Peterborough PFI dispute delays radiotherapy unit

radiotherapy17:10 Friday 6th March 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: A legal wrangle is being blamed for a year-long delay in completing work on a vital new £5 million unit to help fight cancer. The radiotherapy unit at Peterborough City Hospital is now 12 months behind schedule, because of a dispute over the original PFI financial deal. Agency staff are being hired to cope with the workload at an extra cost to the already cash-strapped Trust. However, Trust officials say they cannot calculate the extra cost. Well to get a view on this I was joined earlier on by Peterborough’s MP Stewart Jackson.
STEWART JACKSON: I’m very disappointed Chris, not least because like everyone else in Peterborough and particularly the healthcare professionals, I was delighted when the Government awarded extra funding for what is an extremely important cause, which is this particular unit. And the fact is that this is having impact on clinical work, and it’s making patients wait longer. And that can’t be right. So I’m asking the Trust and the contractors to get together and see if they can resolve this very pressing issue.

CHRIS MANN: Now the NHS Foundation Trust has said there has been a delay, which has been disappointing, but it hasn’t affected the overall objectives of the project. Do you agree with that?
STEWART JACKSON: Well I’m not quite certain what that means. If they’re saying that eventually people are going to be able to access the radiotherapy unit then probably that is strictly speaking correct. But a 12 month delay is a big issue for people who are waiting for cutting-edge treatment for cancer. And therefore I think, given the importance of this issue, the Government is very committed to dealing with cancer as a big issue, it affects so many people across society, via the Cancer Drugs Fund and other important initiatives across the UK, then I think that anything that delays that treatment is not good for people in Peterborough and the wider area. So it’s an imperative now. We understand what the problem is, that there is a dispute over the PFI payments. But it has to be resolved, so it doesn’t affect patients who’s fault it isn ‘t. And they’re obviously going to be very worried about this.
CHRIS MANN: As they say in these situations, only the lawyers benefit from all this legal wrangles. Eh?
STEWART JACKSON: Well exactly. And there are some bigger issues around the contractors and their performance. We’ve had two incidents in the last six months, one involving a fire and another more recent incident, where questions are being asked about the efficacy of the PFI contract, and the amount of money that the Hospital is paying. It is a disastrous deal, signed almost eight years ago now, and there are issues that need to be addressed by the Treasury and the Department of Health. But in the interim it absolutely has to be the case that patients are the priority, that clinical care is the top issue. And on that basis it’s got to be resolved pretty quickly. And if it needs me as the local MP to write to the Secretary of State for Health and urge that the two parties get together to resolve it then I will obviously be delighted to do that. But I hope they can do that off their own bat.
CHRIS MANN: With the General Election in the offing, yet another problem in the NHS. People are beginning to wonder I think whether the private sector should be involved in it at all. All we seem to get is problems like this.
STEWART JACKSON: Well there is a big issue about the private sector. You shouldn ‘t forget of course that GPs are effectively private contractors and have been since 1948. So they do a pretty good job. And there are other aspects that are performing quite well in the NHS. Whether it’s hip replacements or minor ailments, the private sector can and does have a role. But substantially 94% of the work in the NHS is public sector work, and I think the private sector takes some of the stress and pressures off that. So I’m not saying all private work is good. That isn’t the case, because this PFI contract is pretty disastrous, signed under the last Government. But the idea that all private sector work is bad is also wrong. So we’ve got to get the balance right. This is a specific issue around the contract, arising from what is probably the worst PFI contract in the UK. And on that basis, we need to get it resolved as soon as possible.
CHRIS MANN: That’s Stewart Jackson, the MP for Peterborough there, talking about this delay at the Peterborough City Hospital.