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Absolutely. The levelling-up agenda touches many parts of the country, including not only the north of England but East Anglia. I agree with my hon. Friend.
I wish to take this opportunity to touch on a recent CQC inspection report on the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust. The trust was formed following the merger of Ipswich and Colchester hospitals in July 2018. The inspection gave the trust a rating of “requires improvement”, which is of course disappointing, but had just one of the 80 inspection criteria been different, the trust would have received a “good” rating. We should hesitate before we draw direct comparisons between the previous inspection five years ago, which rated Ipswich Hospital “good”, and the latest inspection, which also covered Colchester Hospital, which was previously rated as “requires improvement”. Nevertheless, the report’s recommendations for improvement will be important to bear in mind as we consider health funding going forward.
The report mentioned cutting referral waiting times, improving capacity for emergency mental healthcare, and ensuring that staff have the right training to provide patients with the correct care. All those aspects must be priorities, so I welcome the provision in the NHS long-term plan for better training opportunities for NHS staff, as well as additional staff and funding for mental health services. I trust that the Government will closely consider the specific needs of Ipswich and East Anglia as the plans are moved forward in the interests of levelling up the whole country.
Planning permission has recently been approved for a brand-new £35 million A&E department at Ipswich Hospital, which is expected to open in spring 2020. I look forward to an invitation to cut the ribbon. The new department will make a real difference for the more than 100,000 people it will treat every year. I hope the Government will recognise that and continue to support further significant upgrades in Ipswich.
Investment has been confirmed for a new orthopaedic centre in the East Suffolk and North Essex Trust area by 2024, and I know that many in Ipswich are concerned that it may be located in the centre of Colchester. I want my constituents to know that I will closely monitor the developments around the new orthopaedic centre to ensure that they will be able to access services smoothly and with minimal disruption. I will endeavour to ensure that if the orthopaedic centre is located in Colchester, patients will have to go there only for main operations, and that all other appointments should be made in the hospital closest to them.
The key point is that those twin investments—the A&E department in Ipswich and the new orthopaedic centre, wherever it may be located—may not have happened had a merger into a single trust not taken place. The merger of Ipswich and Colchester hospitals has the potential to provide a critical mass when it comes to delivering the resources that local people need for their health and wellbeing. A further example of that is that, since the merger, radiotherapy treatments for cancer patients in Ipswich have been maintained in Ipswich at the same rate, when there were fears that they might have been moved elsewhere. In addition, the staff vacancy rate, which was 12% before the merger, is now 9%.
I call on the Government to further communicate the benefits of the merger, to give people confidence in the system and to give them every reassurance that both Ipswich and Colchester hospitals can improve together. Rather than there being a situation in which one hospital drags another down, it must be the case that when two hospitals come together, the good one drags up the one that is struggling. It must not be the other way round. I will continue to have a watchdog role in respect of the merger. Some of the initial improvements, particularly the new A&E department in Ipswich, are positive, but I will not hesitate to question any developments that may not be in Ipswich residents’ interests.
Before I move on from the recent inspection report, it would be remiss of me not to congratulate our local NHS staff in Ipswich, who have been identified as delivering outstanding practice in critical care, maternity services and community health in-patient services, as well as good levels of practice in many other areas.
I also wish to pay particular tribute to members of the Indian community in Ipswich, who fill many roles in our local NHS services. Their commitment and dedication to their work is unquestionable. The role that the Indian community plays in our local NHS is one of the driving reasons why I wish to express my wholehearted support for the Government’s plan to attract the top talent from around the world to work in the NHS after Brexit, to help provide vital services on which we rely every day.
It is important that we prioritise those who have the most to contribute. I am glad that the Government have identified this as a priority component of a new Australian-style points-based immigration system that we will bring in, with a preferential visa system for those seeking to work in the NHS.
I recently met the chief executive of Ipswich hospital and have been invited to visit the hospital shortly to meet all the hard-working staff. I look forward to hearing further about how we can work together to improve the hospital that we all care for so passionately.
I wish to make one final key point on NHS resources, which is incredibly important to my constituents and to the public as a whole. Earlier, I mentioned Ipswich’s new A&E department. The business case for this project took almost a year to approve, when it should have taken a matter of months. For every month of delay, I understand that the cost to the taxpayer was around £167,000, which is mainly due to inflation and increased building costs. I am well informed that the approval process for big NHS capital schemes is too archaic and that part of the problem is a merger of NHS Improvement and NHS England and that the new organisation has not had time to streamline its approvals process.
As well as additional investment, we must ensure that hard-earned taxpayers’ cash is being used efficiently at every stage of healthcare provision. I urge the Government to take this into account, too, as we Conservatives continue our long and proud stewardship of the NHS.