‘You’re trespassing’ - What happened when we gave Matt Hancock QEH petition

The health secretary’s office has refused to accept a petition signed by more than 6,000 people to build a new hospital for Norfolk.

The roof of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) in King’s Lynn is in desperate need of replacement and is currently being supported by almost 200 metal poles.

A prop holding up the roof at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

An example of one of the 131 props in place around the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, including its kitchen and Rudham ward. - Credit: QEH

Problems with its roof have been known since at least 2016 and millions of pounds have already been spent repairing it, but the hospital has warned that it poses a “direct risk to life” and needs a complete rebuild.

In March patients had to moved out of the QEH’s critical care unit because the roof was so dangerous. 

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, has 131 props keeping up its roof.

An example of one of the 131 props in place around the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn, including its kitchen and Rudham ward. - Credit: QEH

The QEH, which was built in 1980 was designed to last 30 years. Surveyors have inspected 40pc of the concrete planks on its roof. Of the 3,156 looked at 165 are what he hospital calls “defective”. 

It needs £554m just to maintain its decaying building, or £679m for a new building

However, last October the hospital was not selected as one of 27 in the country which will be rebuilt, meaning there is no date for when or if it will be replaced.

That prompted this newspaper to launch the Rebuild the QEH campaign and petition which has had more than 6,200 signatures.

QEH petition

More than 6,200 people have signed the petition to rebuild the QEH - Credit: Change.org

On Friday we delivered that petition along with two metal roof poles, similar to those supporting the hospital roof, to the constituency office of health secretary and West Suffolk MP Matt Hancock.

When we arrived at his office his staff told us to leave and said we were trespassing. They repeatedly refused to accept the petition so we left it on his doorstep along with the metal roof props. 

Tom Bristow, investigations editor, carrying pole supports and a petition with 6,000 names for the r

We also delivered two metal roof props, similar to those being used to support the QEH roof, to Matt Hancock's office - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

His staff member said: “I’ve heard what you have to say. You are trespassing. You have to leave.”

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When asked if they would accept our petition she said: “Nope, I’m not going to take it. You have to leave.”

Matt Hancock office QEH

Journalist Tom Bristow delivered our petition with 6,000 names for the rebuild of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King's Lynn to Matt Hancock's constituency office. His staff refused to accept it. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Tom Bristow, investigations editor, leaves the pole supports and a petition with 6,000 names for the

Journalist Tom Bristow delivered our petition with 6,000 names for the rebuild of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital at King's Lynn to Matt Hancock's constituency office. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Since March we have also been trying to get answers from Mr Hancock about why the QEH was not included on the list for new hospitals and when it will be. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), which he oversees, has also repeatedly failed to answer any of our questions. 

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn. Picture: Ian Burt

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, King's Lynn, where staff could soon be given home testing kits for Covid-19 - Credit: Ian Burt

Mr Hancock has also failed to respond to a letter from March 29 from Norfolk County Council calling for a new hospital.

On Wednesday he gave an interview to BBC but would not say when the QEH would be replaced and instead drew attention to his local hospital of West Suffolk which has similar roof problems to the QEH and is going to be rebuilt.

Later on Friday Mr Hancock visited West Suffolk Hospital and said that the hospitals which were getting funding for rebuilds were those most at risk.

He said a further eight hospitals would get funding. When pressed if QEH would be one he said: "King's Lynn has got many of the similar structural problems (as West Suffolk)."

He added: "I recognise many of the challenges at the QEH in King's Lynn."

Mr Hancock claimed West Suffolk had greater structural problems than the QEH. It currently has 29 roof props as opposed to the 194 at the QEH.

A spokesman for the DHSC previously said: “We are committed to improving health infrastructure across the country and to help address the immediate issues at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital estate, more than £20 million has been provided this year and the Trust has also received £750,000 to prioritise and address its most urgent backlog maintenance.”

Caroline Shaw, chief executive of the QEH, said she welcomed the £20.6m.

The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kings LynnThe Chief Executive of the QEH Caroline Shaw

The results have been welcomed by Queen Elizabeth Hospital chief executive Caroline Shaw - Credit: Sonya Duncan

However, that £20m has not yet been received by the hospital and the cost of a roof replacement runs to more than £500m.

The QEH is now one of 16 hospitals competing for a share of a further funding pot, from which eight will be chosen to deliver a new hospital by 2030. A decision is expected in November.

Health secretary Matt Hancock.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock. - Credit: PA

Timeline

1980: QEH opens

2016: QEH identifies problems with concrete planks on its roof

2018: The collapse of a school roof in Essex causes an alert in the construction industry for buildings with Reinforced Autoclaved Aerated Concrete (RAAC) planks. These concrete planks were used on roofs in the 1960s-80s on lots of public buildings, including the West Suffolk Hospital, QEH and James Paget. It prompts all hospitals to carry out further checks on their roofs 

June 2020: In response to a question from North West Norfolk MP James Wild, Boris Johnson says “long term solutions” for the QEH are “under active consideration”

October 2020: QEH not named as one of the hospitals to get funding. Meanwhile, James Paget and West Suffolk which were built at similar time at similar construction are given a share of £100m in funding to develop their cases for a rebuild. 

January 2021: More steel props added to the QEH roof, including its maternity unit 

March 2021: The hospital declares a critical incident over its roof which causes the cancellation of some services 

March 2021: EDP launches “Rebuild the QEH” campaign which 6,225 people have now signed

May 2021: Mr Hancock refuses to say when or if the QEH will be given money for a rebuild

-Sign the petition for a new QEH here

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