Queen’s Speech Debate: Sir Mike Penning calls for new hospital for west Hertfordshire

23rd October 2019

Speaking in the debate on the Queen’s Speech, Sir Mike Penning calls for a new hospital to serve the growing populations of west Hertfordshire.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman). I fully agree with many of the points that he made, and I think that everyone in the House would agree with them.

I am not usually confrontational politically, so I will do only a tiny bit of that. This fear thing that is being thrown around about a privatisation of the NHS is very damaging. It is not particularly damaging to my party, but it is damaging across politics. I was at the Opposition Dispatch Box as a shadow health Minister for four and a half years, and during that time all those PFIs went through. Under the private finance initiative, private companies were being paid for surgery that was not even carried out. They were contracted for 1,000 knee operations or 1,000 hip replacements which did not take place, and they were still paid. That is what happened under the previous Labour Administration.

We need to admit that we make mistakes when we are in government. We have made mistakes before. I made mistakes as a Minister when I was in seven different Departments—it will probably not be eight now. Governments sometimes make mistakes for the best of reasons. One of the great mistakes was that era of privatisation, with PFI deals that were off the balance sheets, and Darzi clinics. Lord Darzi was a great surgeon, a great medical man; I just happened to disagree completely with many of his proposals which were implemented by the Government, and which, frankly, have not worked. There are still many clinics out there to which trusts have to pay huge amounts of money, not to get out of their contracts but just so that they can carry on. That is something that we need to admit. So, in this House, let us admit that Governments make mistakes and that the PFI privatisation carried out by the Labour party was wrong, although it was probably done for the best of reasons. A PFI hospital was promised to my constituents; it never came even though the Labour party closed the A&E at Hemel Hempstead hospital, in the largest town in Hertfordshire. We were promised that that would be looked after, because St Albans had had its hospital closed. However, it was closed and the whole thing moved to a Victorian hospital in the middle of Watford, which cannot cope today and has not been able to cope since then.

Adding little bits to hospitals, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr Sheerman) said, and putting a new A&E on the front can sometimes work, but when there is serious funding around, which is what we are talking about now, a modern, new, environmentally proper hospital that can actually have sufficient footfall to enable the medics to work in their specialties is what we need.

I am one of the few Conservative MPs to have been offered the £400 million for a new hospital. I have said to the Secretary of State and to my trust that it is not a new hospital; it is a refurbishment of a Victorian hospital in the middle of Watford next to a football ground, and my community does not want that. The people of Watford might, but if they thought outside the box—I am not being rude to them—I am sure they would agree that it would be better to have a brand spanking new hospital that looks after the communities of Watford and the surrounding areas of Hemel Hempstead and St Albans in that massive growing area just north of the M25?

So I do not want my old hospital reopened. It is still sitting there boarded up; it is just sitting there like a running sore in my constituency. It was a wonderful new hospital when the new town was built, but there she sits now with two wards, outpatient facilities and a minor injuries unit that does not even open for 24 hours even though we were promised it would.

What we want is a tiny bit more money—the Secretary of State knows this; I am not saying anything to the Minister that he does not know. We should not keep frightening people by saying it will cost £750 million or £1 billion to build a new acute hospital on a greenfield site, because we know it will not. We have the experts working for the new hospital action group and I am going to meet the experts in the Department in the next couple of days. So I am saying to the Department, “Hold back for a second on this new hospital for us, because if you hold back a second, we might get a completely different result.”

The right hon. Gentleman is speaking very candidly and with great integrity. My mother died in the Hemel Hempstead hospital that he speaks of many years ago. He talked about PFI and some of his remarks are absolutely spot on, but does he now recognise that the money owed on the PFI liabilities is actually £9 billion, as opposed to the £11 billion, which is the backlog of what hospitals are paying to the Department itself because of the borrowings they have had to take out as a result of the financial problems they are facing?

As was said in debate with the Scottish National party spokesman earlier, the Government can borrow money much cheaper than any private organisation.

I am thrilled that there is some honesty in the Chamber, because we have argued about PFI for donkey’s years; it was a way of getting things off balance sheet, and let us move on from that. There is no more PFI—we can all agree on that—but actually we are not privatising the NHS, as everybody with an ounce of common sense knows. The NHS is perfectly safe; it has been safe under this party for the majority of its time since inception, and it will stay perfectly safe. There are massive demands on it, however, and I cannot allow all this money—taxpayers’ money—to be put into a Victorian hospital next to a football stadium in the middle of Watford. Anybody who knows our part of the world knows that Watford football club is in the premiership. It might be struggling a little bit at the moment, although it did very well against Spurs the other evening. Let us pause, get the experts around the table and stop scaring people with costs that are completely unrealistic—new hospitals were built in Birmingham for £425 million and a new one can almost certainly be built in Harlow for similar amount. Let us have a 21st century hospital. Let us be honest with each other and move that forward.



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