HC Deb 04 August 1976 vol 916 cc2079-85

10.49 a.m.

Mr. Richard Buchanan (Glasgow, Springburn)

I am glad to have this opportunity to raise in the House the subject of the proposed closure of Robroyston Hospital, Glasgow, and I can tell the House at the outset that I have here a telegram from the local health council supporting me in my efforts to prevent its closure. That in itself is an indication of the way in which the decision has been carried along. The first that the staff of the hospital, the local health council, local council, lors and I knew of the proposed closure was when we read about it in the Press.

Robroyston Hospital is situated on high ground in the north-east of my constituency. I deliberately mention the fact that it is on high ground because the reason given for the proposed closure is that a sewer requires rebuilding and that the ground is unsuitable.

The hospital is on an extremely good site, with a wide open prospect and plenty of space for extensions and car parking. It has an operating theatre in regular use, and a fully equipped X-ray department and laboratory. It has outpatient clinics and a modern laundry which does laundry work for the hospital's own use and for Forresthall Hospital nearby.

The Greater Glasgow Health Board now proposes to close this busy and efficient hospital, and this is resented by people in the area. Sadly, the Secretary of State for Scotland agrees with the board. Hence, I am raising this matter in the House in the hope that my right hon. Friend will re-examine this matter and possibly change his mind.

In its annual report the local health council said: Our relationship with the Greater Glasgow Health Board has not been exactly ideal. We do not receive the minutes of the board relating to health services in our area or copies of appropriate papers… The council then highlights the way in which its views were ignored when the decision to close the hospital was taken.

The Greater Glasgow Health Board said that it had consulted most of the bodies concerned in the Strathclyde Regional Council. That council wrote to protest at the closing of the hospital, but the board did not apparently consult the Strathclyde Regional Council, the trade unions, or the staff until after the decision was made. That also applies to my colleagues in the Glasgow district and the Strathclyde Regional Council. I personally read about the matter in the Press. I have made my own inquiries and I discover that, from the Strathclyde Regional Council downwards, nobody appears to have been consulted.

The board in giving reasons for the closure stated that patients would be put here, there and everywhere. The Belvedere Hospital is worried about the disposition of 60 beds which have been in use continuously since 1958. The Royal Infirmary in Glasgow is in the middle of massive redevelopment, whose completion is still some years into the future, and operates a very busy urological unit. One of the excuses given for the proposed closure was that the consultant urologist was about to retire. The report did not intimate that the urological unit was operated from the Royal Infirmary at Glasgow. One surgeon told me that he could only operate in cases where good home care could be given for a number of days after the operation because he has no beds for long-stay patients.

The proposal to accommodate the infectious diseases unit in Stobhill takes some understanding because Stobhill is one of the largest hospitals in Britain. One cannot take seriously the suggestion that such a hospital should incorporate a large infectious diseases unit. Surely the board should not expose such a large unit to risk of that nature.

We read in the Press of new dangers lurking abroad, such as rabies and lassa fever. The Greater Glasgow Health Board appears to be assuming that the days of the epidemic are over and that there will be no more emergencies. Yet when an outbreak of dysentery occurs at Stobhill, the patients are decanted to Robroyston Hospital. Furthermore, Robroyston is the only Glasgow hospital that takes expectant mothers with TB postive sputum tests. When the birth rate was rising, a maternity unit was set up at Robroyston. This was a positive indication of the value of having a unit such as Robroyston ready for development when need arises.

There is no point in arguing, as the board argues, that the Robroyston Hospital will be put in mothballs. As soon as the key is turned in the door, vandals will move in and the cost will be, not £250,000 for a new sewer, but a figure of £2½ million to bring the hospital up to any kind of emergency standard.

There are two other hospitals in my constituency which the Minister knows very well, namely, the Eastern District Hospital and the Forresthall Home and Hospital, about whose future there is some conjecture. When I was Chairman of the Eastern District Hospital in 1955, the hospital was then said to have a life of 15 years. We could not get money for improvements because of that short life period. When my hon. Friends on the Front Bench were with me in Glasgow Corporation, we had plans for the redevelopment of Forresthall, but those plans had to be scrapped and that money had to go elsewhere.

Both Forresthall and Robroyston have large geriatric units. I shall not quote the reports, but I hope that the Minister will examine the report of the inquiry from which he will learn of the great need for geriatric accommodation. In the northern district there is a waiting period of 10 years for a place in an eventide home. The need for this type of accommodation is bound to increase. Almost 70 per cent. of old and aged people are sustained by their families.

The rapid fall in the birth rate has meant that in future many old people will not have families to care for them. Where will they go? It appears that the State will have to provide for them simply because the young will not be able to fill that requirement. Will new buildings have to be erected to take those people? This may be in doubt because of the cuts in public expenditure.

The Greater Glasgow Health Board has pointed out time and again in its reports that provision will have to be made for geriatric patients in Stobhill and elsewhere. Are alterations, additions and adaptations to take place, and will they come within the estimate? Has the cost of those works been taken into account and measured against the cost of a new sewer?

Mention was made in a letter received from the Minister about a decline in the population of the area. The Minister is quite right to take that view, but little heed has been paid to the redevelopment of the Springburn constituency. The heart of Springburn has been torn out, and much rebuilding is to take place, with consequent population increases. In addition, Glasgow District Council has plans now before the Secretary of State to develop land to the east of Robroyston Road for industrial purposes and land to the south-east of Wallacewell Road. That matter was submitted to my right hon. Friend on 13th March 1975. The land to the west of Robroyston Road is to be developed for housing, as appears from Glasgow Corporation minute 15/1387 of 21st Janury 1975. The construction of a new sewer is inevitable. The estimated cost of £250,000 will surely be shared by other land owners. I imagine that the health board will be responsible for only part of the sewer within the curtilage of the hospital.

It appears that staffing difficulties may be used as another excuse to expedite the closure of Robroyston Hospital. That is not surprising. When threats of closure are in the air, staff are obviously on the lookout for other jobs. I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to halt this closure. For a gross expenditure of £250,000—which is almost certain to be less than half in net terms when the cost of new buildings, alterations, adaptations and the possible contribution from other sources is deducted —Glasgow for that small amount of cost will be denied the use of a much-needed hospital, which has good supporting services. That situation is totally unacceptable to me and, I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider all that has been said.

11.0 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Hugh D. Brown)

I am glad to have this opportunity to answer some of the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Spring-burn (Mr. Buchanan), and I hope that I shall be able to allay some of the fears expressed locally about the effects of the impending closure of Robroyston Hospital. I have almost as great a constituency interest in it as my hon. Friend and, therefore, I am aware of the problem at a personal level. I know of my hon. Friend's interest and responsibility in the past as Chairman of the Eastern District Board, a post which he occupied with distinction. Therefore, there is nothing between us in our concern about the future of Robroyston Hospital and about the alternative provision.

Let me deal first with the future of acute services in the Glasgow area. Concern has been expressed about this matter. It has to be seen against the background of a rapidly declining population in the Glasgow area. I think that it is fair to say that this is a matter which perhaps has not yet been taken fully on board by the health authority. However, this has nothing to do with the decision about the closure of Robroyston Hospital.

Nevertheless, in the context of a declining population, we need to take a fresh look at the hospital provision in the area as a whole, taking into account some of the older hospitals and some of the new district general hospitals now in the course of being provided. These are being built and will shortly be commissioned at Airdrie, Greenock and Kilmarnock, and two more are planned for Paisley and Motherwell. Therefore, hospital provision in general is adequate for the needs of the whole area, bearing in mind the numbers from outwith the Glasgow district presently using Glasgow hospitals, including Robroyston. I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that, with the alternative facilities which are available, despite the specific difficulties which may arise in Belvidere and Stobhill, to which my hon. Friend drew attention, we are satisfied that there will be an adequate provision of acute beds and of urology and gynaecological services, to which he made special reference.

As for the implications for staff, I have a great deal of sympathy with my hon. Friend's concern about the effect on staff who have given devoted and faithful service to Robroyston Hospital. It is a hospital which has attracted a special affection from its staff. If I may be permitted to use 30 seconds of time, even at this late hour, to voice my personal affection for it, I might say that my daughter was born there and that two of my best friends died there. It is a hospital with which I have had very close connections. It is the kind of hospital which has attracted dedicated service from many of its staff.

There was a narrow majority of those voting to keep it open, and I can well understand the sense of dedication expressed in that vote. However, I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that there will be detailed discussions with the staff on the alternative posts in other hospitals which will be available to them. Obviously, this is a discussion in which it would have been wrong to engage until the decision had been made. But the health board will now be able to discuss alternative employment opportunities with individual members of the staff.

I take my hon. Friend's point that perhaps the processes of consultation were not altogether adequate. That is a modest way of putting it, but it is not right for me to put it any more strongly. However, the decision is not due to the financial implications on public expenditure. Nor is it due to the future hospital provision to which I have referred, although that has a bearing, because obviously it is an obligation on the authorities not just in this area but in the whole of Scotland to ensure that services are broadly equal in opportunity to patients wherever they are from.

However, because of the decline in population in the Glasgow area, there is a need for a constant and continuing review of facilities. But there is no doubt that Robroyston probably would have had to close fairly soon in any event. The immediate and urgent problem with the sewer has brought it to a head. I can confirm that it is not a question of possible overspending in the budget for 1975–76. There is no truth in that allegation.

The future of the hospital is a matter that will be discussed. The normal procedure will be followed by the board, and it may be that the buildings and the site will be offered to the local authorities or to other Government Departments. At this stage, I cannot anticipate the outcome.

We are all sorry that this decision has had to be made. I can assure my hon. Friend that any problems which arise will be given adequate consideration. My hon. Friend will also be consulted about the alternative provisions and about alternative opportunities for the staff, although that is a detailed matter to be settled between the board and the unions concerned.

Expansion is taking place in some areas of the country, there is a holding operation in others, and in some there may even be a contraction in services linked to a shrinking population. That is the broad picture which I have to paint for my hon. Friend. However, I assure him that we appreciate his interest and concern, and I am certain that the provision of services to patients in the areas which he and I represent will continue at a high level. The quality of staff makes the provision extremely good, and that will continue even though they have to be allocated positions in other hospitals.

Mr. John Ellis (Brigg and Scunthorpe)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put,put and agreed to.

Bill, accordingly read a Second time and committed to a Committee of the whole House; immediately considered in Committee; reported, without amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time,put forthwith pursuant to Standin Order No. 93(Consolidated Fund Bills)and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.