John Major’s ‘ruinous’ PFI deal ‘not behind Huddersfield A&E cuts plan’

Ben Gummer, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Health. John Stillwell/PA Wire
Ben Gummer, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department of Health. John Stillwell/PA Wire
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A “ruinous” private finance deal signed in the 1990s is not the reason why medics have proposed to close Huddersfield’s accident and emergency department, a Government health minister has insisted.

Huddersfield Royal Infirmary is under threat after the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust clinical commissioning group (CCG) decided to consult on closing the hospital’s A&E services and centralising them at Calderdale Royal Hospital instead.

Campaigning MPs claim that a cumbersome finance deal signed off by previous Prime Minister John Major to build the Calderdale Royal Hospital will mean the cost will spiral to £773m by 2058. They say it has adversely affected decisions on healthcare in the region, but Care Quality Minister Ben Gummer stressed that was false.

During a cross-party Westminster Hall debate in the House of Commons, he also warned against a statistic used by campaigners that 157 lives could be lost if Huddersfield’s A&E shuts, saying it was erroneous and would “frighten” people.

Backing the expertise of the CCG in trying to reform the service, Mr Gummer set out the group’s case for closure.

He said: “The clinical commissioning group has come forward with a very detailed plan, whatever everyone’s arguments about the merits of it, or otherwise.”

He asked MPs to listen very carefully to clinicians’ views on how best to serve patients, but the Labour MP for Huddersfield, Barry Sheerman, said clinicians “uniformly” want A&E facilities to remain in both hospitals.

The Minister said: “[The CCG] believes that the NHS services currently organised in Halifax and Huddersfield do not deliver the most safe, effective and efficient support to meet patients need. They believe the trust is affected by shortages in middle-grade doctors and has a high use of locums in its A&E department.

“There’s a high level of sickness absence and clinical rotas are described as fragile.”

The Minister said that the historic finance deal had not had an impact on the proposal to close the A&E, and he added that the suggestion money owed will soar to £773m was wildly over-estimated.

“It is not a determining factor in what the CCG is trying to do,” he said. “I really don’t think the PFI does have a bearing because no matter where you put the services, the PFI will still exist.”

The Tory MP for Colne Valley, Jason McCartney, described the trust’s PFI deal as having been “ruinous”, but welcomed the suggestion that clinical reasons would determine an A&E closure, because in that case, he said “it’s Huddersfield that keeps its A&E”.