Government snubs campaign to build hospital central to St Albans, Watford and Dacorum

Watford General Hospital

Watford General Hospital - Credit: Archant

A petition to build a new hospital central to St Albans, Watford and Dacorum has met with an unwelcome response from the Government.

The petition, which closed on Wednesday, May 23, called on NHS decision makers to urge the West Herts Hospital Trust (WHHT) to build a new A&E hospital in a central location rather than redeveloping the existing Watford General Hospital.

After reaching 10,000 signatures, the petition had gained enough support to be considered by the Government, who argued that the decision was best left to the local NHS, specifically Herts Valley Clinical Commissioning Group (HVCCG).

A statement from the Department of Health and Social Care said: “The Government understands that Herts Valley CCG has gone through a lengthy engagement process to reach the decision to maintain A&E services in Watford General Hospital.

“The Government is clear that all service changes should be based on clear evidence that they will deliver better outcomes for patients. Decisions on configuration are best made by the local NHS, who can best assess how to meet the needs of people in their area.

“For any significant system reconfiguration, we expect all local parts of the system to be talking to the public and stakeholders regularly; it is vital that people can shape the future of their local services.”

However campaigner Andy Love, who started the petition, feels that the Government is attempting to “pass the buck” by devolving responsibility to the local NHS trust.

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He said: “The government response to my petition calling for a new A&E Hospital for West Herts was underwhelming to say the least.

“A lot of time and effort was put in to achieve the 10,000 signatures needed to trigger a government response. By saying that the government understands that HVCCG have gone through a lengthy engagement process to reach their decision does not inspire confidence that this process has been fully audited by the NHS regulators.

“The government response also says ‘The CCG has stated that their ambition is for as much new building as possible, rather than only refurbishment.’ I ask anyone to stand at the bottom of Watford General Hospital’s car parks and look up the steep hill at the buildings and ask yourself is this really the best place for West Herts’ only A&E Hospital for the next 50 years?

“The redevelopment work will take over 12 years and during this period the A&E hospital would be expected to continue to operate as normal - frightening!

“I sincerely hope that the petitions committee review the government’s response and decide to press them for an independent review of HVCCG’s decision making process that has led to them approving West Herts Hospital Trust’s plans for retaining WGH as West Herts only A&E Hospital.”

The petition has previously been backed by former Labour MP for St Albans Kerry Pollard, as well as Sir Mike Penning, who is MP for Hemel Hempstead. The current MP Anne Main, however, declined to back the petition as it lacked provision to keep critical services at St Albans City Hospital.

Members of the New Hospital Campaign (NHC), argued that building a new hospital would be cheaper and quicker than redeveloping Watford General, and would be easier to access by public transport than the current site in Vicarage Road, Watford.

A spokesperson for Herts Valley CCG said: “We welcome the government’s response to Mr Love’s petition which recognises that the CCG and the hospital trust went through a lengthy public engagement process to arrive at our preferred option of redeveloping Watford General Hospital as the base for A&E and critical care services. The engagement that we carried out in 2016 about hospital options reached the same conclusion as a health care review in 2007 when A&E services were centralised at Watford. This was also subject to formal public consultation which we have been advised that we can still legally rely on.

“We are waiting for a response from national regulators on our high level plans before we can progress to the next more detailed planning phase when there will be further opportunities for residents and patients to input into the proposals. We want to make sure that the new hospital facilities that we develop meet local healthcare needs and public feedback will be vital in helping us shape their design.”