The NHS is the area’s biggest employer. It is also the issue that always becomes a focus of debate, whatever government is in power. There are few other public services which draw a similar strength of feeling and passion from the public. This is not just because of the dedication and selflessness of our doctors and nurses. The NHS as a free at point of use health service is a fundamental part of British society and our political system.
I will try to explain:
- The national NHS challenge;
- The difficulties faced by the NHS in Colchester and North Essex;
- My involvement supporting the various local arms of the NHS; and
- How I will continue to support the NHS in this Parliament.
Over my time as the area’s MP, I have worked with most of the local GP practices on issues affecting them, as well as with the hospitals and mental healthcare services available in North Essex. I have also supported many national campaigns on dementia, cancer care and carers week to name a few.
Before I detail some of the work I have been lucky enough to be involved in, I want to dispel a few myths about the NHS. The NHS, like all health systems around the world, faces huge challenges.
The Labour chant that the Conservatives are ‘privatising the NHS’, is misleading and, of course, completely wrong. It was a Labour Government in 2007 which brought in changes that allowed the use of private hospitals for NHS patients. It was also the Labour Government which used private investment to build unaffordable NHS buildings with loans that to this day cripple the ability to provide services. Labour built the Colchester Primary Care Centre and the Fryatt Hospital in Harwich using the expensive, wasteful and inflexible “private finance initiative”. Today’s NHS is left paying extortionate rents on unsuitable buildings on very inflexible terms. The operating theatres built in Harwich have never been used! Much of the clinical space at the Primary Cares centre is being used for office space (some of the most expensive in Colchester!)
This is Labour’s legacy. Labour threw money at the NHS, including money it didn’t have, and failed to solve its problems. Labour left office in 2010, leaving with a letter for the incoming government which said “…there’s no money left” and an NHS still struggling with unprecedented pressures and issues of mismanagement.
The problems in the NHS are far more complex than simply needing more money. The problem is not because of the use of private providers. Critics often forget that GP practices themselves are actually “private providers”, contracted by the Government through the NHS, and these make up one of the front lines of the NHS.
So what are the real problems? More funding is certainly a factor, and with a strong economy the Government is now able to increase the funding again to the highest levels in the NHS’s history. But more than that the NHS in Colchester, from the decision makers to the GP practices, the hospitals to mental healthcare providers, have all faced unique challenges over the past decade.
I recall sitting in my car in a carpark in Colchester when a call came through about the Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, or CHUFT, being placed under special measures in 2013. The Trust’s journey since then was long, seeing several changes in leadership and ultimately the creation of a long-term partnership with the Ipswich Hospital Trust. There is a shortage of effective leadership in the NHS, so such mergers are necessary with proven leaders from nearby institutions.
Have no doubt, that the doctors, nurses and other hospital staff were absolutely not to blame for the difficulties at the Trust. The standards of care provided had been mostly exceptional. I worked with the hospital’s new management team to identify the cultural issues in the Trust’s management which became ingrained throughout the hospital structure as a result of years of changing leadership and an unwillingness from the top to listen to the views and concerns of the staff. I had no doubt that, moving forward under new leadership and with the absolute support of the local MPs, the hospital has emerged from this difficult period as an example of how well an NHS Trust can operate.
The Government has supported CHUFT as it overcame both long and short term difficulties. For instance, the recent pressures on A&E services were discussed publically over the winter period. I worked closely with other MPs in the last parliament, Will Quince (Conservative MP for Colchester) and Priti Patel (Conservative MP for Witham). We all helped secure an additional £1 million for Colchester Hospital, specifically to support the A&E department.
Now the hospital Trust has received £69 million which is being used to transform buildings and services. This is an acknowledgment of the tremendous work done by the hospital’s top team and every other member of staff who all work with such dedication. The money will continue to transform the services available for the better and will put the NHS in North Essex on an even stronger footing as it continues to rise from the lows of 2013.
The £1 million secured for A&E at Colchester was a welcome win for the area, but we need to change the way A&E is used to help ease the growing pressures on the service. I submitted proposals to the local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the NHS body responsible for GP services, on this very issue. In these proposals, I suggested the Walk-In Centre, which sits right next to the hospital, be used to triage patients in conjunction with A&E, so that people going in for issues which clearly are not emergencies can be separated and treated at the GP practice. This should free up the A&E staff so that real emergencies can be dealt with more quickly, which, in turn, will allow ambulances held up at the door to get back out on the road to real emergencies.
Now we see even more investment at the hospital going into improving the A&E services and this should provide our tremendous doctors and nurses with facilities which can meet their capabilities.
I have dedicated a large amount of my time over the last two parliaments to these issues, and I will continue to do so in this Parliament. This has been fascinating work, and vital - offering the Trust every support in fixing these problems, so that local people have a local NHS service they can rely on, in which staff are not held up and demoralised by unnecessary bureaucracy and poor management.
The Clinical Commissioning Group and GP services
The local Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) is the NHS body which “buys” the healthcare on behalf of local GPs. They aim to secure more health services for local people in their communities. This is an ongoing campaign, and sometimes an uphill battle due to the financial pressures on the CCG. The real loser here has been the Harwich peninsula.
The budget pressures at the CCG are, again, not simply a matter of having more money thrown at the problem. Why is our CCG in such a difficult situation financially, and what can be done to fix this?
I helped secure an acknowledgement from the heads of the NHS that GP funding in North Essex and been historically below where it should be. In this Parliament, I will be pressing the Government to act on this and address the imbalance by providing more money for GP services in Essex.
But the budgetary pressure our CCG faces is even greater than other Essex-based CCGs. This is because of the devastating impact of the Labour Party’s Private Finance Initiatives I have explained in the opening section of this page. These funding deals were used to build medical facilities, like the Fryatt Hospital, at unbelievably high interest rates and on very inflexible contracts. This means it costs too much to provide services at these buildings. We have the most amazing hospital in Harwich but it is so expensive to provide services there, the NHS keeps taking them away. This legacy of the Labour Party in the 90s and 2000s continues to cripple the local NHS budget. In this Parliament, I will be pressing the Government to find a way to get these Labour loans off of the NHS’s books, so that local services stop suffering.
I have worked closely with GP practices and have campaigned successfully to secure funding for new GP buildings for both the Wivenhoe and Mersea Island practices. Local residents will be all too familiar with these long-running campaigns and I will keep up the pressure to ensure that new buildings will be ready in the coming years.
I have also been involved in campaigns with the GP practices in Harwich, Rowhedge and the Essex University and Manningtree. All of these have given me unique opportunities to see the top quality teams we have in North Essex and to understand the pressures they face.
Having campaigned on mental healthcare for years (I fought to stop the NHS closing down The Haven in Colchester), I am so pleased that the Conservative Party has pledged to shake up the system and provide more funding for mental health. The local mental healthcare trust has long been in a difficult situation, and recent changes in its structure provide an opportunity to seize on the Conservative Party’s pledges and improve local services drastically. I will keep fighting for more local mental healthcare services locally, and will not stop campaigning until mental health issues are given the same regard, funding and treatment as physical illnesses.
Mental health conditions should not have a stigma attached to them. They are an illness and those living with them should be treated with respect and compassion. The challenges people face are not always apparent. I hope my work will help to lessen those challenges.
Supporting the NHS in Harwich has been a real uphill battle, and I have no intention of giving up on this! Ask in Harwich about the NHS services available to them and they will all talk about the under use of the Fryatt Hospital. I explained above why the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has taken so many services away from the Fryatt.
I have been involved in many campaigns to secure health services for Harwich. First, the Harwich Health Forums which I convened after the 2010 election, specifically aimed at getting the decision-makers around the table to commit to more services in Harwich. This meeting was the first sign of how tough a challenge this would be, especially given the rent costs at the hospital.
I worked hard on the maternity service campaign, meeting the Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust Chief Executive and making clear to him that expecting mothers in Harwich should not be made to travel to Colchester, when a top notch facility like the Fryatt was on their doorstep. The campaign was unsuccessful, and I shared the frustration of local residents that they were having yet another service taken away.
I campaigning to keep the Minor Injuries Unit in Harwich. The town must not lose this service. I have long pressed our local NHS leaders to find a way to make more use of the hospital. The argument put forward for the removal of some maternity services was due to an underuse of the facility. This was simply not the case for the Minor Injuries Unit. This is a well-used, important service which eases pressure from both our A&E service, and the local GP practices. I made the case to the decision-makers that the unit must not go, as this would be nonsensical, and lead to greater costs in the NHS. It would also go against the wishes of every resident of Harwich I spoke to. I am delighted that this campaign was a success and the Harwich Minor Injuries Unit is staying open with additional services available on site as a ‘hub’ surgery. This is a vote of confidence in the hospital and a welcome win for everyone who has ever contacted me about the underused hospital building. Click here to see my full submission pressing for the expansion of the Minor Injuries Unit at the Fryatt which ultimately proved successful.
I am as determined as ever to get the local NHS organisations to bring more services to Harwich. In this Parliament, I will continue to call fresh meetings between the key decision-makers from CHUFT, the CCG and the Anglia Community Enterprise, to secure a joined up approach in getting to grips with this issue once and for all. Services must not be taken away from Harwich.