Kettering General Hospital: Redevelopment

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:39 pm on 22 March 2024.

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Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Conservative, Kettering 2:39, 22 March 2024

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank the Minister for her attendance and I thank Mr Speaker for granting me permission to hold this special debate. This is my 12th special parliamentary debate on Kettering General Hospital since May 2007; seven of those debates have been since September 2019, so the House is familiar with the subject. The reason I keep applying for debates on Kettering General Hospital is that the redevelopment of the hospital is the No. 1 local priority for all residents in Kettering, and for me as the local Member of Parliament.

Our hospital is a much-loved local institution. It has been in the town of Kettering since the year of Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897. That was a great year for Kettering as not only was the hospital established, but so was the much-loved newspaper, The Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph. And here we are, 127 years on, with an extremely exciting programme of massive investment going into the hospital. It is a really important issue for Kettering, which is why I keep up the pressure on the Government to ensure that the redevelopment programme is delivered and succeeds.

As the local Member of Parliament, I am pleased that Kettering General Hospital’s place in the national new hospital programme has been secured. That programme will see more than 40 hospitals redeveloped across the country. For KGH, it means £500 million of capital investment, with a fully funded, improved and expanded hospital on the same site. This is the biggest ever capital investment in KGH in its 127-year history. Initial enabling works have already started and the project is due for completion in just six years, by 2030.

All of us who live locally know how important KGH is to everyone who lives in the area. As the local MP, I have made it my main priority to make the case for this £500 million of extra investment. By 2030, we should have an improved and expanded hospital on the same site, the biggest ever new investment in our local hospital, and probably the biggest ever capital investment in Kettering itself. It will be of huge benefit to local people for many years to come.

May I start by acknowledging the Government’s commitment to the hospital? This pledge represents a massive amount of money. On top of the £500 million, the Government also effectively injected £167 million into the hospital by writing off its entire debt in 2020. The path to the £500 million project has been complicated and tortuous. It started with a pledge of £46 million made in 2019 to redevelop the A&E into an urgent care hub on the site. In the same year, £350 million was pledged for the hospital rebuild. The combined total was £396 million, but we have now secured £500 million and climbing, so the investment is getting bigger and the ambitions are getting greater. The pledge is no longer to replace the A&E with an urgent care hub, but to redevelop the entire hospital. That is hugely welcome and very significant for the local area.

We need this investment because Kettering and north Northamptonshire are among the fastest growing places in the whole country. The hospital serves the population of north Northamptonshire and south Leicestershire, where the growth in the local population has been almost double the national average over recent years. The latest Office for National Statistics data estimate above average percentage population growth of up to 40% over the next 30 years. Corby, which is next door to Kettering, has the country’s highest birth rate. The hospital expects a 21% increase in the number of over-80s in the local area in the next five to 10 years. The area as a whole is committed to at least 35,000 new houses over the next decade, and the local population in north Northamptonshire is set to rise by some 84,000 to over 400,000 people.

The accident and emergency unit already sees more than 300 patients every single day in a department that is sized to safely see only 110, so the pressures on it are acute. Basically, the A&E is full. It was first constructed in 1994, 30 years ago, to cope with just 45,000 attendances each year, but 170,000 attendances are expected by 2045. Seventy per cent of the buildings on the main site are more than 30 years old, and there is a maintenance backlog of more than £40 million. Sixty per cent of the hospital estate is rated either poor or bad, and local people all know that investment in our local hospital is badly needed. With credit to the Government, they have rightly accepted that, which is why KGH is part of the new hospital programme.

The plans to rebuild Kettering General Hospital are on track and are progressing faster than many similar schemes across the country. The plan is to rebuild KGH on the same site, moving the main services into two new six-storey buildings located next door to each other. The Government have allocated over £500 million to fund these works, including up to £50 million for the new urgent care hub to replace the A&E and just under £50 million for the new power plant to power the new hospital.

The inspirational director of strategy at Kettering General Hospital, Polly Grimmett, recently told North Northamptonshire Council’s health and scrutiny committee in January that the proposals for the new hospital to remain on the same site made progress

“a lot simpler and a lot easier” than other schemes. She said:

“When you look at some of the other 40 schemes across the UK that were actually ahead of us initially, they slowed down and we sped up, because they have been stuck in public consultation for quite some time.”

The difference with Kettering is that it has a local development consent order to do the works; it owns the land. There are not the same problems that other sites are experiencing. Polly went on to say that

“it’s a scheme that’s fairly simple, won’t get stuck in the mire and can progress well.”

She said that KGH has moved to be “near the front” of other hospital builds in the running.

The first step in the redevelopment will see the new power plant being built on the site. This will replace the temporary steam boilers, put in as a temporary solution 12 years ago, which currently sit on flatbed lorry platforms in the hospital car park and can regularly be seen sneezing and spluttering as they power the hospital. They are in urgent need of replacement, which is what the new energy centre will do.

The first of the six-storey hospital buildings in the main scheme will be built in car park A, in the centre of the site, with some staff parking sadly being lost temporarily during that time, and nearby NHS office space will be demolished. Once building 1 is operational, the second phase can begin, which will include the new main entrance facing Rothwell Road.

The main works on the main building can be expected to start in 2026. An important part of the scheme is to keep the hospital running during the construction period. The first part of the scheme will be the energy plant to power the expanded hospital. That really is the main focus of my remarks in the debate today. The preparatory works on the hospital are under way, but I seek confirmation that we can expect spades in the ground to start the building of the energy plant sometime this summer. I hope the Minister can give that reassurance to me and local residents, who are keen to see work actually starting on the site.

The redevelopment of the hospital has been made more urgent by the discovery in February of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete in the maternity wing. I know that where some of the other hospitals of the 40 in the new hospital programme have discovered RAAC, their investment profiles have been speeded up. Very sadly, Kettering now also has RAAC—not to anything like the same extent as some other hospitals, but it is badly affecting the maternity and gynaecology wing. RAAC has been found in the roof where the maternity block is currently housed. It has been deemed unsafe, and the entire top floor has therefore been lost. It is also known from a previous building assessment that the building contains asbestos and is deemed unsuitable for long-term repair. As such, could the Minister provide me with some reassurance that the investment profile for the rebuild can be speeded up due to the discovery of RAAC? That is an additional factor that was not realised when the original approval was given.

My understanding, which I would like the Minister to kindly confirm, is that ground investigation works are currently under way and are likely to be completed by the end of this month. I think we can expect site hoardings and site offices to be erected next month, which will have some impact on parking on site; that some temporary generators are likely to be installed in May; and that drainage diversions will also be starting. If the Minister could give me some assurance that in the summer we can expect a start to the construction of the energy power plant itself, that would be appreciated. I also understand that there are to be high-voltage infrastructure works—basically, a cable being laid from the Field Street substation under the railway bridge to the hospital—because of the extra power requirements that the hospital will have.

The business case approval process for all the hospitals in these schemes is tortuous. There are three stages that have to be gone through, and each stage takes at least three months for approval by the new hospital programme team and NHS England. Can I have some reassurance from the Minister that if the hospital gets its final business case in—which is due in June—it could be turned around in a fortnight rather than three months, so that we can get the funds in place and the building under way? Can I also have some reassurance that not only the approval process from the new hospital programme team, but the approval process from NHS England, will be expedited? Lots of boxes have to be ticked for the funds to flow, and residents are really keen to see the work under way.

I am grateful to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for being in the Chair, and to Mr Speaker for allowing me to hold this debate. In closing, I simply ask the Minister whether she would be kind enough to facilitate a meeting for me with the Hospitals Minister, the noble Lord Markham—who has previously been kind enough to visit the hospital—so that I can discuss with him the details of the works that will be taking place over the next few weeks and months.