be a Labour M.P. who is taken ill and who may not be able to get to hospital. Sad, but true. It will all be due to the Minister of Health.

What is the reason for these consultants not wishing to agree to the regional hospital board's scheme? It should be remembered, first, that at the Sussex County Hospital there is a steep gradient leading to this area and that the cramped space means that each phase will result in a monolithic skyscraper being built at a cost of £3 million, and that will happen with each phase. Using nodular construction techniques, a similar space could be adapted for the building of units costing about £250,000 each. I am, therefore, not trying to spend money, but to get more the money being spent, and, at the same time, to save money. Rebuilding on this site would mean medical staff and patients being very inconvenienced. This is particularly important from the point of view of patients, because bulldozers and other demolition activities will be going on, with all the noise and dust that is involved when large-scale building operations are in progress; and this will last for nearly 15 years.

A hospital at the eastern extremity of Brighton would be badly placed. It is the main accident area. It will have to serve Hove, Portslade and, in time, Southwick and Shoreham. As the right hon. Gentleman is aware, this area will develop vastly in the coming years, with great increases of population. It will become the Greater Brighton area and for some years to come the whole of mid-Sussex will be served by this hospital.

The right hon. Gentleman must also take into account the fact that the eastern road runs past the hospital and is to be developed as a four carriageway ring road. This is in the Ministry of Transport's plans. This will cause traffic congestion and other difficulties because of traffic approaching Paston Place and coming from subsidiary roads from the sea front. Traffic noise is also a serious embarrassment to patients, as I believe happened in Bristol. There is no space for car parking. Allowing one car per visitor, we can expect 800 cars in this area, their drivers looking for parking space. There is no possibility of such accommodation. Inadequate space is available for the nurses' home and staff. The central supply department will be sited at Bevendean, at another hospital three miles away. The eye hospital and other departments will be linked to the main heating system, with a tunnel under the road. All this, when we have perfectly good space at Stanmer Park, when one could build at a quarter of the price.

The project is to be divided into five phases. No time limit is given for completion, and the most optimistic estimate is that it will take at least 15 to 20 years from commencement. That is the prospect. We are told that we cannot build any more quickly, but they can build more quickly in the United States and in Scandinavia. Why cannot we build more quickly a really possible and necessary hospital?

The other day, the Minister told me that I was quite wrong in suggesting that the £20 million and £6 million schemes were comparable. I have, therefore, gone into the matter in considerable detail and I find that the two sums are the values of the final plans of the respective schemes. Both cover the complete development for hospital services in this group. They are therefore strictly comparable——