New A&E hospital in West Herts ‘cannot be built within available finances’

Watford General Hospital

Watford General Hospital - Credit: Archant

NHS bosses have ruled out building a new A&E hospital central to St Albans, Watford and Dacorum after being given a spending limit of £350 million.

St Albans City Hospital

St Albans City Hospital - Credit: Archant

West Herts Hospital Trust (WHHT) and Herts Valley Clinical Commissioning Group (HVCCG) have rejected calls to build an acute A&E hospital in west Hertfordshire in favour of renovating existing services at St Albans City, Hemel Hempstead and Watford General hospitals.

In a meeting on Tuesday, January 29, the NHS regulator NHSI told the trust affordability is a ‘major constraint’, and that any new proposal must be within the trust’s annual turnover of £350 million.

Members of the New Hospital Campaign argue that other hospitals with the same capacity needed for west Herts have been built for £350 million or less, and that a new hospital would be a better long-term care solution for the growing population.

Initially, WWHT’s strategic outline case (SOC) required an investment of £600 to £800 million to redevelop both Watford General in Vicarage Road, Watford and St Albans City, which was rejected by NHSI.

Campaigner Andy Love said: “New hospital campaigners lived in hope that after their rejection of the SOC, NHSI were now backing the residents’ call for a new A&E hospital for west Herts and the two Government petitions, with over 20,000 signatures between them, supporting the campaign.

“Spending only £350 million on the three current hospital sites will bring nothing more than a ‘patch-up’ along with the high risk of unnecessary disruption of patient care.

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“The government want West Herts to accommodate 150,000 more residents in the next 15 years without appearing to be planning for the necessary new infrastructure that would be needed to cope with such rapid growth - this, in my view, is both shortsighted and irresponsible.”

The New Hospital Campaign’s adviser Robert Scott submitted an FOI request to WHHT, asking them to detail the physical conditions of hospitals in their remit. The survey’s executive summary showed that around £200 million is needed over the next 10 years to maintain the three sites, without improving their functionality or design.

Andy Love said: “The executive summary clearly shows that the three current hospital sites are in a very poor state and need substantial investment over the next 10 years just to remain operational.

“West Herts residents need to know why they are being denied the new A&E hospital they deserve. In my opinion, this fixation on keeping acute services at Vicarage Road is unhealthy and needs to be reviewed at the highest level.”

In last week’s meeting, WHHT and HVCCG said they will not pursue the option of a new, single site emergency and planned care hospital because it cannot be built within available finances.

They have also been told a proposal needs to be completed during the summer in order to be considered for the Comprehensive Spending Review - a funding round that normally runs on a five year cycle.

NHS managers, clinicians and independent experts are now considering options which involve retaining emergency and critical care at Watford General, and either developing Hemel Hempstead Hospital for medicine and St Albans City Hospital for surgery, centralising all planned care at either Hemel or St Albans, or replacing both sites with a new planned care centre hospital.

Their work will then be presented to a panel including health and care professionals, patient and community representatives, local authority partners and Health Watch.

Another public meeting will be held in early March to explain the options in more detail and seek people’s views, and in early summer the panel will make a recommendation to the boards of both NHS organisations.

The proposals will seek to include as much new build as can be afforded, but £350 million will not be enough to rebuild all emergency and planned care facilities.

WHHT’s acting chief executive Helen Brown said: “We have a fantastic opportunity to transform services and deliver urgent and much-needed improvements to our hospital buildings. Given the financial constraints, any option will involve some compromise but we are determined to find a solution that will bring real benefits to patients and staff and will satisfy our regulators so that we are top of the list for funding.”