I thank Dr Poulter, who is not in his place, for bringing his experience to the debate. I am pleased that, having looked at the issue in some considerable detail when he was a Minister, he recognises, as the Minister seems not to, the problems that the merger of King’s with the Princess Royal and Orpington Hospital has caused for the trust.
The fact of the matter remains that the trust’s finances were stable and it was performing well on every measure until that merger took place. It has never been the same since. The combination of the drop-off in the increase of funding year on year, which has affected the finances at Denmark Hill and the organisation’s resilience to carry across costs to the Princess Royal and Orpington, with the irresponsible lack of a review mechanism for the funding settlement post-merger has, in my view, played a major role in destabilising the finances.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend Ms Harman, who has been a formidable champion for King’s for more than 35 years. She knows very well from direct experience exactly how bad things have been in the past at Denmark Hill, and how close we are to seeing once again those terrible circumstances of patients waiting far too long in A&E to receive the treatment they need so badly.
In summing up, I want to highlight two points on which I disagree with the Minister’s analysis. First, notwithstanding the support that the Government are putting in, they maintain a punishing approach to the finances of NHS trusts that are in financial difficulty. A system for funding our NHS that takes a trust that is already under financial strain, fines it and charges it additional interest for failing to meet impossible targets is a system that makes no sense at all. A system for funding our NHS that funds on a block grant basis emergency admissions, the volume of which hospitals have no control over, and then cancels elective operations, which deliver the revenue into our hospitals when pressures come through the front door of accident and emergency, is a system that makes no sense. The Minister has not addressed that conflict and the perversity in the funding system for the NHS.
Finally, I urge the Minister to consider very carefully the need for substantial capital investment in King’s at Denmark Hill. I am concerned that when staff at King’s hear talk about failures in efficiencies, and when the Minister talks about the failure to improve medical productivity, the inference is that staff are somehow not working hard enough.