Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

February Adjournment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:32 pm on 13th February 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Labour/Co-operative, Harrow West 12:32 pm, 13th February 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Jack Lopresti, not least because of his contribution about education and social mobility, which gives me the opportunity to plug the fourth university fair I have organised for my constituents in the London Borough of Harrow. It will take place on Monday 2 March from 3 pm to 6 pm at the excellent Whitmore High School in my constituency. Every student and parent in the borough thinking about university is extremely welcome to attend. All the leading universities will be there. There will also be options for working abroad. I pay tribute to those universities, including the Oxbridge pair, that will be attending the fair and which, as a result of the success of the previous three fairs, have now stationed a member of staff in the school to work with staff to encourage applications to Russell Group universities and to continue the broader job of trying to increase aspiration among students in my constituency. It is extremely welcome.

I want to concentrate my remarks on the national health service in Harrow and north-west London more generally. Health Ministers will be aware of the collapse, after seven years, of the Shaping a Healthier Future programme, which was designed to plan the future of the NHS across the eight clinical commissioning group areas of north-west London. It originally envisaged the closure of four accident and emergency departments, two of which did take place, but then campaigns, led not least by my hon. Friend Andy Slaughter, led to the successful defeat of the proposals to close his A&E department. That, coupled with Treasury concerns about the financing and population estimates, led last June to the Department of Health and Social Care formally cancelling the programme. On the surface, that was a good thing, because it helped to secure another two A&E departments in north-west London, and, at least for my constituents who rely on the A&E department at Northwick Park Hospital, it means there will not be even more pressure on our hospital.

As yet, however, there has not been any replacement strategy for the future of health services in north-west London, which is a particular concern for the future of Northwick Park Hospital, which has a £140 million backlog of essential maintenance, according to a written parliamentary answer from the Department of Health and Social Care; has been starved of substantial investment of late and is certainly short of intensive therapy unit beds; and has not been able to achieve its four-hour A&E target since August 2014. In that time, my partner has managed to have two children and Brad Pitt got married to and divorced from Angelina Jolie, which gives the House a sense of just how long it has been since the A&E department was able to provide a service that meets the key NHS targets.

That is not to decry the talents and dedication of the staff who work at Northwick Park Hospital. I have had to use the paediatric A&E department facilities many times, and the staff there are amazing—that view is widely shared in my constituency—but there is no clarity about the future of the hospital. That is brought into stark focus by the fact that the trust that runs the hospital is set to have one of the biggest deficits in the NHS. It is projected to be £92 million by the end of this financial year. It must be one of the first times in the history of the NHS that a hospital has approached the end of the financial year with close to a £100 million deficit. It raises the question: what is the future in terms of capital investment and funding for Northwick Park Hospital, given the wider problems in the NHS economy in north-west London? The Ealing, Brent and Harrow CCGs, in particular, are widely expected to have the highest deficits in NHS history by the end of the financial year. There is clearly something significantly wrong with the financing—and the formula on which that financing is based—of the NHS in north-west London. I would be grateful if the Minister conveyed those concerns to the Department and encouraged Ministers to get to grips with the challenges in north-west London, particularly those facing my constituency.

As Bob Blackman would testify, the future of walk-in services run by local GPs, including the Pinn, Alexandra Avenue and the Belmont health centre was a significant issue at the general election. I am delighted to hear that the last surviving of those three walk-in services, the Pinn, has been saved, albeit it without any extra funding for the CCG. If true, it is genuinely excellent news.

The other two walk-in services at Alexandra Avenue and Belmont serve a more deprived and more economically challenged community than does the Pinn. It would good to hear that there will be funding for walk-in services to be reopened at Alexandra Avenue and Belmont, because without that I fear the pressure on Northwick Park’s accident and emergency department is only going to increase. As the chief executive of Northwick Park made clear to me, the closure particularly of the Alexandra Avenue walk-in centre was being felt very directly both in paediatric A&E and mainstream A&E services.

I should say that I am grateful to the Minister for Health for agreeing to meet me to discuss some of these concerns, but could the Minister on the Front Bench encourage the Department of Health and Social Care to respond? If he could give him a gentle prod to get me a proper briefing, I would be extremely grateful.

I particularly want to raise Mount Vernon cancer centre’s future. Over 1,000 patients from the London Borough of Harrow use Mount Vernon cancer centre annually. Last July, a clinical advisory panel led by Professor Nick Slevin, who is a consultant clinical oncologist at the Christie Hospital, was commissioned to review the quality of services at Mount Vernon cancer centre and to come up with some suggestions for the way forward. It found that the hospital was so dilapidated and short staffed that it could not provide basic elements of treatment.

I understand that it is probably the first time in the NHS’s 71-year history that such a major facility, specialising in what is clearly the country’s second biggest killer disease, has been deemed to pose a risk to patients and been declared unfit for purpose. It was found to be so dilapidated and short staffed that it could not provide basic elements of treatment. Yet if we talk to those who have benefited or who have had relatives who have benefited from the treatment at Mount Vernon Hospital, we find it is a cancer centre that is held in extremely high regard. Again, it is blessed with some remarkably talented doctors and nurses, who have done a tremendous job over the years in saving numerous lives and making a huge difference.

Again, the question is: what is the future of the Mount Vernon cancer centre? Initially, there was a lot of concern, particularly with University College London Hospitals due to take over the running of the cancer centre, that cancer services would move from that site into central London. That does not now appear to be the likely ultimate plan for the cancer centre, but there is no clarity as yet about the cancer centre’s future. It is clear from the review that it does not think, fundamentally, that the cancer centre can continue at the Mount Vernon site. That is creating a lot of concern among those currently undergoing treatment there or those who have benefited from treatment on the site.

Having been operated on at the Mount Vernon site in the dim and distant past when it was an acute hospital, I know the affection in which the hospital is held. As a matter of urgency, I urge NHS England to make sure there is no gap in the attention given to the future of Mount Vernon hospital. It sits in an uneasy place in terms of NHS boundaries, being very close to the boundary that NHS East of England manages, but just within the NHS London region. When UCLH takes over running the facilities on the site next year, apparently in March 2021, NHS East of England will pass over responsibility for working out its long-term future to NHS London. There has to be a concern that there will be some loss of focus on the future of the hospital.

Again, I urge the Minister to brief his colleague the Minister for Health on the concerns about Mount Vernon cancer centre. If it helps to encourage the Minister to take this seriously, Mount Vernon cancer centre serves the constituents of the Prime Minister as well as mine, and I suggest there will be many constituents in Uxbridge and South Ruislip who are very worried about the future of the cancer hospital. On that basis, I look forward to the Minister passing on my concerns.