Barney Heyhoe – 1986 Speech on Normans Riding Hospital in Gateshead

Below is the text of the speech made by Barney Heyhoe, the then Minister for Health, in the House of Commons on 7 February 1986.

As I would expect, the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr. McWilliam) has deployed his case with both case and concern on behalf of his constituents in raising again the decision to close Normans Riding hospital. I have listened with great interest to all that he has said and I will certainly write to him if there are points which, on reflection, I think deserve a further response from me other than that which I can give in this brief debate. I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind comments about my ministerial colleague the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) with regard to the way in which the deputation led by the Member for Blaydon was received and the manner in which the matter was dealt with.

To set the closure of Normans Riding in its proper context, I should perhaps begin by referring to the important developments taking place at the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Gateshead. As the hon. Gentleman knows, schemes 1 and 2 of that hospital were commissioned in 1967 and 1972 respectively. Those two schemes provide a full range of radiological diagnostic support services, out-patients’ department, and so on, to support the 263 acute and maternity beds. As the hon. Gentleman also knows, scheme 3, built at a cost of some £9 million, will add a further 200 acute beds, six operating ​ theatre suites, six intensive therapy unit beds and further supporting services. Scheme 3 is due to come into use in the next few months and various groups of patients will be transferred to the new facilities. One result will be that facilities at Dunston Hill hospital will become vacant. Patients currently at Normans Riding hospital will be transferred to the vacant facilities at Dunston Hill.

In addition to scheme 3 of the Queen Elizabeth hospital, there are other exciting developments taking place in Gateshead. For example, there is the recently opened community unit for those with mental handicap. There are priority service developments for the elderly who are severely mentally ill.

The hon. Gentleman referred to beds for the elderly and the general provision in his area, and I understand that with the completion of the schemes to which I have referred a number of beds for the elderly will become available. If further beds for the elderly are required, these could be provided at Bensham or at Dunston in a rather more economic fashion than would be achieved by retaining the facilities at Normans Riding.

Mr. McWilliam

Does the right hon. Gentleman have any idea of the distance or the transport difficulties that are involved in getting from Ryton, Blaydon or Winlaton to Bensham or Dunston?

Mr. Hayhoe

I would not claim any knowledge that meets even remotely that which the hon. Gentleman has of the area which he represents. I intended to say something about transport facilities but, as he will understand, I must rely upon advice that I am given.

Within the general area there is increased provision for patients flowing from the increased resources that have been provided for the NHS. That does not mean — I accept what the hon. Gentleman says on this score — that there is not real pressure on the available resources. As he has said, the district is achieving only 92 per cent. of its target under the RAWP arrangements, though it is moving up steadily as a result of the overall policies that are being implemented. I hope that 100 per cent. of the RAWP target will be achieved over the course of the next decade. This means that health authorities must examine carefully the way in which services are organised to ensure that they are provided in a sensible and efficient manner. If money is tied up in a hospital which is not required, other developments cannot take place.

It was against that background, and with the desire to concentrate services for the elderly at the Dunston Hill hospital site, that the Gateshead health authority considered carefully the need to retain the Normans Riding hospital.
The hon. Gentleman will know much better than I do that the Normans Riding hospital is sited in a relatively remote part of the district away from any real back-up medical facilities. I have read past correspondence and I have found that much has been made of the pleasant site of the hospital. I accept fully that that is so. At the same time, I cannot ignore the high cost of upgrading — estimated at £500,000 — that would be required if the hospital were to be retained. The relative isolation of the hospital causes difficulties for patients and staff alike. I am advised that the only public transport to the site is the twice-weekly special bus service that is laid on to coincide ​ with visiting times. On other days, relatives without their own transport must use taxis or make other special arrangements.

Mr. McWilliam

The hospital is within three quarters of a mile of one bus terminus, from which there is at least one bus an hour. It is within 500 yd of a bus stop at which buses stop less frequently but fairly regularly.

Mr. Hayhoe

I do not think that that detracts from what I have said. The hon. Gentleman has put the matter in a local context, which local people will know.

Patients who require investigative treatment must usually be taken by ambulance to the Queen Elizabeth hospital in Gateshead. Day-to-day medical cover at the Normans Riding hospital is provided by local GPs. Any condition requiring a specialist opinion currently requires a special trip by the consultant.

That overall situation will be greatly eased when the patients are transferred to Dunston Hill hospital where patients and staff will have easier access to important diagnostic and other services. The medical aspects of these matters must loom large in all the attention which is given to them.

I understand that Dunston Hill hospital is served by about 10 bus services, making visiting by most relatives and friends much easier. It is important not to expect old folk to have to walk, perhaps in inclement weather such as that that we have experienced recently, and there is a great advantage in having the public transport going close to the hospital.

Inevitably, much has also been made of what is seen as the loss of a good hospital. I fully appreciate the local anxieties and loyalties that are always amplified when an issue of this kind comes before the public’s attention, but perhaps those aspects have been somewhat exaggerated. In practice, only a quarter of the patients currently at the Normans Riding hospital come from the immediate area and the move to Dunston Hill hospital will bring the majority of patients nearer to their homes and families. That is my advice, and I presume that people have looked carefully at where the families and friends of the current patients of Normans Riding live.

Mr. McWilliam

I do not want to take up much more of the Minister’s time because he has been more than fair to me in giving way, but patients from the immediate area of Normans Riding hospital are being transferred miles across the borough deliberately and patients from miles across the borough are being transferred into Normans Riding hospital to prove the point. It is being done deliberately.

Mr. Hayhoe

I am not in a position to confirm or deny that. I have not examined the records myself. As I say, I am advised that the position is as I have given it to the House today.

Two of the four wards at Dunston Hill hospital which will be used for existing patients from Normans Riding have already been upgraded. There has been talk of the standard of accommodation. Plans are in hand to upgrade the other two wards. I should stress that that upgrading is for real; I have seen some suggestions that it is merely a cosmetic operation.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will have seen for himself on his visit to Dunston Hill hospital earlier this week, to which he referred, the efforts that the authority ​ is making to provide attractive, homely surroundings for the patients. The two wards yet to be upgraded will be upgraded to a high standard and over the next few years attention will be given to landscaping the hospital site and to a number of other significant improvements to parts of the site.

It has been suggested that the developing expertise in the care of terminally ill patients at Normans Riding hospital will be lost as a result of the move. The hon. Gentleman referred to that aspect. The Gateshead health authority is aware of that concern and will be seeking to ensure that that expertise will continue when patients transfer to Dunston Hill hospital. As the hon. Gentleman may know, all the permanent staff at Normans Riding hospital are being offered similar appointments at Dunston Hill hospital. It is hoped that a majority will be able to transfer with their patients, thus providing a high measure of continuity of care.

The hon. Member referred to the health advisory service report which was broadly welcomed by the Gateshead health authority because it contained many helpful recommendations. The authority established a small group of members to look at its specific points. One can quote from a report a sentence or paragraph or two to sustain one position or another. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will therefore appreciate it if I quote one paragraph to buttress my case, just as I would expect him equally fairly to quote another paragraph that was more in tune with his point. Paragraph 100 states:

“The policy of integrating geriatric medicine with general medicine on the Queen Elizabeth site following scheme 3 and concentrating facilities for the elderly on fewer sites is commendable and should secure the medical care of the elderly in the mainstream of clinical medicine. This will give all ​ patients, irrespective of age, immediate access to the diagnostic and therapeutic resources of the district general hospital which will improve morale and recruitment of staff to the speciality of geriatrics and last, but by no means least, create the means of introducing the multidisciplinary patient-oriented approach to illness at all ages into the acute sector wards.”

There is a real bonus in medical terms to be gained from the proposition which I have agreed. Revenue savings will be achieved by closing Normans Riding hospital and transferring the services to Dunston Hill hospital. The savings are estimated at £178,000 in a full year, all from non-direct patient care services — administration, domestic, catering, portering and estate managing services. Those savings are to be deployed elsewhere to improve services to patients.

I have accepted the assurance from Gateshead health authority that the transfer of the facilities from Normans Riding hospital to Dunston Hill hospital will enable the authority to provide the same level of service more efficiently and will release much needed money to improve existing services across the district to the overall benefit of the community who look to the authority for health care.

For these reasons, and after careful consideration, I concluded that I should support the decision of the Northern regional health authority and the Gateshead district health authority by approving the closure of the hospital. Although I have listened with great care and interest to the hon. Member for Blaydon, I am not persuaded by what he said that the closure decision I made was wrong.