Campaigners urge health secretary to consider new hospital for west Hertfordshire

Hospital campaigners argue that a new A&E hospital central to St Albans, Watford and Dacorum would s

Hospital campaigners argue that a new A&E hospital central to St Albans, Watford and Dacorum would serve the community better than renovating existing services at Watford General. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

Campaigners are holding a meeting to canvass support for building a new hospital central to St Albans, Watford and Dacorum rather than renovating Watford General.

Members of the West Herts 21st Century Hospital campaign group argue that the proposed plans to renovate services at Watford General are flawed, will cost more than the estimates being put forward, and will result in "nothing more than a sticking plaster job".

West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust (WHHT) was given a spending limit of £350 million, ruling out the possibility of building a new hospital in a central location.

Since then, the campaign group is raising money to commission expert hospital architects to prove to the Department of Health that a new hospital is the best option for west Herts.

Gordon Yearwood, who is spearheading the campaign, said: "It is nothing short of madness to let this go ahead. If this amount of money is spent on Watford, we will not get another chance for generations to get to grips with the desperate need for a new west Herts hospital fit for the 21st century.

"The situation is dire: we only have less than half of the number of beds of the average hospital trust in the UK, which leads to chronic delays at A and E and a constant bed blocking problem.

"We need to halt their plans, and the time window is small. Years of trying to make them see sense means that now we believe we have to go above their heads, and we need to do it now. We want a new hospital, but we also want to bring St Albans and Hemel Hempstead hospitals back into more use."

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Members of the New Hospital Campaign, a separate group, are also arguing that redevelopment of Watford General will cause significant disruption, and a new hospital would have better transport links and better serve an increasing population.

Campaigner Andy Love has written to health secretary Matt Hancock asking him to call in an independent review of WHHT's plans.

He said: "Watford General Hospital is historically located in Vicarage Road to serve Watford and not West Herts. Public transport links to the hospital are inadequate, the hospital is right next door to a busy Premier League football ground and the hospital is built on a steep gradient.

"£350 million will not be enough, according to WHHT's previous SOC [Strategic Outline Case], to sufficiently update Watford General Hospital as well as its sister hospitals.

"All three hospitals are well past their best and require substantial investment to extend their working life."

The West Herts Hospitals 21st Century Hospital campaign similarly called the buildings at Watford General 'dilapidated and dysfunctional', and after the meeting plan to take fully-costed architect-drawn plans for the kind of hospital they believe is needed to the health secretary, bypassing both WHHT and Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (HVCCG).

So far the group has raised more than £12,000 of their £38,000 target.

The WHHT has previously defended its decision to maintain services in Watford, saying: "Due to constrained public finances we need to revise our initial strategic outline case, which was based on funding of up to £650m, and instead look at funding of closer to £350m.

"This is still a considerable sum of money and we are looking at various options for using this to transform hospital provision locally. However it is not enough to build a new general hospital. Our costings show that this will cost upwards of £700m."

The public meeting will be held at St Mary's Church hall in Sherwood Avenue, Marshalswick, St Albans at 7.30pm on May 15.

Mr Yearwood said: "Without professionals the Dept of Health have worked with, and who are respected by them, we are nothing more than a local campaign group.

"We want to go to them with plans that are costed, and which will prove how much more cost effective a new 21st century hospital would be. For a start, it would not produce the massive £50 million a year deficit that West Herts Hospital Trust drains from our NHS.

"We are appealing for people to help us now. We believe we are acting not just for you, but for your children and your grandchildren."

To donate to the crowdfunding campaign go to