Leeds Children's and Maternity Hospital

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 1:29 pm on 1st May 2007.

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Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Shadow Minister (Education) 1:29 pm, 1st May 2007

I am grateful for the opportunity to debate a crucial issue for Leeds, West Yorkshire and beyond.

A stark fact, which we are not at all happy about, is that Leeds is the only major city in this country without a dedicated children's hospital. The experts have said for 18 years that we need one; leading consultants have made the case for 15 years, and parents have campaigned relentlessly in recent years. The city and its people want to change the situation and the campaign for a new hospital has the support of all Leeds and regional MPs, the city council and councillors of all parties. Yet, on 17 March this year, the parents and children of Leeds received a terrible blow. The development of the dedicated children's and maternity hospital for which they had campaigned so hard only a few years before was to be shelved, possibly indefinitely.

The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust's official statement confirmed that plans for the hospital will be severely delayed, blaming a lack of money, as well as the rising costs of the project. The trust stated that the project's affordability had not been proven, and that it felt that it would be unable to make the required repayments for the hospital under the proposed private finance initiative scheme. As the news reverberated around the community, it confirmed many people's fears that the appalling NHS situation in Leeds has had a devastating impact on health services and has led to the hospital being cancelled.

Geoff Stagg, father of 14-year-old brain cancer sufferer Craig and campaigner for the new hospital, summed it up:

"I feel totally let down. We thought the hard work was over in getting the Government to agree" to the hospital;

"to be told now that there's no money for it is a huge blow".

The Leeds children's and maternity hospital was due to open its doors in 2012, as a dedicated state-of-the-art, 370-bed facility for treating children and providing maternity care. It would have centralised services for children that are currently provided predominantly by two sites, as well as others, across the city. It was also due to include one of only three children's liver units in the country and to become the biggest centre for transplants in England. Now it is unclear when—or, crucially, if—the facility will open, and children in Leeds and the wider area are left without the dedicated facility that they so urgently require.

Three years ago, the go-ahead for the hospital was finally granted, marking the culmination of a long and hard-fought campaign, led since 2002 by parents Jonathan Abbott and Carol and Dean Maddocks after they witnessed the conditions in which the dedicated and excellent staff on ward 10 of St. James's university hospital in Leeds were forced to treat young children. Jonathan Abbott has described the crowds of ill, grey adults standing around the entrance of the hospital smoking, as he wheeled in his young son Josh, who suffered from a rare form of cancer, and the complete absence of privacy on the ward. At the end of Josh's treatment, he removed his son from the ward, so that he could die in a place where he felt comfortable.

Carol Maddocks talks of similar problems when her daughter, Alice, was being treated in 2002 for aplastic anaemia, now thankfully in remission. Carol's memories of that time are of cramped conditions and of having to take Alice, already suffering from the after-effects of her treatment, on long and draining journeys across Leeds between St. James's and the Leeds general infirmary, so that her treatment could continue.

Jonathan Abbott and Carol Maddocks made a promise that they would not let other children go through what their children had experienced. With Carol's husband, Dean, they launched the campaign to improve children's facilities in Leeds. Their campaign was taken up by other parents and local organisations, such as Candlelighters, which does so much for children with cancer in Leeds. Politically, it gained the full support of Leeds MPs and Leeds city council. It was backed by the Yorkshire Post, the Yorkshire Evening Post and other local media and, most importantly, received huge support from members of the local community, 3,000 of whom signed a petition.

Despite what has happened, I must take this opportunity to praise Carol, Dean, Jonathan and all the extraordinary people who led that successful campaign and inspired Leeds and its citizens to stand up for our children. It was a remarkable campaign, and on 27 July 2004, it finally reached a conclusion when the former Health Secretary, John Reid, gave the green light for funding for a new dedicated children's and maternity hospital in Leeds. The decision was greeted with joy throughout the city. Trust executives issued a statement heralding the development as vital to providing children across Yorkshire with the care that they need. Neil McKay, chief executive of the trust at the time, called it "fantastic news". It is not surprising that Jonathan Abbott, Carol and Dean Maddocks and everyone else who fought so hard have been utterly shattered by the news that the children's hospital will not be going ahead as promised.

Why, with all that support and political will, has the project been shelved? According to the trust, the major reason for the delay in the development of the hospital, which was due to commence at the site of St. James's university hospital, is the trust's current and projected debt. The trust also says that the projected costs have spiralled from £230 million to £650 million—an almost threefold increase. It is unclear why costs have risen so dramatically. However, when questioned, sources at the trust have pointed to a need to refurbish existing adult facilities, a need for new facilities not included in the original plans, such as a car park, and the fact that the required contingency fund for the hospital has risen to £213 million—almost the entire cost of the original plan. That raises questions about the suitability of the original plans. Jonathan Abbott has questioned why there was a three-year consultation period costing an unknown sum if the plans were simply to be shelved. There have also been suggestions that the trust has proposed a top-of-the-range option, including the car park and rebuilt trust headquarters. The matter must be clarified as soon as possible.

How did the trust suddenly arrive at the hugely inflated figure of £650 million? Is it indeed the most expensive option and, if so, can less costly options be brought back to the table that would still deliver the necessary fundamental change in care? But the key question for the Minister and her colleagues to investigate and answer as a matter of urgency is why there is such a significant difference between the figures presented originally, which were current until a few months ago, and the costs now being presented by the trust.

How the decision was taken and announced has also caused an uproar. Very senior medical representatives were not told until after the news leaked out, and campaigners found out from newspapers. It was described by Dr. Richard Vautrey, medical secretary of the Leeds local medical committee, as

"a bolt from the blue".

Our serious concern is that the decision was taken by an interim chief executive in an informal meeting and without consulting the senior medical professionals in charge of delivering children's and maternity services, never mind general practitioners, campaigners, parents and the wider community. That is not an acceptable way to run the NHS. I ask the Minister to investigate how the decision was taken, why it was taken and how it was communicated.