I am delighted to have secured this debate on health services in Halifax, and I will focus particularly on the proposal to close the accident and emergency department, which is the most important issue that has faced Halifax since the banking crisis of 2008. The axe hanging over Calderdale Royal hospital has been handled in the most underhand way. People have been left in the dark over the future of the services they need and value the most. That is simply not acceptable.
I hope that today’s debate will shed some light on what is taking place. I also place on record the excellent health care staff that we have in Halifax, and the nurses, doctors, consultants, clinicians and everyone in the NHS wider health family who do a superb job in difficult circumstances. That is why, as Healthwatch Calderdale has found, although it is sometimes difficult for patients to get an appointment with their GP, the clinical treatment administered by GPs in the district is good and makes a positive contribution to residents’ health in the area. It is, however, the future of A and E that has caused most worry and concern in the town, and the Government, the clinical commissioning group, and the trust’s approach to the whole debate has been lacking in openness and transparency.
I will focus on three key areas in my speech: the funding of health services in Halifax; the so-called consultation and engagement process; and the future of A and E. Those factors tie the whole debate together and I hope that today, the Government can at least provide me and my constituents with some answers in those important areas.
Let me set out briefly the background to the case. Calderdale Royal hospital opened in 2000 thanks to investment from the then Labour Government. It was a new, modern hospital to serve communities across Halifax and Calderdale. There were concerns at the time that the new hospital might not have enough capacity—it did, although that is rather ironic when we consider the arguments and debates that are used to justify the closure of A and E in Halifax. Any problems back then have been overcome, and the hospital has proved a real success story.
The hospital serves communities across Calderdale, and right across to the Lancashire border to the west. It is estimated to have a catchment area of nearly 200,000 people—some as many as 30 miles away. We are talking not about a small, rural hospital, but a major health centre in the heart of an urban area. Why does that matter? It matters simply because it underlines the importance of the hospital services, including A and E, to thousands and thousands of my constituents. The hospital is at the heart of local health services and needs. That is a reason to invest in health services in Halifax, not to cut them; to keep wards open, not close them; to protect A and E, not put it on a life support machine, with its future clouded in doubt with Ministers and the clinical commissioning group playing for time to deal with the issue post the general election in 2015. Questions are dodged, not discussed. Information is wrapped in secrecy and the people of Halifax and Calderdale are, it would appear, treated with contempt on this issue. This is their hospital. These are their health services. They deserve some answers.
That is the brief history. Where are things at today? Well, frankly, it is all a bit of a mess. At its heart are the inherent contradictions in the Government’s approach to health policy across the country generally, and in Halifax specifically. Let us take a look at some of them. The Government say the funding of hospitals is not a problem. Why then is there a funding shortfall in Halifax of potentially £50 million? I noticed this week that Monitor is to investigate the trust to understand why its finances have deteriorated so much. This is an extraordinary amount of money by which to be in deficit.
We all know that the Government’s desire to cut A and Es like the one in Halifax is to save money. It is nothing to do with improving patient care.