Queen’s Speech Debate: Sir Mike Penning calls for new hospital on new site

16th January 2020

Sir Mike Penning takes the opportunity of the debate on the Queen’s Speech to call on the Government to back a new hospital on a new site for west Hertfordshire.

Sir Mike Penning MP speaking in the House of Commons, Jan 2020, Hospital

Intervention on Secretary of State for Health

I thank the Secretary of State for his meeting the other evening. I am sure my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) is thrilled that he is one of the six to get a brand-new hospital.

In south-west Hertfordshire, as the Secretary of State knows, we are not happy about having a hospital in the middle of Watford, next to a football stadium. It is not right for my constituents or for many constituents of Members in the Chamber today. The Secretary of State has committed to me privately to look at whether we can have a new hospital elsewhere, and I know there is a review going on about the funding and how much that would cost. Would he like to reiterate that at the Dispatch Box?

Yes, we are doing that work to make sure that, as we pump hundreds of millions of pounds into Hertfordshire to improve its healthcare, we get the exact locations right. I look forward to working with my right hon. Friend on that.



Sir Mike Penning (Hemel Hempstead) (Con)

When I sat in the Chamber earlier, I was not certain that I was in the right place. As you will know, Madam Deputy Speaker, we are not used to so many people listening to speeches—and what brilliant speeches they have been, particularly from the new entrants in the House. I say to newly elected Members of Parliament: this will not last. As we get further into the Session, trust me, it will not last.

I thought back to my maiden speech in 2005, when I made a promise to my constituents that I would go on and on and on about the acute problems at the hospital in my constituency. There was a bit of politics. I am not making a maiden speech, so I can be a little more controversial than some of my colleagues here today. The Labour party made the decision—in those days it was the Minister’s decision—to close the acute facilities at Hemel Hempstead Hospital. Acute facilities at St Albans had already been closed, and promises were made that those facilities would always be looked after at Hemel Hempstead Hospital, which was fairly new. We are a new town, so this was not about dilapidation. It was a fairly new hospital, but the decision was made to move those facilities to the centre of Watford, next to Watford football club.

I have nothing against Watford football club. As you may have heard, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am an ardent Spurs supporter, so this weekend will be very difficult for me as the Spurs play Watford. I want every success for the local clubs, but we have a Victorian hospital next to that football club, in a very difficult traffic area of Watford, and it is well over 100 years old. In the modern world we live in, would we dream of building a hospital in the middle of a town, next to a football club? Of course we would not. So I was simply thrilled—this is where I am going to get controversial on my own Treasury Front Bench—when it was announced that in south-west Hertfordshire, in my part of the world, we would get one the first six new hospitals—six new hospitals were announced; five new hospitals and one refurbishment—guess where, Madam Deputy Speaker: next to Watford Hospital.

We can moan and moan at Ministers, but the difficulty these days is that we have devolved so much power to local health authorities. That sounds good on the tin, but having oversight from local, democratically elected people is really very difficult. The clinical commissioning groups should listen and in our community they are not particularly listening. West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust is absolutely determined that this is where they want to build £400 million of new facilities: in the middle of Watford, nowhere near the community it should be serving—apart from the people of Watford, to be fair.

We continue to campaign. We have not given up. We do not want to reopen the facilities at Hemel Hempstead Hospital and we do not really have the land available in St Albans. What we have said is this: let us build a new hospital for south-west Hertfordshire. That is what we would do today; that is what the money in the new hospitals plan would do. To be fair, the Secretary of State has seen me and he has asked his officials to look into what the cost-evaluation would be. We have had costings of £1 billion for a greenfield site put out on local radio, interestingly by the Mayor of Watford, and we have had costings from other parts of the country as low as £375 million. So something is seriously going wrong between the costings.

We have got into a situation where the only way we can fight this, believe it or not, is to take the trust to court. There is a lack of accountability—I have called for debates in this House on that for years now. The only way we can fight the fact that the trust has only put in a bid for refurbishment of the Watford site is to take it to court and challenge it under judicial review. I have a fantastic community. We have raised the money. We will go to court. But is it not crazy that here I am praising, and I will be voting for, the Queen’s Speech and against Labour’s amendment, when I am saying that the £400 million being offered by the Government is going to the wrong place?

I listened deeply to the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), when he said that we have to admit it sometimes when we make mistakes in the NHS, whether they are clinical mistakes, mistakes on Primodos—another thing I like going on about in the Chamber, although I do not have the time to do so this evening—or the fact that we do not have prescribed medical cannabis free at the point of delivery to our children when a consultant says it should be prescribed. The only way we can fight this at the moment is to go to the courts. I am pleased with the Secretary of State on this, and I know that this will all be fed back. There was supposed to be a letter to me in the last couple of days from the people looking at the funding. That has not arrived yet, so—hint, hint, Front Bench—let us get the letter to me.

I do not want to go to court and the community do not want to go to court, but I was sent here to fight for something. The biggest issue in my constituency is the future of my hospital and the future provision of care in my constituency. We want a new hospital on a greenfield site. This Government, I believe, could fund that.




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