Medical Centre (Brownsover)

– in the House of Commons at 8:40 pm on 7th March 2016.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Jackie Doyle-Price.)

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby 8:47 pm, 7th March 2016

I am grateful to have secured the debate, which gives me the opportunity to raise an important issue in my constituency. I will speak about the delays that have occurred, over several years, in the provision of a new medical facility in the area of Brownsover, in the town of Rugby.

Rugby is one of the fastest growing towns in the country, and we have a positive attitude towards new development. There has been a great deal of new housing development in recent years, mostly in the north of the borough in and around the area known as Brownsover. Historically, Brownsover has faced a number of complex challenges, which the community and the local authority, Rugby Borough Council, have not shied away from. A lot of investment has been put into overcoming those challenges. The area comprises a mix of social, sheltered and affordable housing as well as privately owned homes, with a population made up of a broad range of different age groups. A large number of young families live in the area, as well as a substantial elderly population. Despite the much-welcomed investment in Brownsover, with additional retail outlets and new housing, and the significant increase in population that has come with it, we have yet to see significant investment in the vital area of local health provision.

The original doctors’ surgery, which dates back 50 years or so, was established as the area developed. Despite the growth of the area and of the population, there is no evidence that the surgery was extended or that there was any recognition of the need for a bigger surgery. Plans for a new medical facility in Brownsover were first proposed back in 2002. The local authority, conscious of the specific needs of the area, began working on plans, under which it would supply land it owned, free of charge, to a developer willing to provide a community centre, alongside an all-encompassing modern medical facility, as part of the wider plan to revitalise the area.

The years passed, and for many years there was no progress, but plans for a new medical centre resurfaced in 2011. A planning application was submitted to the local authority and was approved that year. At the time, there was a real expectation that work would begin the following year, but, once again, local residents were left exasperated as the months and years passed and no works were begun. The community, which had been so optimistic when plans were first revealed in 2002, was once more left angry and frustrated—even more so when they were forced to watch from the sidelines as plans for new medical facilities elsewhere in our growing town were approved, particularly a very smart new development on the old cattle market site.

I hope the picture I am painting shows that, for many years, my constituents in Brownsover have suffered disappointment after disappointment, and false promises and false dawns about getting their new medical centre. I must say that the anger in the community reached a tipping point in February 2015, when the news broke that NHS England had withdrawn the contract for the existing local GP practice in Brownsover and that the practice was to close in April—just three months later—which left little time to arrange alternative facilities within the community. The announcement was met with considerable fury within the community, which, as I have said, has complex needs and challenges.

The news of the closure of the GP surgery caused real disquiet within the community. A GP, who was held in high regard, had practised there for 30 years, and this much-valued and much-needed facility—as I have said, the only one in the urban area in the north of Rugby—was serving over 6,600 patients in partnership with its sister surgery in the town centre. Residents felt at ease with the local GPs, who in turn knew the residents’ medical history. There was real concern at the sudden nature of the news. I will come on to the actions taken by NHS England to deal with that concern.

To its credit, one of the first things NHS England did was to provide an opportunity for local residents to pose questions in a series of public meetings. The community expressed real anger at those meetings. They took place on 2 and 9 March, while Parliament was sitting, and on Friday 13 March 2015, when, as I was in my constituency, I was able to attend the one in Brownsover scout hut. The concerns of some pretty angry residents revolved around three issues: first, the lack of notice they had received; secondly, the interim arrangements that would be made; and, thirdly, whether the new surgery they had been promised would actually be delivered, given that they had been given such promises many times before. At the meeting I attended, residents were assured that the new surgery would be provided, and that it would open in the late summer or autumn of 2016.

The news that the new surgery was coming was intended to be the light at the end of the tunnel to appease an incensed community, but there was concern over whether the assurances would be fulfilled. When I attended the meetings, it seemed to me that a delivery time of 18 months was rather optimistic. It seems that that caution was justified, because we are yet to see evidence of any activity to supply the new surgery. There is absolutely no evidence of a spade getting anywhere near the ground. I have recently described the delays in delivering this provision as completely unacceptable. The original opening date of autumn 2016, which was promised by NHS England in the public meetings and to me in meetings in my office, will definitely not be realised.

It is a matter of regret that NHS England has not covered itself in glory in this matter. The news of the closure first came out in February 2015 and patients were informed by letter that the practice would close its doors on 17 April that year. I was notified by NHS England by email on 16 February. That led to a flurry—an avalanche, in fact—of emails from concerned constituents. There was concern about the method by which the news was communicated. One resident showed me a two-page letter that had details on only one side of the piece of paper, leaving them to guess what the other information might be.

The intention was that the surgery would close within three months and that residents would be able to register at a new temporary surgery some 2 miles away in Rugby town centre while the new surgery was built. The distance of 2 miles to the site in Lower Hillmorton Road was a concern for many of the residents for whom it would cause difficulties. Many of those with young children or with particular health needs felt that travelling to the temporary practice would be too much to bear, despite an offer from NHS England to provide transport for residents.

It is easy to understand why people were concerned when the facility in their community had been taken away and a new one had been promised for a number of years. Within the community, we managed to convey the message that there would be some temporary pain in order to achieve a long-term gain. Regrettably, that long-term gain seems to be some distance away.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality)

This debate is not about my area, but I am curious to know whether any consideration has been given to the increasing population? In Belfast, the population will double in the next 20 years, so Northern Ireland has to look forward strategically and have a long-term vision. Has consideration been given to population growth in planning the new surgery? Is it not time for the Government to look to the long term and create the provision for the next 20 or 30 years?

Photo of Mark Pawsey Mark Pawsey Conservative, Rugby

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting point. To a certain extent, that involves chasing a moving target. The surgery that was in the community was completely inadequate for the needs and size of the population. I fear that some of the delays in the delivery of the new surgery are happening because we are trying to anticipate what will be needed in the future. The sense in my community is that we do not have anything now, so let us get on with delivering what has been promised for many years.

I met NHS England in February last year and learned about the temporary arrangements for transferring patients to Lower Hillmorton Road and the cost involved in modifying those premises, which had been deemed inadequate for use as a surgery. Money was therefore spent on that building. I also heard about the plans for delivering the new surgery. Again, I was told that it would be delivered in the late summer or autumn of 2016. I was keen to do all that I could to ensure that those commitments were met. I kept in contact with NHS England and representatives of the Brownsover patients action group, which came together under the capable leadership of Jake Stevenson.

In the second half of 2015, some of us perhaps took our eye off the ball and thought that plans were being worked up and that work would start imminently—we simply waited for things to happen. Things came to a head in early 2016 when, after visit after visit to the site, nothing seemed to be happening and I thought that it was probably time to arrange a further meeting with NHS England, and to invite representatives from the Brownsover patients action group. We also invited NHS Property Services, which had come to take over the project. At that meeting in January or February this year I became increasingly concerned about the lack of progress, and it became clear that the opening of the surgery would be put back for one, two or three years—it was not clear exactly when it would be, because a new business plan needed to be put in place and that was still being worked on, despite previous assurances that the work was going out to tender.

It was equally alarming when we were told at that meeting that it was now possible for a practice to be put into the original buildings on the Brownsover site, which we had originally been told was unsuitable. We learned that that site was to be brought back into operation on a temporary basis, having closed for a year and with 6,600 patients relocated to new practices in the town. For many of my constituents, being told that the old site would once again be available might have been good news, but it meant that the new surgery that the community had been waiting for would be delayed. We now hear that the old site will be made available as a temporary site for three to five years, and we do not believe that that is temporary—it is getting close to being permanent once again.

There are no issues with the availability of land because the local authority will make the land available, and no issues of planning consent because that has already been granted. It seemed that bureaucracy and red tape within the system was going to cause a significant and unacceptable delay, and the light at the end of the tunnel that was promised to my constituents was fading fast. At that point I contacted the Minister, who I am delighted is in his place, and I alerted him to the situation. I am grateful to him for meeting me so swiftly after we made contact.

A couple of weeks ago on 22 February, I and Jake Stevenson from the Brownsover patients action group met the Minister, together with representatives from NHS England and the Department of Health, to outline our concerns. One outcome of that meeting has been that NHS England has become a lot more communicative. It was kind enough to email me on 1 March to update me and advise me that it has awarded a contract to a company to assist it with the business case for the medical centre. That is not a contract for building or delivering the surgery, just to assist with the business case. It is disappointing that in the past 12 months we have got absolutely nowhere. We are no further forward than we were this time last year, and clearly the promises that were made will not be realised.

One key reason why I have brought this matter to the attention of the House is the long history of disappointments that my constituents in Brownsover have gone through over the years. We are now looking for firm assurances that whatever date we are given for the delivery of the new service, it will finally be delivered.

I am very grateful to the Minister for the attention he has given to this matter so far, for the understanding he displayed to members of the patients action group when he met them, and for his sympathy. It is clear that the Minister gets it. He understands why the delivery of the surgery is so important. I was very impressed by his willingness to bring parties together, to talk around the table and to bring about a solution to the challenges in getting this very important provision delivered at the earliest opportunity. I very much hope that in his response to my remarks he will be able to provide the assurances my constituents in Brownsover are looking for.

Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt The Minister of State, Department of Health 9:05 pm, 7th March 2016

I thank my hon. Friend Mark Pawsey for bringing the debate to the House, and for the courtesy and kindness with which he has described my role. I certainly get it. I certainly get the frustrations involved in dealing with property matters in relation to the NHS, matters to which I have become more accustomed in the past nine months or so. I wish I was able, at the conclusion of my remarks, to give him all the assurances he wants, but as the NHS is an independent body I cannot quite do that. However, we can, perhaps, get somewhere towards it, because of how he has brought the case and defended his constituents’ interests.

My hon. Friend has fairly described the issues in his community of Brownsover, with its mix of peoples and complex needs. The medical centre is a matter of extreme concern to his constituency. The uncertainty over the future provision of GP services in Brownsover has continued for more than a year, and that is only the latest chapter in the catalogue of events that he described. It is clearly unacceptable to him and his constituents. I am fully aware that local people and patients have expressed their frustration in a number of ways. I know he shares that feeling, and so do I. I will say a little about the general position of our GPs, their premises and the pressures they are under, and then turn to the particular.

Like every other part of the country, Brownsover needs good local health services, in particular its local GPs. General practice is the bedrock of the NHS and it is at the heart of this vision. It reflects the GP’s key role in providing continuity of care, which is especially important to people with long-term health conditions; the importance of expert generalists, doctors and wider practice teams who look at the whole person, including their medical, social and psychological needs in the round; the fact that general practice is rooted in local communities; and the key role of general practice in public health in immunisation and screening programmes. We ask our GPs to look after people from cradle to grave, and to know when and where to refer patients when specialist care is needed. We also expect them to commission much of the specialist care provided in hospitals.

The key factors affecting the environment within which general practice works, and the challenges and the opportunities they present, include: an ageing population, with increasing numbers of people living with multiple health conditions; higher public expectations, linked to the role of digital technology; a very constrained financial position over the past five years, with general practice seeing a steady decline in its share of the overall NHS budget, albeit after a rapid growth in resources after the 2004 GP contract; and a change in the structure of practice, including a struggle to maintain partners, a growing proportion of salaried GPs, a growing number of GPs wanting to work part time—not just women, but men—and a rise in portfolio careers.

There has been an increase of about 25% in GP consultations since 1998—an estimated 340 million consultations every year. That is the work we expect our GPs to do and which they perform extraordinarily. Within five years, we will be looking after 1 million more people over the age of 70. Quite simply, if we do not find better and smarter ways to help our growing elderly population to remain healthy and independent, our hospitals will be overwhelmed. That is why we need effective, strong and expanding general practice more than ever before in the history of the NHS—an NHS committed both through its premises and through its commissioning to respond to the sorts of pressures my hon. Friend rightly described in relation to Brownsover.

At last year’s election, we committed ourselves to the challenging objective of increasing the primary and community care workforce by at least 10,000 and ensuring that 5,000 more doctors work in general practice, as well as more practice nurses, district nurses, physicians, associates and pharmacists. We will focus recruitment on the most under-doctored areas, where the problems are most acute. Since 2010, the GP workforce has already increased by 5%, with an additional 1,700 GPs working or in training. Over 90% of all NHS patient contact happens in general practice. The average person in England sees their GP six times a year.

All that has profound implications for how general practice works—for the clinical model, the business model and the career model—but, under all that pressure, the profession is rising to the challenge. Practices are increasingly coming together in federations or networks to build on all the traditional strengths of general practice, working at a greater scale to improve efficiency and spread innovation to offer a range of services they struggle to provide individually. There is a strong push towards greater integration with community health services, mental health services, social care and some specialist services, and there is increasing use of the wider primary care team, including nurses and particularly pharmacists.

That is the background to the work, the concerns about general practice and how the Government intend to meet the challenges by delivering pilot projects and vanguards and by looking at different ways of providing GP services. However, people need premises to work out of, so I will now turn to the circumstances that my hon. Friend described. This matter goes back some time, but I can deal in detail only with the events since the notice of closure last year. I am grateful to him and representatives from NHS England and NHS Property Services for meeting me recently to discuss the matter in the round.

The Albert Street medical practice in Rugby and its branch surgery in Bow Fell, Brownsover, closed in April 2015, and Rugby Town medical practice took over the provision of GP services for the patients affected, with the expectation, at the time, that a new practice in Brownsover would open in 2016. In November 2015, representatives of NHS Property Services met NHS England and the Coventry and Rugby clinical commissioning group, and subsequently the Department of Health, and it was agreed that NHS Property Services would be the lead property company supporting NHS England on the development of the new Brownsover facility. NHS England is the lead organisation for the new development.

At a meeting with members of the Brownsover patient action group and my hon. Friend, NHS England explained that the business case previously approved for the development required reviewing because of the change in the size of the development and the change to the lead organisation. A project team, which included members from NHS Property Services and NHS England, was set up to determine the most appropriate method for delivering the scheme. Additional information required for the development of a new business case is now in place. At a meeting with me and my hon. Friend on 22 February, NHS England in the west midlands confirmed that a decision to award a contract would be made that week, and the partner has now started work. This included an initial meeting, on 29 February, with NHS England, the community health partnership and a representative of the Brownsover patient action group.

As I indicated to my hon. Friend, the provision of premises in the NHS is not always straightforward. Ownership of existing premises tends not to be in the same hands—they might be owned by a former GP, a property company or the NHS itself—and all the issues connected with the division of proceeds of land and the need to move carefully on planning come into play even for GP premises and services. Add to that the uncertainty around new developments and the like, and the difficulties, although frustrating, can mount, and that has been the situation here.

Some questions and answers might help my hon. Friend and his constituents. Patients in Brownsover were told that their facility would open this year. When can they now expect it? I understand that NHS England has updated him, as he said, and he is now aware that a contract was awarded on 24 February, but a full business case needs to be developed, which NHS Property Services estimates will take nine months to produce. There will then be a two-month period in which to reach financial close, and around a year for construction and commissioning.

I will say a little about that because it is complex and it might help my hon. Friend’s constituents and others if I put it on the record. It may also help me, in dealing with NHS Property Services, to see how we might streamline the processes rather more than they are streamlined at the moment.

The outline business case and full business case process is an NHS England requirement for commissioners to progress where public capital funds are being invested. Commissioners are required to develop and update an estate strategy that aligns with their commissioning strategy. For very large investments, it might be expected that a strategic outline case is produced. This aims to ensure that all relevant parties are signed up to the associated expenditure.

The clinical commissioning group has included the proposed new Brownsover surgery in its strategic estates plan. This is fundamental if NHS England and the CCG apply for primary care transformation funds or customer capital investment moneys. Once the capital investment has been approved in the estates strategy, the scheme moves forward to an outline business case, and demonstrates the options, costs and benefits. There may be some preliminary design work to establish that planning consent will be achievable. The outline business case also sets out the preferred option and confirms affordability. Because there are different methods of procurement, the outline business case will establish the preferred procurement route and identify the source of funding.

Once the preferred option is identified and approved as being value for money and affordable, the case moves on to the more detailed design and costing to confirm that it meets all requirements and that the budget is set. Again, this detailed work is used to confirm value for money and affordability. The timescales for each stage tend to vary depending on the complexity and scale of the business case.

The Brownsover case is relatively small and less complex than some, but it still involves an option appraisal, land acquisition, design and costing, planning application, procurement tendering processes, agreements for lease and then construction. The House will be glad to know that NHS Property Services advises that it has streamlined its approvals requirement so that investment capital or lease acquisition requires executive approval by two directors and does not need to go before a committee.

That outlines some of the issues pertaining to the background and the agreements that need to be put in place before planning permission can be approved and the matter can move forward. The timetable will be determined partly by the commissioners’ approval process and partly by NHS Property Services procurement route.

“Why so long?”, patients will ask, and they will say that it is a bureaucratic mess. Well, it perhaps sounds more complex than it might be, but this is a public scheme with public value for money, and detailed work is needed to confirm that value for money and affordability. While the Brownsover case is relatively small and less complex, it still involves, as I said, an option appraisal, acquisition, design and costing, planning application, tendering, agreements for lease and then construction.

It must be frustrating for patients and for my hon. Friend to hear all that set out, but in all honesty, I felt that I had to do so. It is not all the fault of those handling property services. They know that if there is a flaw in their process and something goes wrong, they will be hauled over the coals. However, the mere recitation of the process—to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the House—gives rise to the thought that perhaps somewhere, something might be telescoped to give patients the hope that an element of urgency might be produced, particularly where a closure has been in place and it was anticipated for some time before that that new premises might be available. In those circumstances, it is perhaps the Minister’s job to stay on hand with my hon. Friend to make sure that any such urgency flows into the system.

In conclusion, I can confirm that NHS England now believes that the previously approved business case had to be reviewed because of the changes in the size of the development, but it is working on amending the business case and I am told that it will be completed shortly. Once that has been done, NHS Property Services will be in a position to decide how the Brownsover scheme is to be delivered. Although it seems it will not be built in 2016, the fact that progress has been made—in no small measure due to my hon. Friend’s activity—means, I hope, that there will be good news in the future. The closure was not of NHS England’s own choosing, and it has had to respond to that fact. The difficulties outlined by my hon. Friend, together with the frustrations involved in dealing with the complexity of the building processes, have combined to make the situation for patients sadly more difficult than it should be, but there have been reasons for that.

I hope that we can now move on, given the determination of NHS Property Services to fulfil the commitment that it has given to me, and to my hon. Friend, to do all that it can to work with him and with the patients. It is working very hard in that regard, and I pay tribute to those who are now involved in the process of moving that work forward. I pay tribute to the patients for their own patience. Perhaps in due course, they will have the new facility that they so richly deserve.

Question put and agreed to.

House adjourned.