Council watchdog backs hospital development plans

New Hospital Campaigners have objected to NHS plans to renovate Watford General Hospital instead of

The group discussed the trust’s options to redevelop buildings on three existing hospital sites, including Watford General (pictured) - Credit: Archant

Plans for the rebuilding of Watford General Hospital and redevelopment of St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead hospitals on existing sites have been backed by a county council watchdog group.

At a meeting of the West Herts Hospital Trust Health Infrastructure Plan Topic Group on Monday, February 8, the group discussed the trust’s options to redevelop buildings on existing sites. West Herts Hospital Trust (WHHT) is working to deliver the new buildings by 2025 or soon after.

The trust is now in the process of developing an outline business case which is the second of a three-stage business case and approval process.

The topic group, working on behalf of the scrutiny committee, decided to recommend a number of key lines of enquiry including agreeing with the “broad proposal and rationale for the rebuild of Watford General Hospital and the redevelopment of St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead Hospitals on the existing sites."

The meeting heard from Kevin Minier, chairman of Dacorum Patients Group, who said: “I think it’s my duty to share with this topic group the depth of distress that thousands of residents across West Hertfordshire and beyond have regarding the West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust’s preferred option.

“Local residents have given years of their lives and given thousands of hours of their time to read documents, attend to meeting and respond to surveys and raise questions."

Steve Day, of Herts Valleys Hospital, which he said represents 9,000 people, told the group there had been: “massive amounts of resistance to this programme. In fact I am not aware of anybody apart from local councillors and people in the NHS who actually support this programme.”

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Helen Brown, deputy chief executive of West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust, is the lead executive for the programme.

She explained how the three hospital model being proposed broadly retains the existing services.

“A substantial new build at Watford would bring fantastic opportunities to improve services. In our new facilities we are hoping to have significantly more single bed impatient rooms. We are looking at 75 to 80 per cent of all in-patient accommodation in single rooms.

“St Albans will be our main surgical and cancer care site. It already is the site where we do a lot of planned surgery and we want to develop and enhance that service offer at St Albans. One of the key things we want to do at St Albans is improve and increase the amount of diagnostics provision there to support planned care pathways and a much better coordinated model.

“At St Albans, we are in discussion at the moment with the CCG about urgent care provision and would expect there would be some provision in relation to urgent care for St Albans going forward on the site.”

She added that Hemel Hempstead will continue to be the main site for medical specialities.

Commenting about the meeting, a spokesman for the New Hospital Campaign (NHC), group called it a “farce”, adding that it reached: “truly bizarre conclusions, including that the trust’s plans did not amount to ‘substantial development of service requiring formal consultation with the committee’, even though it involved the expenditure of hundreds of millions of pounds with implications over many decades to come.”

Speaking in response to the NHC comment, the chairman of the topic group, county councillor Richard Thake, said: “I absolutely believe we have accurately performed the functions and any arguments that might arise around that ‘constitution’ need to go via the parliamentary or judicial process route.

“To my mind, all other dialogue is inconsequential when viewed in the light of overriding essential of ‘best’ service delivery to the patients in need of assistance and professional help when illness strikes.

“I am fully convinced that this was the basic function of the scrutiny process I chaired and I sincerely hope that that our conclusions will ultimately assist in that delivery.”