Labour Lord Hunt On Monitor’s Rescue Plan For Peterborough City Hospital

pch08:18 Friday 13th September 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: More efficiency savings and better use of all the Hospital’s resources will help dig Peterborough City Hospital out of the financial soup. That’s according to officials from the health service regulator Monitor, who laid out their plan to sort out the Hospital’s money worries yesterday. David Bennett is the CEO of Monitor. He says they have faith in the measures they’re about to put in place. (TAPE)
DAVID BENNETT: We are the ones who are going to have to explain to the Department of Health why it is they’re going to have to continue to provide for maybe thirty years a continuing subsidy. So it’s essential that we can reassure ourselves and the Department everything has been done that can reasonably be done to minimise the amount of that subsidy. (LIVE)
PAUL STAINTON: Well the Trust running the Hospital currently suffers from a yearly deficit of course of nearly ¬£40 million. The difficulties started with the infamous signing of the Private Finance Initiative to get the money to actually build the Hospital, money that needs to be paid back of course, over this incredible thirty one years. Now under the terms of the recovery plan, parts of the Hospital may have to be leased out to private providers, to help plug the financial gap. Lord Hunt is Labour’s Deputy Leader at the Lords, and their Spokesman on the NHS. Morning.
LORD HUNT: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: How much do you think Labour’s PFI policy had to do with the troubles that we’re in in Peterborough now?
LORD HUNT: Well I think if you look at the report by the National Audit Office, in the end it’s inescapable that the Board of the Trust really was responsible because they signed the deal. Up and down the country there are lots of very good PFI schemes, where Trusts have not run into these troubles, and have got spanking new hospitals. So in the end I think the Board has to take responsibility.
PAUL STAINTON: But there’s a lot of places similar to Peterborough where they are paying through the nose. Labour put this in place. You effectively sold Peterborough a pup, didn’t you?
LORD HUNT: I don’t think so. I’m speaking to you from Birmingham. Birmingham’s got a wonderful new hospital through PFI. They’re not struggling financially. And up and down the country there are loads of new hospitals where they don’t have these problems.
PAUL STAINTON: So it’s a great system, is it?
LORD HUNT: We transformed the health service in ten years, from a crumbling Victorian infrastructure to hundreds of new hospitals.
PAUL STAINTON: And landed Trusts with a whole shed load of debt, like Peterborough.
LORD HUNT: Well you say, landed the Trusts, but who signed the contract? I’m afraid it was the Trust itself.
PAUL STAINTON: You encouraged it.
LORD HUNT: We didn’t encourage them to sign agreements which were way out of what was likely to be deliverable. What we encouraged people to do was to use PFI where they thought it was financially viable, and where they could get brand new hospitals out of it. And it has worked. It’s a myth to suggest ..
PAUL STAINTON:¬†Hold on .. Monitor were worried at the time of the PFI deal. They warned. And why weren’t Health Ministers looking out? Why weren’t Labour Health Ministers slightly worried that taking on an enormous amount of debt.
LORD HUNT: Well clearly there was Ministers looked at schemes, and there was scrutiny, but ..
PAUL STAINTON: Was there really?
LORD HUNT: Of course they were. But in the end, you’re trying to run away ..
PAUL STAINTON: No I’m saying, if they looked at that, and if .. just let me finish. I’ll let you finish.
LORD HUNT: Are you saying to me then that the Board itself who signed the contract were not ultimately responsible? I ..
PAUL STAINTON: I’m saying everybody’s responsible here. There’s a certain amount of responsibility to be shared around. You’re trying to get away from that.
LORD HUNT: No Not at all. What I’m trying to say to you is that don’t slam the whole PFI programme because of problems in an individual number of Trusts. Now I think the next question of course is the future. And what worries me about what’s happened is that the Government promised in February that they would provide support for the Trust. I’m very dubious about what’s now being proposed. I really do not think that simply saying you’ll franchise out the Trust or the property is the answer. And I think the real worry here of course are the services and what’s going to happen to them. And that’s where I don ‘t see any answers coming through at the moment, which I think is a great pity.
PAUL STAINTON: This is Peterborough’s hospital.
PAUL STAINTON: These are people’s jobs. These are people’s lives. This is the people’s health service that they’ve paid for years. What would you do?
LORD HUNT: What I’d do is I would work through with the people who are served by the Hospital. I would have a recovery plan. But I wouldn’t go down ..
PAUL STAINTON: What would it be?
LORD HUNT: Well I wouldn’t go down the cul-de-sac of saying we’ll franchise stuff .. private.
PAUL STAINTON: What would it be?
LORD HUNT: It has to be .. it’s clear isn’t it that there has to be a plan, a plan to help the Trust get through the financial pressures, make sure that the services being offered are up to scratch, make sure that the whole of the region have got viable health services.
PAUL STAINTON: What’s your plan? What is the plan?
LORD HUNT: Well I’m telling you what it would be. I can’t tell you ..
PAUL STAINTON: You’re vaguely talking about it, but you’re not telling me what the plan is.
LORD HUNT: The plan .. what has to happen is agreement across the patch about the kind of services that need to be provided for the people served by the Hospital, with a financial package to allow that. That’s obviously what has to happen.
PAUL STAINTON: OK. So what we’re going to do, we’re going to cut some of the services are we, and streamline the Hospital?
LORD HUNT: No. I don’t know what the outcome of that will be, nor do I know what kind of financial deal would be necessary. What I do know is that neither Government nor the regulator can wash their hands of this issue. And that I think I fear is what is happening.
PAUL STAINTON: Well you’ve tried to do that this morning on behalf of Labour.
LORD HUNT: No I haven’t tried to do that at all. What I’m seeking to do is to talk about why we had PFI programmes, how that has generally been successful, how I think the Government’s lack of action in regard to Peterborugh is deplorable ..
PAUL STAINTON: You ought to be fair to the Government. They’ve been pouring money in. They’ve been bailing it out and propping it up. These problems are all historical.
LORD HUNT: They’ve certainly been historical, and they’re present at the moment, and clearly the viability of the Trust is at great risk. What I’m saying is that from what I’ve seen of the proposal being made by the regulator Monitor, I can’t see how that is going to do the trick. The only way through would be by Government intervention, working through with local people about what services need to be provided and an appropriate agreement about how this is going to be funded over the years ahead. That is the only way through.
PAUL STAINTON: Do you feel even a tiny pang of guilt at what Labour has landed and the Trust has landed.
LORD HUNT: Look there are clearly lessons to be learned about what happened in relation to PFI schemes, and no-one would ever want to see what’s happened in Peterborough repeated. What I would say though is that we have seen in the last decade since 1997 a huge investment in the health service, which has brought some great new hospitals. And I think we need to put this into context.
PAUL STAINTON: At what cost to the people of Peterborough? That’s all I would ask.
LORD HUNT: Well quite. And that is my concern now about what’s being proposed. because simply trying to say there’s a kind of private sector solution doesn’t wash with me.
PAUL STAINTON: That’s Lord Hunt. He’s Labour’s Deputy Leader in the Lords, their Spokesman on the NHS. Not really happy about the plans being put forward by Monitor. Not sure really what his alternative was.