Top surgeon to take on Labour MP over hospital's future

Orthopaedic specialist says he will stand at election, as independent candidates call for parliamentary reform
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Indy Politics

One of Britain's most eminent surgeons is to stand against a senior Labour MP in the general election in an attempt to save a specialist hospital threatened with closure.

Professor Tim Briggs, medical director of the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital (RNOH) in north London, will challenge the former minister Tony McNulty as an independent candidate for Harrow East with the aim of securing the future of the renowned institution.

The revelation coincides with a rallying call issued by Terry Waite, the former Lebanon hostage, to 300 independent candidates and activists in which he calls for reform of parliament in the wake of the expenses scandal. In a letter on behalf of the Independent Network, Mr Waite, who considered standing at the election, says he is "gravely concerned about the political health of our country".

The RNOH is one of the world's leading orthopaedic hospitals and treats 60,000 patients a year. But the ageing hospital is in a chronic state of disrepair and costs millions of pounds to maintain every year.

Professor Briggs has campaigned for nearly 15 years to secure money to rebuild the pioneering hospital on its current site in Stanmore. But his intense lobbying has failed to secure the £60m needed from the strategic health authority, NHS London, despite winning support from the Prime Minister, David Cameron, successive health ministers and Mr McNulty himself.

According to Professor Briggs, a failure to rebuild the hospital is costing the NHS millions of pounds because of the inefficiencies related to the poor facilities. He reports that the strategic health authority has spent £66m on external consultants in the last three years.

His decision to stand against the Labour MP, who holds the seat with a 4,700 majority, comes after years of frustration for the 1,000 hospital staff. Mr McNulty faces a tough fight amid widespread public anger about his hefty second-home allowance claim for his parents' house, which is only eight miles from his main home.

If successful, Professor Briggs will follow in the footsteps of Dr Richard Taylor, who in 2001 beat the sitting Labour MP after running a single-issue campaign on saving Kidderminster Hospital. He won the Wyre Forest seat from David Lock with a majority of 18,000 and subsequently held on to the seat at the 2005 election.

Last week Professor Briggs applied to the electoral commission to register his new political party, the Central Party for Reform. He said: "I am giving the Government one last chance. If I do not get a firm commitment from [the Secretary of State for Health] Andy Burnham about the rebuild at our meeting on 7 January, then I will stand against Tony McNulty on the single issue of saving and rebuilding the RNOH. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a difference and save this world-class hospital, but also to fight against the waste of public money. Tony McNulty has achieved nothing; it has been the same with all the politicians, just hot air. I have the support of all the staff and thousands of patients, and think we can make a difference."

The hospital is the single biggest employer in the constituency, but nearly two-thirds of the buildings are pre-fabricated structures dating back to the early 1940s. Water leaks through the ceilings while surgeons operate on patients, and the maintenance backlog is running at an estimated £54m.

A row between the hospital and the SHA has intensified in recent months over the future of specialist hospitals. This means the hospital, described as a "jewel in the crown" of the NHS, could be split up as part of a restructuring process, leading to the current site being disbanded.

A spokesman for NHS London said: "It is clear that the RNOH NHS Trust provides a high-quality service but from an inadequate site... NHS London and Department of Health colleagues are currently reviewing the business case and the trust is responding to a number of points that we have raised for clarification."

In his letter to independent candidates, Mr Waite says that the Blair and Brown administrations had shown, particularly after the Iraq war, that "parliamentary government – of the people, by the people – was increasingly a fond illusion".

He adds: "It is not good for the nation to suffer an ailing political system. The country needs a strong and healthy parliament composed of members who can and will truly represent their constituents and at the same time have the vision and foresight to lead in constructive ways."

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