I beg to move,
That this House
has considered Princess Royal Hospital, Telford.
“Our main purpose as Members of Parliament is to seek redress of grievance for our constituents”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 667, c. 509.]
That is what I seek to do today, on the last day of this Parliament and on what might be my last opportunity to speak for Telford. It is a great privilege to have the opportunity to do so.
For the past six years, Telford’s No. 1 concern has been the future of the Princess Royal Hospital. Throughout those years, I have been working with my community to get their concerns heard by the hospital management and in many debates and speeches in this place. Today is different, because in the past few weeks the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care endorsed a decision by hospital management to proceed with a plan that will mean Telford loses vital hospital services and that, simultaneously, will lead to huge investment in Royal Shrewsbury Hospital in the county town of Shrewsbury, some 30 minutes away from Telford. In this debate, I want to put on the record why my constituents feel a sense of loss and a sense of anger.
Telford is not a place that has a sense of entitlement. It is not a place that makes demands or shouts over the voices of others. It is a stoical place and has often had to overcome the odds, face adversity and keep on going. It is a former mining town and is now a rapidly growing new town, lying 20 minutes equidistant between Black country Wolverhampton and the leafy county town of Shrewsbury. Telford is remote and isolated, because it has poor transport connections and low car ownership. It troubles me that, despite the poorer health outcomes, child poverty and health inequalities that I as the MP see, the hospital management has brought forward a plan for our health that allocates NHS resource not in accordance with need, but for some other reason that has not been explained.
Like many new towns, Telford was resisted by its county neighbours when it first came into being some 50 years ago. It was dismissed as an overspill town of incomers and a blot on the landscape, never quite accepted by its rural hinterland. It was somehow always the poor relation, surrounded by rural, leafy shires and county towns. There was a snobbishness whereby Telford was supposed to know its place and be grateful for the opportunity. We were somehow never quite equal to our neighbours.
However, Telford has ambitions, and overcoming the odds is what it does. Today, Telford is an economic powerhouse of advanced manufacturing and makes a massive contribution to the west midlands economy, offering new jobs and homes. Its population is forecast to grow to 200,000 people in the next 10 years. Telford needs its A&E and its women and children’s centre—anyone who knows Telford knows that—but the hospital management has other plans.
For six years, the management has toyed with a plan to centralise services 30 minutes away. It has been dressed up as local decision making by local clinicians, but, in reality, it was decided by executives from across the country—smart suits and smart cars—with no connection to our area and no concern for our communities. Indeed, the original architect of the plan held many hospital management chief executive officer posts, from Chester and Sherwood Forest to London, and he was last reported to be earning £40,000 per month, having resigned from a previous post for a single day in order to pick up a tax-free retirement package of £252,000 and then resumed the same job the next day. Such are the people behind this plan.
Actual local clinicians opposed the plan, as did all the councillors and local MPs. Protests were held and petitions made, but the decision makers did not want to know what local people had to say. Throughout that time, there was one hope—that once the bureaucrats got to the end of their decision-making process, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care would call for an independent review to consider all the issues. I thank the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Mr Hunt, for his courtesy, consideration and kindness to me and my constituents as he listened to me and to the arguments about why the plan is flawed.
The hospital bureaucrats, whose decision this was, did not have to think about how people feel when they are told they do not need their A&E. It is not part of their role to understand our communities, our history, our geography, our identity, our emotional connectedness to our hospital, our affection for it and our pride in it. After all, they are not accountable to us; it is just one more job before the next one.
We, the representatives of the people, should care about our communities. We should care about how they feel, and about their sense of what is just. It is our job to be on the side of the people—not on the side of those who are well connected and have power and influence, who can speak to the decision makers behind closed doors, but on the side of the stoical, decent people of Telford, who play by the rules and have a right to be treated as fairly and justly as anyone else.
I will quote a constituent who has worked locally in the NHS for 15 years. He says:
“In Telford we are a group of hardworking communities with ambitions for our children’s future. When the brand new women and children’s unit was opened I was ecstatic. It was a turning point for us. I understand how health economics works—none of this proposal makes any sense, not in a business sense nor from a clinical outcome perspective. Shrewsbury is 30 minutes away. That’s too long for stroke, too long for a heart attack and too long for our children. This is a plan that bears all the hallmarks of cronyism at its rampant best. How else can it be explained? The NHS has no colours or banners”— he is right about that—
“it supports all of us all of the time. It is something worth fighting for, for our children’s sake.”
On the point about children, I want to give voice to another one of my constituents. She wrote to me and said:
“My name is Sarah. I live in Telford. I am a mother to Alfie, who is 5 years old. Alfie has Down’s syndrome. In April 2018, at night, our son began to haemorrhage and he was taken to Telford A&E. Whilst there Alfie started to have a massive haemorrhage (blood was pouring from his mouth and nose and you could not even see his face or his beautiful blond hair). I was immediately told to run with him to Resus. There was so much blood. He was rushed in for an emergency operation to cauterise the bleed. Then our world then truly fell apart. He failed to breathe in air, post surgery. It took the theatre staff three hours to get him stable. The point of telling you this is quite simple. If A&E at PRH had been closed, Alfie would have had his 2nd and massive haemorrhage whilst still being transported to wherever they deemed to take us. I have chills just thinking of what the outcome would have been for our beautiful son. Put simply, having A&E open 24/7 saved Alfie’s life.”
“Lucy, we’ve saved the A&E at Telford. We have just put a further £5 million into Telford’s hospital just last week.”
That would clearly be fantastic news. If it were indeed the case, I would not be standing here today; I would be writing an election leaflet proclaiming the good news to my constituents. Let us not be flippant and casual about something that is so important. My constituents want to know what an A&E local is and, importantly, whether the hospital management will agree to support it. When I asked the Minster’s parliamentary aide, my hon. Friend Gillian Keegan, whether she could find out more about A&E local, she asked her assistant to respond to me. They said that my inquiry would be passed on to the Department for a response, which, in the light of the impending dissolution of Parliament, would not come until after Christmas at the earliest, in 2020.
It was the Minister’s decision to rush out an announcement in support of the management’s plan. He chose to do so without having worked out what would happen in Telford. Having made that announcement of his own volition, it is not good enough to say, “You’ll just have to wait to find out more.” How do I explain that to my constituents? If the funding for a new 20-bed ward for winter pressures has increased from £4 million to £5 million, that is fantastic, but I want to know and be able to tell my constituents about that. Simply mentioning it in a WhatsApp group is not enough; something has gone wrong with the communication.
My mission as an MP is to stand up for my constituents and take up their needs and concerns, so I know that the Minister will fully understand why I am so aggrieved that my constituents have been treated this way. Their treatment has been shabby and disrespectful. We are talking about the issue that matters most to my constituents, which is why I have helped them to crowdfund the money and seek counsel’s opinion on whether to pursue judicial review. We have nearly hit our target—thank you Telford—but it should not have come to this. A little more respect for the people of Telford would have avoided this situation.
During this lengthy saga, a former hospitals Minister—not my right hon. Friend Mr Dunne, who is here today—said to me, “They can’t all expect to have an A&E at the end of their road you know, Lucy.” My constituents have never asked for that and nor would they. They ask only to be treated as equal to anyone else in their value, worth and dignity, and that is what they deserve.