I received an invitation yesterday to attend the official opening of Central Manchester Hospitals to be performed next Friday by H & HRH, Mr and Mrs Queen.
You might wonder why a cynical, confirmed republican like me should get excited at the prospect of attending a royal opening and the reason is the second of those two words – the opening. It is the culmination of something dear to my heart that started more than fifteen years ago for me.
There had been several attempts to sort out specialist hospital service for children starting in the 1980s, but they had all failed because this involved the closure of the decrepit, but much loved Booth Hall Children’s Hospital and public opinion just wouldn’t stand for it.
A further attempt fell to a small group of us at Manchester Health Authority in 1994. It’s a long story not for telling here other than you need to know that our ideas were even more radical. Not only did we propose the closure of Booth Hall, but also the other much loved children’s hospital at Pendlebury.
The accepted wisdom was that you might be able to close one, but not both and that a compromise of simply tarting up Pendlebury was the only pragmatic solution.
We dared to think differently, as Rosa Luxemburg would say, because the compromise solution was no long-term solution and we’d be back to square one in ten years time. What we proposed was an entirely new hospital to stand alongside an existing teaching hospital.
You might think this was a much better deal for the people of the region, but there followed the most intense two years of my working life as we battled through internal and external politics before our plans were signed off by the Conservative government days before they called the 1997 election.
As I said, it was an intense time for me as we also saw through two other contentious hospital changes and it felt that each cost me a sliver of my soul,
But it was worth it, particularly the new £500 million children’s hospital that opened in 2009 and gets its official royal opening this week as part of the diamond jubilee celebrations.
There are still arguments about whether it was right to fund the development through PFI. All I can say is that it was the policy of John Major’s Conservative government that was continued by Labour under Tony Blair. And without PFI, it would never have happened, simple as that.
Regardless, it could be Priscilla Queen of the Desert doing the honours on Friday and there would still be more than a little pride in my heart.