SPECIAL REPORT: Pilgrim Hospital missed out on maternity cash despite support from minister

Andrew Lansley and Mark Simmonds
Andrew Lansley and Mark Simmonds

Bureaucrats chose not to apply for a multi-million pound investment at Boston’s Pilgrim Hospital – despite ministerial support.

The Standard understands the hospital was in line for a big investment to upgrade the 40-year-old maternity unit last year, with former health minister Andrew Lansley convinced by the need for the cash when he was taken around the facility by MP Mark Simmonds last April.

After getting the minister’s backing Mr Simmonds expected the project to be included on a list of schemes to share £300 million of Government investment – but it was not put forward.

The trust instead received £89,491 as part of two investments in childbirth facilities for the Pilgrim Hospital.

The decision on which projects deserved cash was taken by the Strategic Health Authority – an East Midlands wide body that was scrapped as part of changes to the NHS earlier this year.

A letter from Earl Howe, parliamentary under secretary of state, to Mr Simmonds, seen by The Standard, stated: “I am advised that when the department announced the £300 million of central capital funding that I mentioned in my previous reply, the Strategic Health Authority considered applying for funding for the maternity unit at the Pilgrim Hospital. I am advised that it decided not to do so.”

Mr Simmonds is now trying to get an answer as to why the Pilgrim was overlooked.

He told The Standard: “I have been engaging with the Government to make more funds available to Pilgrim Hospital for quite some time and positive headway was being made. When Andrew Lansley visited Pilgrim in April 2012, he saw for himself that the maternity unit at Pilgrim needed urgent renovation in particular.

“I was very surprised when the Department of Health informed me that the East Midlands SHA had decided not to prioritise an application for funding for Pilgrim Hospital. I continue to discuss this matter with ministers at the Department of Health.”

The organisational business of the SHA has been largely taken on by the new commissiong groups. A spokesman for the NHS stressed, however, that these were different organisations and could not answer for the decision made by the SHA.

A source close to the former SHA told The Standard that they understood the £300 million funding was for projects that provided new services over and above what hospitals currently offered, not for rebuilding or repairing units.

However The Standard has found out that cash was allocated for ‘backlog maintenance’, which is believed to have gone to Louth Hospital.

The source added that it was possible the Pilgrim missed out on its cash because trust bosses had not lodged a formal bid and because it was already due £89,491.

The cost of a rebuilt maternity unit is not known, but The Standard understands it could be in the region of £3.5 million-£5 million.

Bosses say they are constantly reviewing the need for investment in hospital buildings across the county and bid for cash to help when they can.

A spokesman for United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust said ‘safety and quality of patient care’ is its top priority.

The spokesman said: “We have a rolling programme of capital investment to help improve the hospital environment across the trust, in line with the demands of the services we provide and this is kept under constant review.

“As and when funding becomes available for improvements, we make requests for this where it meets the needs of our services and is in line with future developments for our Trust.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “It is for the local NHS to decide when services need improving as they know the needs of their patients and organisations.”

The money spent by the Strategic Health Authority in 2012/13 in this region went to ‘backlog maintenance’ and to a new £4.3 million cardiac centre at Lincoln.

The maintenance cash appears to have been earmarked to Louth County Hospital, which was taken out of hospital trust control this year.

Boston’s birth rate has risen by more than 53 per cent in recent years, compared to 22 per cent nationwide. The figure is the third highest in the country.