HL Deb 13 March 1978 vol 389 cc1049-52

3.13 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they expect to make a start on the rebuilding of Hammersmith Hospital.


My Lords, the capital strategy recently agreed by the North-West Thames Regional Health Authority makes provision for a major building scheme of some £9 million to begin not later than 1985–86. The scheme is likely to involve the replacement of some of the hospital's least satisfactory departments.


My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that reply, which I do not think he will expect me to regard as wholly satisfactory, I should like to ask whether he is aware that, although this hospital attracts large numbers of qualified doctors from every country in the world for training as consultants and specialists, it is still housed in "poor law" buildings more than 75 years old—many of them, indeed, considerably more than 75 years old? Is the noble Lord aware that plans for the rebuilding were approved by the Department, the decanting buildings set up, and a date agreed, I believe, for the commencement of rebuilding before the reorganisation of the Service nearly five years ago? Will he impress upon his right honourable friend and upon the Area Health Authority the urgency of starting this rebuilding before the plans already approved are so far out of date that it becomes necessary to start the whole long process again ab initio?


My Lords, we would accept without question that this is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. We recognise that the buildings are old, cramped, and inadequate. We recognise that a hospital like the Hammersmith Hospital, with not only its national, but also its international reputation, certainly deserves far better buildings than it has and much better accommodation and facilities. Having said that, I am sure that the noble Lord will know what was the position in 1974. I do not want to say to the noble Lord that it is a pity that something was not done about this between 1970 and 1974; we will let that pass. But in 1974 it became necessary to curtail expenditure severely, as noble Lords know. This was for reasons quite beyond the control of the Government—I do not want to go into the oil situation. This hospital, along with a large number of others, has suffered consequently. I know that it is the Government's intention to do for Hammersmith what it wants at the earliest possible opportunity.


My Lords, as a friend of Hammersmith Hospital, I should like to ask the Minister whether he is aware that, despite the remarkable reputation of the hospital for surgery and matters involving heart complaints, blood circulation, and kidneys, as well as in other respects—which brings consultants from all parts of the world—the state of the buildings now represents absolute chaos, notwithstanding the splendid accommodation for Commonwealth students, while wards which were in the old infirmary are being occupied and conditions are crowded and cramped, as I know from experience? Will Her Majesty's Government give priority to the rebuilding of this famous hospital?


My Lords, I thought that I had been through most of those points in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, and I thought that I also said that provision is being made, in agreement with the North-West Thames Regional Health Authority, to spend £9 million on providing some of the buildings needed. The noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, also referred to a point regarding the future—and I missed this earlier. I believe that we must look at the plans, because it may be necessary to undertake some revision of them to take account of the new developments in treatment and in medical and nursing techniques which perhaps will call for a different type of accommodation in the 1980s from that which would have been the case a few years ago.

Perhaps it is a small comfort that I can say that in the meantime the Government are providing £450,000 in the authority's programme, starting in 1978–79 (the current year), for interim improvements to the radio-diagnostic and the radio-therapy departments and for the continuation of a programme of major improvements to the existing wards.


My Lords, as a senior member of the staff of the post-graduate medical school at Hammersmith for 30 years, I should like to ask the noble Lord whether he is fully aware of what is involved in the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe: the stark contrast between the new Commonwealth building which was opened 12 years ago by Her Majesty the Queen, and the completely outdated and utterly incongruous buildings to which the noble Lords, Lord Cottesloe and Lord Brockway, referred? Is the noble Lord aware how that new school building was made possible—through donations received from all over the world, including donations from the Governments of no fewer than 12 Commonwealth countries, which in its way must have been a unique event in the history of the new Commonwealth—and, so far as I know, such a tribute has been paid to no other institute in the country? Is the noble Lord aware that it was very naturally assumed by all concerned that the Government would play their part in providing worthy buildings for the hospital for which they were responsible as an integral part of the whole rebuilding project? In view of these facts, can the noble Lord give any reason why the Hammersmith Hospital should not receive the highest possible priority for rebuilding as an outstanding centre, not only for the National Health Service but also for world medicine?


My Lords, there is a simple answer to that, and it is an unsatisfactory one from the noble Lord's point of view. It is that Hammersmith Hospital is not the only hospital in the United Kingdom. There are hundreds of hospitals in a similar position, and there is a limited amount of money which must be distributed in those areas where there is a very high priority. While we recognise and pay tribute to the contribution which Hammersmith Hospital is making and has made, nationally and internationally, for a good many years, and while we want to see that it gets what it wants, we cannot do that to the total exclusion of the needs of other hospitals.


My Lords, can my noble friend say whether the Government have altogether given up the idea of rebuilding Hammersmith Hospital on some alternative site and using the existing site as an overspill for Wormwood Scrubs, for which the present antiquated buildings could be admirably adapted?


My Lords, that is a very long-term project. Anyone who knows the Hammersmith Hospital knows that there is a very substantial complex there. One cannot just pull it down and rebuild. As the noble Lord, Lord Cottesloe, said, there is the whole question of decanting, and he will agree with me, as will the noble Lord, Lord Stamp, that there is very little ground there on which to do any real decanting. Unfortunately, therefore, one has to do this piecemeal, but we should like to be able to do it as quickly as possible.


My Lords—


My Lords, I think we have had a long innings on this particular Question.