'No new hospital for west Herts' says trust - but what about railfreight?

The redevelopment of Watford General Hospital is pushing forwards.

The redevelopment of Watford General Hospital is pushing forwards. - Credit: Danny Loo

The campaign for a new hospital looks to have been dealt a death-blow after West Hertfordshire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said it would not be reconsidering its preferred option of redeveloping Watford.

Instead the trust will be pushing ahead with a large new emergency hospital on land next to Watford General Hospital and some new hospital buildings and significant refurbishment at Hemel Hempstead and St Albans City.

The decision comes after years of campaigning for a completely new hospital on a greenfield site easily accessed by these communities.

But campaigner Andy Love said the trust has ignored the impact of a railfreight depot on the scheme.

Andy said: "Helioslough/SEGRO have outline planning permission for a huge strategic railfreight terminal development in south St Albans.

"St Albans MP Daisy Cooper, St Albans district council and St Albans and Harpenden patients' group's committee have failed to mention the impact that this development could have on residents needing to travel between St Albans and west Watford for treatment or in emergencies.

"The board of West Herts Hospital Trust should NOT approve their hospital redevelopment plans until there is an transparent study undertaken on the impact that such a large rail freight terminal development could have on patients traveling between the three hospital sites in west Herts.

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"The new west Herts A&E hospital will need to have a life of 60-plus years so failing to fully investigate and understand the affects that this huge development would have on west Herts' roads would be totally irresponsible by those entrusted to make such important decisions for the entire west Herts population."

But trust deputy chief executive Helen Brown explained: "We ruled out a new site option previously because it would add delay at best and at worst could fail to deliver altogether."

With regards to the proposed railfreight project, a trust spokesperson said: "We will continue to follow these developments with interest and will be able to comment on any impact to patients and staff when/if this project proceeds.”

WHTH chairman Phil Townsend added: "We understand that some dissatisfaction remains. We do listen to local people who oppose our plans but we have to weigh those views against a vast amount of clinical, technical and financial information. The question of where to locate emergency hospital services draws such a wide range of views that it is impossible to please everyone. Our hope is that in time, people will understand that we are acting in the best interests of patient safety. And there simply isn’t any higher priority than that.

“With every passing month our buildings become harder and more costly to maintain. This would be a worry for any organisation but when you consider that we are in the business of caring for unwell and vulnerable people of all ages and for women giving birth, the responsibility to deliver a solution quickly is huge.

"We cannot and will not accept the delay that re-opening the search for a new site would present."

Philip Aylett, co-ordinator of the New Hospital Campaign, said: "The trust did not have the courage and common sense to open their minds to alternative, truly new sites which could offer the prospect of better value for money within a reasonable timescale.

This is just not good enough. West Herts residents deserve much better and we will carry on fighting for that.

"The importance of this decision cannot be overestimated: it affects the healthcare of all west Herts residents, and their children and grandchildren. Not one individual citizen sent the trust a message of support. And the great majority of those who filled in the trust's feedback form were opposed."