Craig Whittaker MP supports hospital trust’s secrecy over business cases for Huddersfield and Halifax hospitals centralisation

Craig Whittaker MP has refused a request to draw the attention of Calderdale and Huddersfield hospitals trust’s Chief Executive and Chair of the Council of Governors to an open letter from members of the public to Calderdale and Kirklees Joint Health Scrutiny Committee.

The letter was signed by 81 members of the public – among them, several Calder Valley constituents.

The letter was prompted by the lack of any proper scrutiny of the Huddersfield and Halifax hospitals cuts and centralisation plans, since the Trust’s refusal last November to present the Councillors’ Scrutiny Committee with the business cases for the new Huddersfield Royal Infirmary walk-in A&E, and for Reconfiguration of the hospital trust’s Services and Estate Developments of both Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and Calderdale Royal Hospital.

It is impossible to find out if the plans are safe and in the public interest, without scrutinising the business cases

Other similar hospitals centralisation schemes, like Cramlington Specialist Emergency Centre in Northumberland, have proved to be inadequate due to lack of capacity. And even before the new, smaller, Royal Liverpool Hospital opened this week there were reports of problems with capacity. Frontline staff members said there is concern that the new hospital has fewer beds than the current site.

Lack of capacity is a key worry about the Calderdale and Huddersfield hospitals centralisation, since planned bed numbers at the proposed acute and emergency hospital in Halifax – which is to serve the whole population of Kirklees and Calderdale – do not take account of population growth.

And given inflation in construction costs, there is concern about ‘value engineering’ – cost-cutting design changes to enable the new builds to come in within budget, such as happened with Grenfell Tower – and the existing Private Finance Initiative Calderdale Royal Hospital.

So the open letter asks Calderdale and Kirklees Joint Health Scrutiny Committee to now urgently hold a public meeting so that the public can see what progress – if any – has been made in holding Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust to their statutory obligations to allow effective Councillor scrutiny of the Trust’s business cases. 

Construction of the new walk-in A&E at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary is speeding ahead, regardless. 

The Calder Valley MP said,

“I have regular meetings with officials at the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust, and I fully understand why they are unable to publish their full business case – emphasis and focus now needs to be on the delivery of their plan for the benefit of the service for the future, therefore I will not support your demands. I am satisfied that scrutiny continues to meet, as per Councillor Blagbrough’s email, and I am equally satisfied that the co-chairs are carrying out their duties effectively and responsibly.”

The MP’s assistant, Cllr Blagborough, had previously emailed that the Calderdale and Kirklees Joint Health Scrutiny Committee was due to meet in early October. 

However, it is now early October and there is no Calderdale and Kirklees Joint Health Scrutiny Committee meeting scheduled in either Calderdale Council’s or Kirklees Council’s October Calendar of meetings. 

The Kirklees Scrutiny Officer says they are provisionally looking at the afternoon of Wednesday 26 October and hope to confirm this shortly.

Update: Calderdale and Kirklees Joint Health Scrutiny Committee is meeting at 1.30pm, Weds 26th October in Huddersfield Town Hall

At the November 2021 meeting, the Scrutiny Committee Co-Chairs’ directed the Trust that they must comply with statutory obligations governing Scrutiny access to the Trusts’ business cases

This was after the hospitals Trust refused to produce these Business Cases, on the grounds that they were not public documents.

How can this possibly be the case?

In November 2014, the hospitals Trust published its original hospitals’ reconfiguration Outline Business Case. (The plan that was rejected by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel.)

So why is the Trust now refusing to publish the current, revised version of the Outline Business Case? What have they got to hide?

Could it be that NHS England, and its minions, have become increasingly defensive and secretive as the level of commercial involvement has increased? In order that this is not too blatant?

Certainly the government is now steaming ahead with promoting the future of the NHS as a public/private partnership, extending practices introduced under cover of Covid-19. 

How might this be playing out in the Calderdale and Huddersfield hospitals centralisation business cases? 

I have now made a Freedom of Information request to Calderdale and Huddersfield hospitals trust asking for publication of both Business Cases. The trust is due to respond on 13th October 

In my Freedom Of Information request, I reminded the Trust that in 2014 they published the original Right Care  Right Time Right Place Outline Business Case. If it was a public document then, why is the November 2021 Outline Business Case now not a public document?

With regard to commercially sensitive information in the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary new walk-in A&E Full Business Case, “which if produced in full could have jeopardised any potential contracts and actual work taking place” –  this was also the case with the 2014 Outline Business Case, which included commercially confidential information relating to the Kirklees community health services contract that Greater Huddersfield CCG and N Kirklees CCG were procuring in 2014. 

However, after an extended FOI correspondence,  CHFT agreed to publish a redacted version that removed all aspects of the 2014 Outline Business Case that were commercially sensitive in relation to that contract. 

In the event, the process of redaction was not completed by the time the Kirklees community health services contract was awarded.

The contract award removed any commercial confidentiality issues from the Outline Business Case,  which CHFT then published in full.

The takeaways from the 2014 process of publication are therefore:

  • CHFT could and should publish the Full Business Case for HRI’s new A&E department in a redacted version, omitting commercially sensitive information relating to any contracts that are to still to be procured. If all contracts have now been awarded, CHFT should now publish that business case in full.
  • The Outline Business Case, which CHFT told the Scrutiny Committee is not a public document, was a public document in 2014. So the onus is on CHFT to explain what, if anything, has changed in respect of the status of the current Outline Business Case as a public document. If nothing has changed, CHFT should promptly publish both the draft and final versions of the current  Outline Business Case for Reconfiguration of CHFT’s Services and Estate Developments

It may be that since the November 2021 Scrutiny meeting, the Calderdale and Kirklees Joint Health Scrutiny Committee have managed to convince the hospitals trust to let them see the business cases privately – but even so, private meetings are not the same as public scrutiny. 

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