My hon. Friend makes a valid point, which I will return to. I want to be here after the next election, however; I do not want to be replaced by an MP dedicated to looking after the Alexandra hospital.
I pay tribute to Neal Stote, the chairman of the “save the Alex” campaign, Ian Dipple, the editor of the Redditch Standard, and the leaders of my local councils, Bill Hartnett, Roger Hollingworth and Chris Saint, who have all worked tirelessly together with me to save the Alex. The Minister will remember his visit from members of the “save the Alex” campaign before Christmas, when he listened to the justification for retaining services at our hospital. A petition to save the hospital has received more than 50,000 signatures and there was a major rally in Redditch town centre, all of which goes to show that the residents of Redditch are united in trying to secure services at our hospital.
I want to look now at the current and historical financial position of the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust. In 2002, the trust posted large deficits, which rose to more than £14 million in 2003-04. The trust came back into surplus, however, and since then it has posted alternate deficits and surpluses, including in each of the past three years. The trust had a cumulative legacy debt of £18.4 million from 2000 to 2007. The Government provided a £12 million emergency loan in December 2012 to deal with the problem, but it is obvious that the situation cannot continue. For too long, the easiest course of action has been to kick the can further down the road without addressing the root causes. The current situation is a ticking time bomb. A £1.9 million deficit has to be met by April of this year. Many operations are being cancelled because of the terrible norovirus in our wards, and times will be tough for the trust.
Part of the problem is that we have an expensive private finance initiative hospital that was built in the wrong place fully to service all of the residents of Worcestershire. The Worcestershire royal hospital opened in March 2002 under a PFI deal that costs the trust £13.6 million a year at the best estimate. Indeed, Patricia Hewitt, the former Health Secretary, described the PFI deal as a disaster in 2006. The deal will, however, run until 2032, by which time it will have cost the taxpayer more than £700 million. The Alexandra hospital is not a PFI hospital; it is owned by the NHS.
I understand that the trust needs to save money, and that certain services in our country must be centralised to provide centres of excellence. I also understand the difficulties of recruiting specialist consultants, and I realise that as a result of an ageing population and changing lifestyles, patients have more complex needs. We must recognise, however, that the trust employs more than 5,600 staff across the county and has approximately 940 beds with 140,000 A and E attendances —of which I was one—and about 500,000 out-patient appointments. The people of Redditch deserve a sustainable future for their health service. They are realistic, but they need to know what is going to happen. One of the reasons for the difficulty I have just mentioned of recruiting specialist consultants, which is a major problem facing the trust, is that the hospital cannot provide the job security that specialist consultants need because it is constantly under threat.
As I have said, this is the third time we have been in this situation, and if we do not find a solution, I have no doubt that in a few years we will be here again. Repeatedly experiencing such circumstances is damaging to the public, staff and patients, and we need a lasting solution. I welcome our Government’s introduction of clinical commissioning groups. I recognise that without them we would be in a very different place and I certainly would not be standing here asking the Minister to look at the future of my hospital. I have been working closely with the local commissioning group for Redditch and Bromsgrove, and would like to place on record its hard work on the future of the Alex, especially its support on the joint services review; it has continually stood up for Redditch in circumstances that have often been difficult.
“Like others in the community, we love our local hospitals and we always want to stand up for them, but we have to be careful to look at the results in our local hospitals and work out whether we should not sometimes give voice to some of the concerns rather than go along with a culture that says everything is all right all of the time—sometimes it is not.”—[Hansard, 6 February 2013; Vol. 558, c. 286.]
I took that to heart, as I know many of my colleagues did. I know that the NHS must change and we cannot always have everything we want where we want it. I hope I am being realistic about what we can provide for the people of Redditch.
That brings me to some good news about innovative thinking that is going on in our town. Redditch is situated in the north of our county and the majority of my constituents look to Birmingham rather than Worcester. The Minister cannot be expected to know about transport links in our county, but the links between Redditch and Worcester are fairly dreadful. If someone has to go to Worcester by train, they get on a train to Birmingham, get off at the university stop—where the university hospital of Birmingham is—and double back to Worcester. Buses are also a nightmare and often involve two or three changes. I was delighted to meet Dame Julie Moore, the chief executive of the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, before Christmas to talk about the trust providing some services at the Alex. I look forward to meeting her again next week, and to meeting Penny Venables, the chief executive of the Worcestershire trust.