I beg to move,
That this House
has considered King’s College Hospital finances.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am pleased to have secured this debate on the finances at the King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, which I have been seeking for some months. It has been clear to me that the trust has been heading towards a crisis, which came to a head shortly before Christmas, when NHS Improvement took the trust into financial special measures. The debate is therefore timely.
To date, the Government have responded to the crisis at King’s as if the problem has arisen suddenly in the short term. I want to use this debate today to set out clearly the causes of the problems at King’s, which can be traced back to 2010 and 2013. I also want to ask the Minister to take seriously the complexity of the current situation at King’s and to take action now to allow it to stabilise and rebuild. There is ample evidence of a crisis across the whole of our NHS this winter, and I want to emphasise that the situation at King’s is a warning sign for the NHS that the Government must heed.
My relationship with King’s goes back 20 years. I have been a surgical patient and an out-patient at the hospital. I gave birth to my children there. Both were delivered by the same amazing midwife, whose name we chose as a middle name for our second daughter. My mum worked at King’s for 10 years until she retired. The situation at King’s is as personal and as important to me and my family as it is to tens of thousands of my constituents.
King’s is an extraordinary hospital. As a major teaching and research hospital, it undertakes world-leading work across more specialisms than any other hospital, including liver transplants, maxillofacial surgery, foetal medicine, neurosurgery, neonatal intensive care, cardiology and sexual health. As a major trauma centre, the emergency department saves the lives of critically ill and injured patients every single day. The work of its trauma surgeons is pioneering. Together with the specialist nurses, anaesthetists and other clinical staff, they were at the frontline of treating critically injured victims of the Westminster and London Bridge terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire.
In south London, we are enormously proud of King’s specialisms and its major trauma centre, but it is also our district and general hospital, where people have antenatal scans, give birth, have their appendix removed, have hips and knees replaced, have broken limbs fixed, have cataracts removed, recover from strokes, and receive help to manage diabetes, sickle cell disease and many other health conditions. King’s has a very special place in our community. I pay tribute to the extraordinary skill, commitment, dedication and care of the 15,000 staff at King’s. I have spoken to many staff in recent weeks. All of them, including the consultant with 32 years of experience I met yesterday, say that things have never been tougher. I want to put on the record my gratitude for everything they continue to do.
My constituents are desperately concerned about the plight the hospital currently faces. King’s has been on a journey over the past 20 years. Back in 1998, when I was an in-patient, it was a struggling, failing hospital, where patients were treated in overcrowded conditions and waited on trolleys in accident and emergency. Years of Labour investment transformed it, so that by 2010 it was meeting all of its main clinical targets, had recruited many more staff, and was consistently achieving a small financial surplus each year.
I am concerned that, despite the incredibly hard work of the brilliant staff at King’s College Hospital, that journey has come full circle—the days that we thought had been left behind at King’s have now returned. The hospital is regularly more than 100% full, with meeting rooms and storage space being used for beds; it has been consistently failing to meet the four-hour waiting time target in A&E, or the 18-week referral-to-treatment target; and it is not meeting its key cancer targets.
I want to be absolutely clear with the Minister that the causes of the problems at King’s have roots that go back to events in 2010 and 2013, which could have been predicted by the Government and Monitor, and which absolutely should have been prevented. I draw the Minister’s attention to four key issues. First, the rate of funding increase for the NHS was significantly cut from 2010, from 3% to 4% under the previous Labour Governments to 1% under the Tory-Lib Dem coalition Government. There was therefore no way that the funding was ever going to keep pace with inflation, let alone increases in drug and treatment costs and increasing demand. The fact that we are all living longer is a positive thing, but since older people use health services far more than younger groups in the population, it creates an entirely foreseeable increase in the need for health services. That can be managed and minimised when good-quality social care is available to everyone who needs it, but over the same period £6 billion has been taken out of social care. At the Princess Royal University Hospital, which is part of the King’s trust, 20% of older patients are clinically fit for discharge but have nowhere to go—a direct example of the extra burdens that the Government’s inadequate approach to social care is having on the NHS. The false economy cuts are simply adding to the pressures in our NHS, as people who should be able to maintain their health at home with good support end up requiring acute care.
The second key issue affecting King’s is a result of the 2013 decision for it to take on two hospitals—the Princess Royal University Hospital and Orpington Hospital—from the failing South London Healthcare Trust. Following that decision, the Government and Monitor should have insisted on a review period to ensure that the new expanded trust had the right level of support and resources to run the hospitals, but they did not do so. From that moment on, the finances of the new trust deteriorated rapidly. The situation at the Princess Royal was far more complex than anticipated, but there was no review of funding in the light of new and more detailed information about the level of investment required. That 2013 decision fundamentally destabilised the finances of the trust.
The third issue is the challenge of the competing responsibilities of emergency care, including the trauma centre and elective surgery. The King’s trauma centre generates its own demand, which increases year on year, but the funding for emergency medicine is by way of a block grant. There is no increase in funding that is in any way responsive to that demand. It cannot be right that, when King’s staff step up to the plate in response to terror attacks or the Grenfell Tower fire, there is no additional funding to cover the costs of the additional work. Elective surgery is paid for by procedure, so when the demands of emergency admissions, whether because of an increase in flu cases, or a major incident, force elective operations to be cancelled, there is loss of income in addition to an increase in costs. That creates knock-on financial consequences for the trust as a whole.
Fourthly, the limited capital funding since 2010 has meant that staff at King’s have not been able to plan strategically for the facilities the hospital needs to cope with increasing demand. The King’s College Hospital site at Denmark Hill is very constrained for a major hospital, and it has been developed piecemeal over many years. Large parts of the hospital estate are no longer fit for purpose, and additional ward space is urgently needed. King’s will open a new state-of-the-art critical care unit later this year, the largest in the country, but the trust has not been able to expand its general ward capacity, which will potentially result in additional pressures as patients leaving critical care compete with emergency admissions and elective surgery patients for insufficient beds.
The four challenges I have described have been evident for some time, but the Government’s approach, rather than to undertake a review of the finances and agree a sustainable funding settlement, has been to set more and more unrealistic targets for financial savings; to refuse King’s the sustainability and transformation funding that other hospitals have been awarded; and to fine King’s for being in a challenging financial situation.
Since 2015, at the behest of Monitor and later NHS Improvement, vast sums of money that could have been spent on patient care have been spent on management consultants. At one stage the trust was paying a single firm of management consultants more than £1 million pounds a month. The trust has been asked to make punishing savings when it has no control over the demand for its services or some of its costs, but the management consultants have not been judged on their ability to deliver sustainable, lasting improvements—theirs has been a one-way street of throwing good money after bad.
It is absolutely the case that the Government have known about the financial situation at King’s for some considerable time, yet on top of an already unmanageable financial situation, the Government proposed completely unrealistic control totals, in essence setting the hospital an unachievable target for making savings, then punishing it with financial penalties for failing to do so. Since last year, King’s has been under enhanced regulatory oversight by NHS Improvement, technically a similar situation to being in financial special measures, with NHSI staff permanently in the hospital and a high level of scrutiny.
Over the past three years King’s has made savings of more than £200 million, more than twice the average level of savings of trusts across the country over that same period. King’s has done that while maintaining standards of care that are on the whole very good. The Government have known about the financial situation at King’s for three years, the Government have been directly involved with the situation at King’s, and the Government are culpable, yet instead of taking responsibility for the situation and acting to ensure that King’s has the resources it needs, the Government have required King’s to do the impossible and punished the trust when it has been unable to deliver.
The Government must now take responsibility for the situation and ensure that the King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust is not allowed to fail any further. I therefore ask the Minister to do the following: to undertake a full review of the finances at King’s, starting with an analysis of what is required to deliver safe and effective care across all areas of treatment and responsibility; to make a commitment that financial special measures will not mean just forcing through the proposed control totals, which simply cannot be met without jeopardising patient care; to guarantee that there will be no threat to any of the services provided at King’s on which my constituents and residents in the wider south London and the south-east area rely; to agree a capital funding settlement to enable King’s master plan for Denmark Hill to be implemented, so as to deliver the space and facilities the hospital needs now and for the future; to guarantee that financial special measures will not mean an increase in the interest rate that King’s is charged on its deficit; and to revise the funding formula so that King’s is not hit financially when it steps up to respond to major incidents and London-wide emergencies.
I will end with this: King’s is a special trust and some attributes of it are unique, but the pressures and challenges it faces can be found in NHS hospitals up and down the country. Until the Government recognise that and choose to make a long-term commitment to fund the NHS to provide the services our ageing population needs and to stop the outflow of NHS funds into private profits, our NHS is not safe in their hands.