You may have seen reports that North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust is trying to secure £25m from the Government to undertake work at North Tees Hospital for infrastructure work.
The money, it is said, would be used to improve utilities at the Stockton site, particularly in terms of electrical work, much of which is the same wiring system that was put in when the hospital was first built in the 1970s.
I’m sure you would agree that this sort of work would be important for patients – no one would want to see a power cut because of faulty or old wiring in the middle of an operation.
However, the news begs additional questions, not least for people living in Hartlepool.
I think the news finally confirms, if confirmation were needed, that the proposals for a new hospital site in Wynyard are simply dead in the water.
Wynyard is not going ahead and the Trust by their actions seems to agree, whilst at the same time still giving contrary indications that Wynyard is going ahead.
This doesn’t really provide strategic clarity. It also doesn’t make much sense to ask for money to make essential infrastructure improvements which are meant to last decades if you think that the building will be left and in all likelihood, knocked down for housing in two or three years’ time.
In the Trust’s Operational Plan Document for 2014/16, there is a budget for capital programme works of £6.13m.
Included in this budget is £1m for estates backlog and £1m for new hospital development.
Given that Wynyard is not going ahead, it makes sense that the £1m sum for this new hospital development is re-allocated to capital improvements not just for North Tees, but for Hartlepool too.
The report gives the impression that the Trust is trying to secure this sum from the Government as a grant or gift. That’s not how the Government grants money for capital projects to the NHS.
It would be a loan that would need to be paid back, probably over a number of years.
The Government would quite rightly look at the ability of the Trust to pay back this money.
Given that North Tees and Hartlepool Trust’s most recent financial reports say that there is a current deficit of nearly £5m, what happens if the Government refuses to provide the loan on the grounds that the Trust can’t afford to pay it back?
It’s like a bank refusing to give you a re-mortgage because you run an overdraft.
I’m also concerned that any loan may come with conditions on procurement, which may involve privatisation, or staff cuts to cut the wages bill, which will have an impact on NHS services provided to our town.
However, in the light of this news, there is an obvious opportunity. Everybody I speak to, whether it is patients or staff, say that the hospital at Hartlepool is a much more pleasant environment to visit, work in or access treatment than the hospital at North Tees.
I can vouch for that myself: North Tees will never win any awards for architecture, and although the building at Holdforth Road might not either, it is considerably lighter, feels less oppressive and seems to be in better condition than North Tees.
There is plenty of space at Holdforth Road, so if the planned works at North Tees go ahead, why not centralise services in Hartlepool? This doesn’t just have to be during the time of the upgrade works – why not do it on a permanent basis?
I am concerned that the focus of the Trust management seems to be with North Tees at the expense of Hartlepool.
The Trust always needs to remember that it is an organisation with two major hospitals, rather than a main site with a secondary consideration in our town.
I have this week written to the Chief Executive of the NHS Trust making these points and asking for reassurance that improvements and investment will be made at Holdforth Road, services will return to the town and that any building work at North Tees will provide a good opportunity for additional services to be centralised in Hartlepool.