The Minister for Health (Edward Argar)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) on securing this debate on health and social care in Kettering. It is testament to his strong commitment to the issue on behalf of his constituents that we hold this debate today, around six weeks after he secured a debate on his local hospital. I had the privilege, as he mentioned in his speech, of visiting his local hospital a couple of weeks ago. His constituents can be in no doubt of his tenacity and persistence in this place on their behalf—something all too familiar to numerous Ministers—and they are lucky to have him as a strong local voice fighting their corner here in Westminster.
The local context for health and social care in Northamptonshire, and in Kettering specifically, was well set out by my hon. Friend. The area has seen considerable population growth. On the basis of projections, the wider area is set to see further significant growth in population in the coming years, with circa 35,000 new homes over the next 10 years, as he set out. That will in turn see additional demand for health and social care services. The presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Sir Alan Duncan) emphasises the fact that not only Kettering and Northamptonshire residents are served by the hospital, but so are many of his constituents in Rutland as well.
If we overlay on this the broader national picture of an ageing population—a positive we should be proud of as we are all living for longer, but one that brings with it the need for additional support and care for people to live independent, fulfilling lives for longer—we see a clear need for new integrated models of care, addressing the increase in demand in numerical terms; the greater number of older people requiring support; and the young families that the new development and housing will bring with them. Working towards greater integration of health and social care services in Northamptonshire is a critical part of the journey towards local government reorganisation in the county.
On the establishment of the two unitary councils, I know my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government is working hard to ensure that legislation can be considered by the House as soon as practicable. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering has, in that context, raised the proposition, as he did today, of trialling or piloting a new integrated health and social care system in Northamptonshire. That proposal was also highlighted to me compellingly by members of the hospital team and trust during my recent visit, and I understand it has been discussed with the Health Secretary and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. Following that discussion, local council and NHS stakeholders have held further discussions on an outline proposal around system design principles and governance, as a precursor to any possible formal integration.
I look forward to seeing the outcome of those discussions as swiftly as possible. However, although effective, seamless integration is vital to patients and, as my hon. Friend set out, to the overall health ecosystem in his county, I must turn to the heart of his speech and to another key element of the health and social care landscape in Kettering—Kettering General Hospital and the challenges that it faces, particularly around urgent and emergency care provision.
Following the Secretary of State’s announcement of the health infrastructure plan—HIP—which set out a clear plan for strategic investment in our NHS, ensuring that it has the capital investment that it needs to progress and improve for many decades, atop the £33.9 billion annual funding increase for the NHS in the long-term plan, I had the privilege of visiting Kettering General Hospital with my hon. Friend. I received a very warm welcome and had the opportunity to speak with the amazing team of staff, led by the chief executive, Simon, as well as with patients. Equally importantly, I was able to see for myself conditions that I may read about in briefing papers, or be briefed about by my hon. Friend, and see for myself the real need.
As he has today, my hon. Friend and the hospital team set out to me compellingly the challenge facing an emergency department that opened in 1994 for around 40,000 patients a year and that, last year, had more than 90,000 and is forecast to have more than 100,000 this year. It is one thing to be briefed on something; it is another to see the problem for myself, despite the amazing work, which I also saw, by all staff—day in, day out—to ensure patient safety and care. I pay tribute to those staff for playing a central role in the trust’s removal from special measures for quality reasons in May this year.
Despite that amazing work every day to ensure that patients get the care they need, this is a real challenge that needs a long-term resolution. The trust has proposed an urgent care hub—an earlier bid to the sustainability and transformation programme having been unsuccessful —and my hon. Friend is a key part of the trust’s overall larger plans to address that need. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, and my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr Bone) and for Corby (Tom Pursglove), for their commitment to campaigning for the hospital, and to all Northamptonshire MPs. I recognise my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer) in that context.
My hon. Friends have not given up. They have been clear that the proposal represents an effective long-term way to solve existing issues and to meet future need. They have pressed their case with eloquence and charm, but with determination. That is why I was delighted that the major scheme for Kettering General Hospital was selected, as part of the HIP2 announcement, to receive seed funding to develop its plan and investment case to deliver its proposals for a rebuild of the hospital. The trust and my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering fully welcomed that, but made a strong case that aspects of those plans were already well advanced and ready to proceed, and that all the preparatory work had been done on those aspects. When I visited, not only was that argument made compellingly to me, but the need to proceed swiftly with respect to urgent and emergency care provision was clear.
That is why I can go further: I am delighted to inform the House that, in the next capital review, Kettering General NHS Foundation Trust’s £46 million project for a new urgent care hub has been approved by Her Majesty’s Government. My officials and NHS England will be in touch with the trust to discuss further details, in order to ensure that funds are released and that work starts on the project as swiftly as possible. I am conscious of the urgency that my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering highlighted. I know that that news will be welcomed by all my hon. Friends in the Chamber and their constituents. It is a reflection not only of our commitment to delivering on the announcement that we made at the start of the month, but of the work of the trust and that of my hon. Friend and other hon. Friends in their campaign for the investment.
That investment is only one part of the health and social care landscape in Kettering and Northamptonshire, but it is a vital part, and further demonstrates our commitment to the NHS—to our NHS. The investment will, I believe, make a huge difference to the people of Kettering and beyond; having visited and heard my hon. Friend’s arguments, and those of the clinical staff, it is a pleasure to announce it in the House today. I conclude by paying tribute to my hon. Friend not only for securing the debate but for his central role in securing this investment for his constituents and his community.
Question put and agreed to.