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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Mayor set to launch consultation into new hospital, which Government says he has no powers to build

The Tees Valley Mayor is planning an “extensive” public consultation over the site for a new hospital, which Government claims he has no powers to build.

As part of his election campaign, Ben Houchen promised to build a new hospital to replace the University Hospital of North Tees. He admitted he had no control over health services but said he previously made good of other pledges, outside his remit, and building a new hospital “doesn’t seem to me to be that difficult”.

The Department of Health and Social Care said they cannot comment on political proposals, but it was “important to note” that the mayor does not have the relevant powers to build a new hospital. Infrastructure needs are determined by local health system planners across the 42 Integrated Care Systems in collaboration with NHS England, said a spokesperson.

“Regardless of the source of financing available, any such investment would still require budgetary cover from within the Department’s maximum capital budget that is set by Parliament,” she said. “The Department’s 2024/25 capital has been fully allocated and future capital budget limits will be set by HMT [Treasury] at the next spending review.”

A £380m bid to replace the Stockton hospital was knocked back by the Government last May, with just eight years’ life left in the buildings. The proposal failed to make it on to a list of 40 new hospitals being built under Government plans.

Speaking on social media, Lord Houchen said: “Unfortunately the Government haven’t stepped up, it wasn’t one of the 40 hospitals that were promised, it’s not in any Government programme for funding so it doesn’t look like there’s any opportunity to get a new hospital any time soon. Local councils seem to have washed their hands of it as an issue and are just waiting for somebody else to sort it out.

“So I thought well actually it seems like something, given that all the other things I’ve promised to do, given that I’ve delivered on those promises, actually building a new hospital doesn’t seem to me to be that difficult. There’s nothing stopping us from not necessarily waiting for a hand out from Government, albeit it would be nice if the Government funded it and obviously that’s my first port of call, but actually it’s something we could fund locally.”

He said he was not talking about “taking over the NHS” but added: “The one thing I am good at is getting things done and getting things built. I think we can use devolution, use the fact that as the Mayor we have money and powers available to us to be able to get things done.”

He noted train stations, freeports and aviation were not in his remit, adding: “It doesn’t need to be in my remit to build the building.” Regarding the location of the hospital, Lord Houchen said he was planning to launch a “huge and extensive” public consultation to decide where it should be built.

A Labour Party source said the promise to build a new hospital was one Lord Houchen could not keep. “Ben Houchen has no powers to deliver this promise and the Government has already turned down a bid to replace the crumbling North Tees hospital,” they said.

“Across the country, our schools and hospitals are falling apart thanks to years of Conservative neglect. Labour will provide the staff, investment, and reform the NHS needs to make sure every patient can be cared for safely. Unlike Ben, Labour won’t make any promises we can’t keep.”

In response, Lord Houchen accused Labour of “talking down the area”, and pushing against a need for a new hospital. “Everybody knows we need more hospital beds, better local care and improved health outcomes, which is why I’m determined to make sure we get a state-of-the-art hospital to replace North Tees,” he said.

“As has been confirmed by the Government, there is going to be a spending review next year and this will set out the money available for a new hospital for our region. Whoever is in Government, I will make sure that they understand, in no uncertain terms, that we need a new hospital and Government cannot be allowed to ignore us.

“I will hold the Government to account to get the money for a new hospital and if the Labour Party are suggesting they would stop a new hospital being built for our community, were they in Government, then I will fight them tooth and nail to make sure we get what we deserve.”

The Department of Health and Social Care was asked about its plans for the hospital in Stockton, and a spokesperson said: “We have invested almost over £435 million in North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust in recent years to upgrade emergency departments, speed up access to diagnostic tests, and improve critical infrastructure. Going forward, new schemes will be considered through a rolling programme of capital investment in hospital infrastructure to upgrade NHS facilities across the country, with details to be agreed periodically to provide greater future certainty.”

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