Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Newspaper column 2 October 2019 - A new hospital for Cornwall

Well, after another tumultuous and historic week in politics there are so many things I could write about this week. But amidst all the chaotic scene there was some truly amazingly good news for Cornwall.

On Sunday the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, announced a new national Health Investment Programme which will see £13 billion invested in our hospitals. The announcement included an allocation for Cornwall of £450 million to improve hospital facilities in the Duchy. In my recent new role as the Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department for Health and Social Care I was pleased to be able to be at the heart of this announcement.

This represents the biggest single investment ever seen in our local health services. Inevitably the sceptics and naysayers have been out in force talking down this announcement. So, let me lay out precisely what was announced.

The government has committed to fund 40 new hospitals or upgrades of existing facilities over the next 5-10 years. This includes an initial 6 new hospitals where local NHS bodies have plans ready to go. Here in Cornwall we don’t have a ready to go plan for a new hospital, therefore, quite reasonably the government have said they will commit £450 million for Cornwall but it is now down to the local NHS bodies to come forward with a plan for this investment.

The government will immediately provide some ‘seed funding’ to cover the costs of the work that will be required to consider the options, develop and plan and design the work. This in itself is important so that resources do not have to be taken away from providing frontline services to fund this work.  But the Health Secretary has made clear that he is open to all options of how this money could be spend. This could be a brand new acute hospital on a new site, a redevelopment and upgrade of the existing hospital at Treliske or upgrading our community hospitals across the county – or any combination of these.

My own view is that if we can use this opportunity to see another hospital built then we should seriously consider this. People in Cornwall have been saying for several years now that they find our current acute hospital at Treliske increasingly difficult to access. I would love to see a new hospital that could take some of the pressure off of Treliske, built in a more accessible location, possibly on the A30 in mid-Cornwall.

The six Cornish MPs met with the Health Secretary in July when we discussed the various challenges we faced in Cornwall and particularly at Treliske. We stated then that we felt we had reached the point where a new hospital was needed. It is good to see that we clearly got our message across and that the government as accepted this. This announcement shows he was listening.

What needs to happen now is that our local NHS management need to consult as widely as possible with local stakeholders and the people of Cornwall to gather a clear view of what the best proposals for this money would be. I certainly want to play an active part in this process, along with the other Cornish MPs to ensure we get the very best outcome from this.

I appreciate there will be those in other political parties who will try to talk this announcement down and present it as just talk. But this is a commitment from the Department for Health and Social Care to make this significant investment in our NHS which should be enthusiastically welcomed by everyone in Cornwall. Any new hospital is going to take years to design, obtain planning permission and build. Projects of this scale do no not happen overnight. But they all begin with an acknowledgement that there is a need and a commitment from the government to allocate the necessary funding. That is what happened this weekend. It is the first, but vital step in the process.

I will now continue to do what I have always done since I was first elected in 2015. I will use my position as an MP, including in my new role in the Department for Health and Social Care, to champion the case for Cornwall, to ensure we get the support and funding we need, and work tirelessly to see this money is spend in the best way possible and that it results in a major improvement in our health infrastructure and services in Cornwall. I am sure everyone can get behind this.