Full funding for west Herts hospital scheme needed 'as a matter of urgency'

Watford Hospital could be transformed under a £1bn redevelopment scheme.

Watford Hospital could be transformed under a £1bn redevelopment scheme. - Credit: Danny Loo

A leading group of Herts councillors has formally backed plans to redevelop hospitals in the west of the county.

Bosses at the West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust (WHHT) have drawn up ambitious £1billion plans to rebuild a hospital on the site of Watford General AND to refurbish existing hospitals at St Albans and Hemel Hempstead.

Those proposals have been dogged by repeated calls for the Trust to consider the building of a single new hospital on a greenfield site.

And campaigners have recently met with Secretary of State for Health Sajid Javid to make their case.

But on Monday the county’s health scrutiny committee agreed that it was the Trust’s multi-site plan that was “the best and fastest way to deliver the much needed hospital and health facilities in west Hertfordshire”.

Now the committee will ask leader of the county council Cllr Richard Roberts to write to the Prime Minister to show the county council’s ‘full support’ for the hospital redevelopment plans.

And he will be asked to request ‘full funding as a matter of urgency so that residents in South West Hertfordshire have outstanding health care facilities’.

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The agreement was in response to a motion, presented to the meeting by Labour's Cllr Asif Khan.

Cllr Khan told members of the committee that the trust’s plans were ‘reasonable’, ‘sensible’ and ‘pragmatic’.

He stressed that they had been developed with strong clinical support, support from staff and other local NHS bodies.

He said it was important that funding for this development – at Watford, St Albans and Hemel Hempstead – should continue without further delay.

And he said the motion would show that there was political support from the county council for these plans.

Backing the motion, Liberal Democrat Cllr Chris White stressed that the current plans should be backed, pointing to the support of clinical staff.

“If clinicians were advising there should be a single hospital on a single site, then we should follow that,” he said.

“But they are not advising that.

“It is not for us – unless there are overwhelmingly clinical reasons - to take a different view.

“In a way I was quite surprised that they thought that this was the best way forward – but they do.”

Cllr White also stressed that it was not always clear that the creation of a new hospital on a greenfield site would mean the closure of all three existing hospital sites.

Independent Cllr Roma Mills said she felt there had been a ‘huge amount of procrastination and prevarication over the years.

She said that people wanted to feel that they had a local service – and that she was ‘satisfied’ with the proposal to locate specialisms in the three main sites.

But she said she wanted the debate – which had gone on for 20 years – to come to a conclusion.

Although the majority of the committee backed the motion there were three councillors who voted against.

Among them was Conservative Cllr Fiona Guest who stressed the need for new buildings – but questioned the location.

She said that the people of Dacorum had felt disenfranchised since downgrading of the Hemel Hempstead Hospital – and suggested that an opportunity was being missed.

Meanwhile Dacorum borough councillor Rob Beauchamp said that – given the Secretary of State was considering the plans – it would be inappropriate to support the motion.

Earlier in the meeting WHHT deputy chief executive Helen Brown had updated councillors on the progress of the development programme.

She said the Trust – alongside the Princess Alexandra Hospital Trust – was in the third cohort of bids being considered by the NHS ‘New Hospital Programme’.

And, she said, as the focus nationally was on the first two cohorts, there was ‘relatively little progress’ at national level on these proposals.

She said that issues such as funding available, the timeline and the degree of standardisation between projects was still being worked on.

And she said that until those issues had been clarified nationally, there was little progress that could be made locally.

A written report – submitted jointly by WHHT and PAHT – pointed to national delays and local commitment to push ahead.

And it concluded: “The current delays and uncertainty within the New Hospital Programme at a national level are frustrating and leading to delays at a local level.

“However, both trusts remain fully committed to pushing forward with their redevelopment plans as rapidly as possible, ensuring that we are in the best possible position to make progress as soon as the national issues begin to unlock.”

Following the meeting, a spokesperson for WHHT welcomed the support of the committee.

And she told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Many of Hertfordshire’s county councillors have shared our hopes and disappointments over the many years we have been trying to secure significant investment for our hospitals.

“The endorsement of our plans set out at the county’s health scrutiny meeting is greatly appreciated and builds on the backing that we have from St Albans City and District Council and Watford Borough Council.”