The newly-appointed Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and North East Cambridgeshire MP, the Rt Hon Steve Barclay, today opened the new West Norfolk Eye Centre at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital King’s Lynn (QEH). The £3 million Eye Centre was made possible thanks to Government funding.
QEH provides around 34,000 outpatient eye appointments and undertakes 7,000 eye procedures each year for conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, retina conditions, children’s eye conditions and eye emergencies. The new Eye Centre opened its doors to patients in May 2022, providing a dedicated, specialist ophthalmology outpatient facility at QEH for the first-time and freeing up valuable outpatient space in the main QEH hospital for other specialties.
The Secretary of State was welcomed to QEH by Deputy Chief Executive Laura Skaife-Knight and before unveiling a plaque, met patients and staff and heard first-hand how a new and bigger facility will allow for increasing numbers of patients requiring ophthalmology services to be treated. The design of the Centre, alongside more efficient ways of working, such as ‘One Stop clinics’, means more patients will receive care and treatment more quickly and conveniently.
Accompanied by his constituency neighbour, North West Norfolk MP James Wild, the Secretary of State, whose son was born at QEH, also visited the Trust’s brand new, purpose-designed maternity ward following the complete refurbishment and redesign of the hospital’s Brancaster Ward. The new ward began welcoming patients on Monday 11 July 2022 and includes a purpose built maternity triage unit where mothers-to-be can be clinically assessed by a dedicated midwife team and those who need to be seen more urgently will be prioritised.
During the visit, the Secretary of State, many of whose constituents are QEH patients, was briefed on the Trust’s proactive work to maximise the safety of its ageing estate. Now more than 40-years-old, national experts have said QEH will reach end of life by 2030 and as such there is a ‘ticking clock’.
As a RAAC (Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete) hospital, with almost 80% of hospital buildings (roof and walls) affected by failing RAAC planks, the Trust has an ongoing programme of estate and maintenance works to maximise patient and staff safety.
The Secretary of State met members of the QEH Estates Team, who are working around the clock 24/7 to ensure the safety of the hospital and create decant facilities for wards and theatres, enabling a rolling programme installing failsafes across the first floor of the hospital over the next three years (six wards a year including operating theatres). This is a short-term measure while QEH is seeking £862million in urgent investment to build a new hospital as part of the Government’s New Hospital Programme – which is the only long-term solution. This investment will not extend the life of the current hospital, though importantly, it will maximise safety for patients, their families and staff.
The Secretary of State spent time talking to staff and patients on the Trust’s Necton Ward, just one clinical area where props are holding up the RAAC-affected ceiling. He heard about the challenges of delivering care in such an environment from nursing leaders and patients told him about their hopes for a brand new hospital where props and ceiling leaks are a thing of the past. He also met some of our portering team, who are the eyes and ears of the hospital and an integral part of Team QEH.
The Strategic Outline Case (SOC) for a new Queen Elizabeth Hospital was completed in June 2022 with unanimous support from partners and stakeholders across Norfolk and Waveney, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. QEH is waiting to hear if it will be named as one of the eight further Trusts to be given funding.
Speaking at the opening at the West Norfolk Eye Centre, The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said: “The hospital means a huge amount to me and to us as a family and that’s why I know just how much it matters to the community as well.
“What makes the NHS special is our people, but for our people to thrive they need to have the right working conditions and I know that is part of a much wider discussion for the hospital. Today is a good time to take stock as we were discussing the progress that has been made in King’s Lynn. There are some very good things happening and have an opportunity for James and I to come and thank all of the team here for all you are doing. It is part of a journey and we can see that there is clearly progress being made.”
David Dickinson, Non-Executive Director at QEH commented: “It was a great honour to host the new Secretary of State today for one of his first official visits and it is fitting that he, as one of our local MPs who has consistently supported QEH, should open the West Norfolk Eye Centre.
“We appreciated the opportunity to discuss the Trust’s longer-term ambition to bring a new hospital to King’s Lynn and West Norfolk to solve the unique challenges we face. Our proposed scheme to for a new hospital by 2030 is ‘investment ready’. It is the only long-term sustainable means of providing outstanding care in world-class facilities, meeting the demands of our growing and ageing population, and becoming the best rural District General Hospital for patient and staff experience.”
Laura Skaife-Knight, Deputy Chief Executive at QEH, said: “We were delighted to welcome the Secretary of State today and to share the positive difference that investments in our estate is having on our patients and staff. This much-needed capital injection has led to the West Norfolk Eye Centre, a new frailty unit and refurbished maternity unit opening to our patients – which is improving the experience of our patients, their families and staff.
“That said, we must not lose sight of the fact that this investment is not extending the life of the hospital beyond the 2030 deadline, and ultimately a new hospital is the only sustainable long-term solution for QEH and the provision of healthcare in King’s Lynn and West Norfolk. At present, we are not able to give patients the experience we would like as a result of the poor and deteriorating environment, despite staff providing high quality care and despite Team QEH going above and beyond day in and day out. Our preferred option for a new hospital (a single phase full, on-site new hospital) is the only solution that meets the deadline of replacing the hospital by 2030, and is the option that brings least disruption to patients and staff and provides best value for money and return on investment.”
James Wild MP commented: “It is encouraging that the Health Secretary made it a priority to come to QEH only a week after his appointment to review the serious situation that makes this the most propped hospital in the country. QEH has a compelling case to be selected as part of the new hospitals programme to deliver facilities fit for the future, rather than being an unplanned cost that will have to be met. Investments such as the new West Norfolk Eye Centre underline the impact that new facilities can have for patients and for staff to deliver better care.”
Councillor Stuart Dark, MBE, Leader of the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk, said: “I am delighted that, having only been in office for a few days, the minister has responded to the letter I wrote and has come to see for himself the dire conditions which staff and patients are having to endure at the hospital. We have supported the hospital’s campaign all along and done what we can to get the relevant ministers to engage with us and view firsthand the terrible conditions. This has been an excellent opportunity for us all to impress upon the new minister the need for a speedy and positive decision about funding for a new hospital, one that will serve the current and future population for many years to come.”
Lorraine Gore, Chief Executive of the Borough Council of King’s Lynn & West Norfolk, said: “A new hospital is of vital importance to the community of both west Norfolk and the surrounding area. The current situation cannot continue, with staff and patients feeling unsafe due to the number of props and supports within the hospital. They are not a sight you wish to see when you are ill in bed or working every day. It is paramount that those making the decisions about funding totally understand how much the local community depends on the Queen Elizabeth Hospital – this has been particularly brought to the fore during Covid. Travelling to any other hospital is untenable for many due to transport links and the time taken travelling. It would take well over an hour to get to either the Norfolk and Norwich in Norwich, or Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge. It is absolutely crucial that we receive funding for a new hospital so that we can continue to support vulnerable people within our community.”
Alex Stewart, Chief Executive of Healthwatch Norfolk welcomed the Secretary of State’s visit, saying: “I am delighted that the Secretary of State has taken time out of his busy schedule to visit QEH. On behalf of patients and residents of Norfolk, North Cambridgeshire and South Lincolnshire, Healthwatch urges the him to expedite the decision in relation to the Government committing to pledge all the funding requested to secure a new build hospital, thereby ensuring a sustainable future for the provision of health and social care in West Norfolk.”
Councillor Jo Rust, who represents the Springwood area for the Borough Council of King’s Lynn, and who is also Trades Council Secretary and lead for the Save the King’s Lynn QEH Group, said: “I’m really pleased to hear that so soon after his appointment, Stephen Barclay, the newly appointed Secretary of State for Health, is coming to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King’s Lynn. He will be able to see for himself the dire state of the building and the conditions that our hard working staff are having to deliver their care in. I, like a number of others, wrote to him immediately after his appointment, inviting him to come and see our hospital and to meet our campaign group. While we might not have got to speak to him personally I’m confident the message that we must have a new hospital, was given loudly and clearly. I hope that we face no more delays and the shortlist is announced, as promised, before Parliament closes for summer recess.”
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PHOTOGRAPHS: Taken by Dave Fincham and owned by QEH.
Notes to editors:
- The West Norfolk Eye Centre opened to patients at QEH on 9 May 2022. The new centre has twice the space of the old outpatient area, with separate rooms for outpatient appointments and diagnostic tests.
- The brand new, purpose-designed Brancaster Maternity Ward opened on 11 July 2022. The improvements will have a significant and positive impact on our parents and their babies – both on the standard of care we can provide and their experience and comfort whilst in hospital. The ward includes three single-bedded en-suite side rooms for those with enhanced clinical need. There is a new reception area and admission and discharge lounge which will help to speed up admission to the ward and give parents a dedicated waiting area. For the first time, each bay on the ward has its own shower and toilet room.
- As one of several RAAC (Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete) hospitals in the country, QEH continues to invest national capital to maximise the safety and compliance of the current building. This includes completing the installation of failsafes across the buildings to minimise the risk of RAAC plank failures. This is crucial work because even if funding for a new hospital is secured and the hospital is confirmed as one of the Government’s eight hospital schemes, the earliest a new hospital is expected to open its doors is 2029 due to the time it would take for the necessary planning, approvals, and construction.
- The refurbishment of Brancaster Ward, along with the refurbishment of West Dereham Ward and the development of our new Endoscopy Unit (opening later Summer) is creating the decant space and theatre capacity for our three-year rolling failsafe programme across the first floor of the hospital.
- The work to install failsafes does not extend the life of the hospital. The Government is committed to eradicating RAAC in hospitals by 2035. QEH’s deadline, based on national expert opinion, is 2030.
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