Concern over new Royal Preston location during general election hustings

Preston will effectively end up with two hospitals when the city’s long-awaited new Royal opens in around a decade from now. That was the prediction of veteran Preston politician Sir Mark Hendrick, who says the new facility – which is known to be earmarked for a site somewhere in South Ribble – will be “an add-on” to the Royal Preston’s current base on Sharoe Green Lane.

He made the comments during a general election hustings event which saw candidates standing for the constituency he has represented as MP for 24 years quizzed on issues including health services. A member of the audience had claimed in a pre-submitted question that the new state-of the-art hospital would actually result in “a far worse NHS experience for the vast majority of Preston’s population” – because of the difficulty that would come with accessing it in its out-of-town home south of the river.

Sir Mark – who is once again contesting the seat for Labour – said while he would “love it” if the new facility was in Preston, a previously explored option to partially rebuild the Sharoe Green Lane site was always a “non-starter” due to the lack of space. However, he said the creation of a new unit elsewhere did not, in his view, spell the end for the Royal Preston’s base of 50 years – because it was not “an either/or situation”.

“Once a site has been chosen, some services which are obviously overloading Royal Preston – and some that are overloading Chorley [Hospital] – will be moved and relocated there. But it’s pie in the sky to expect that two huge hospitals – where there’s been hundreds of millions of pounds already spent – are suddenly going to be replaced by a brand spanking new hospital somewhere in South Ribble or on the border of Ribble Valley.

“There will be [a] spreading around of the services, but it’s not going to replace Preston…[or] Chorley – it’ll be an add on,” Sir Mark said.

Funding for what has generally been billed as ‘the new Royal Preston’ was finally confirmed by the government last year – although its planned opening date was pushed back from the start to the middle of the next decade. There has long been a focus amongst local NHS leaders on ensuring the new facility is an appropriate size, given the hope that long-heralded moves towards more community-based services will have come to fruition by the time it opens its doors.

As the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) revealed last August, a ‘preferred site’ has been selected by NHS bosses from a shortlist which the then South Ribble MP Katherine Fletcher – who is now fighting to retain her seat at the election – has previously announced were all in her constituency.

There were mixed views amongst the other Preston candidates about the wisdom of developing a new Royal Preston beyond Preston’s borders.

Neil Darby (Liberal Democrats) said that “distance and accessibility” were key considerations.

“All too often, our excellent NHS staff are… working in out of date and crumbling facilities.

“So we need to get those new facilities – that is the most important thing. Then we can discuss where exactly it needs to be,” Mr. Darby said.

Trevor Hart (Conservatives) said he had initially been “totally against” the idea of putting the new Royal Preston anywhere but within Preston – but recent experience of cancer treatment had convinced him that there were other considerations.

“On the first day…I couldn’t park. So eventually, when I actually got up there – and the first thing they do is to take the blood pressure -…they say ‘Do you normally have trouble with your blood pressure?’

“So…it’s really important that whatever [hospital] we have has got to be easy to get to, easy to park…and provide the services we need.,” Mr. Hart explained.

Rejoin EU candidate Joseph O’Meachair concurred with comments about accessibility – and warned of the need to create an “integrated system” in which decisions are made “taking into account all of the local needs of the population”.

Meanwhile, Michael Lavalette, standing as an independent, said that the hospital needed to stay within Preston unless or until there was a “rebirth of the National Health Service” into a “more integrated” system.

“The problem is that all the hospitals have got individual trusts status – [they can] act almost like individual businesses. The long-term solution is…proper investment…in staff, training and in the services,” Mr. Lavalette added.

David Brooks (Alliance for Democracy and Freedom) said that the “poor mobility” of many of those attending hospital meant the new Royal needed to be somewhere “central” and on bus routes. However, he diagnosed a broader malaise within the health service.

“Instead of fixing the problems with the NHS, we’ve got managers-managing-managers-managing managers. How much money are we wasting on this?

“We’re testing men to see if they are pregnant…when there’s people in corridors dying,” Mr. Brooks claimed.

PRESTON CANDIDATE DETAILS

All 10 candidates standing for election in the Preston constituency were invited to the hustings event, staged by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Lancashire Post, Lancashire Lead and Blog Preston. Six of those on the ballot took part in the event.

The full list of candidates seeking election in Preston on July 4 is:

YOUSUF BHAILOK (Independent)DAVID BROOKS (Alliance for Democracy and Freedom)

NEIL DARBY (Liberal Democrats)

JAMES ELLIOT (Reform UK)

TREVOR HART (Conservative Party)

SIR MARK HENDRICK (Labour and Co-Operative Party)

DEREK KILLEEN (UKIP)

MICHAEL LAVALETTE (Independent)

ISABELLA METCALF-RIENER (Green Party)

JOSEPH O’MEACHAIR (Rejoin EU)