Efficiency measures sought for Watford Hospital redevelopment to keep project within budget

An aerial view of the Watford Hospital site.

An aerial view of the Watford Hospital site. - Credit: Photo supplied

The future redevelopment of health services in west Herts may face efficiency measures after estimates suggested the plans would cost too much.

West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust has already submitted an outline planning application to redevelop Watford General, including three 18-storey tower blocks, but the scheme is likely to cost more than the £540m set aside by national health chiefs last year.

The cost increase has been attributed to necessary changes brought about by the pandemic, plus the increasing importance of net zero carbon and the integration of the latest digital technology.

The impact of any "efficiencies" introduced to reduce costs could include decreasing the hospital footprint or the height of the planned new buildings.

“We take the responsibility of spending public money very seriously and so, as we press on with our plans, we will also look for efficiencies,”  said the Trust’s deputy chief executive Helen Brown.

“We are working hard to strike the balance between having fabulous new and refurbished buildings whilst pursuing good value.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to transform the way we provide care and our hospital sites and so we are driven to make sure that we ‘right size’ our buildings and leave ourselves room to grow.”

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It was at a recent ‘Your Care, Your Views’ public engagement event that Ms Brown publicly acknowledged that the cost of existing plans to redevelop the Watford site could be in excess of the £540m set out.

Ms Brown said the Trust – under continuous challenge from itself, NHS England and the new hospital programme – was focussed on getting the right solution in terms of services, space and cost.

But she said they would have to demonstrate that the bid was affordable locally and for the NHS more broadly.

As part of the process, she said she expected the option to be put forward by the Trust to be a new build emergency care facility.

In June 2020 the Department of Health and Social Care told the Trust it would consider a bid for up to £540m for the Watford site, and also indicated up to £50m could be available to invest at Hemel Hempstead and St Albans City hospitals.

New hospital campaigner Andy Love responded to the latest developments: "We predicted that West Herts Hospital Trust's redevelopment plans for a 90% new build at the Vicarage Road hospital site were likely to cost more than the £540 million that the NHS regulators had indicated was the upper limit of any hospital rebuild scheme.

"Add to this, that it is now clear that a new large hospital at Watford would not be completed by 2025/2026 and the reasons WHHT gave for ruling out a new site for west Herts A&E hospital seem a little bit fragile. 

"It is the right time for WHHT to admit that they were wrong and bring back to the table a new green field site option for a full and fair evaluation against the Vicarage Road site options before anymore valuable time is lost.

"West Herts residents and hospital staff deserve a hospital set in a spacious and green environment that makes patients feel at ease whilst being conducive to treatment, mental health and well-being."

Ron Glatter of the New Hospital Campaign added: "This just shows that a new or nearly new hospital cannot be built on the present site, or next to it, for anything like an acceptable cost. The new plot is far too small so they are having to build high which is not good for patients or staff and would cost much more. 

"The other schemes in the New Hospital Programme are virtually all going for new sites. This costs less, has all sorts of advantages like level parking, and, as the independent study we commissioned shows, can be built much more quickly. 

"The project should now be reassessed and new, accessible sites which were wrongly rejected must be seriously considered."