West Hertfordshire hospital sites set to undergo £590 million transformation despite opposition from campaigners

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

New Hospital Campaigners have objected to NHS plans to renovate Watford General Hospital instead of building a new, central hospital. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Plans to transform hospital services in west Herts have been criticised as “rushed” and “flawed” by campaigners fighting for a new, central hospital.

Jean Ritchie, from the New Hospital Campaign. Picture: Simeon Francis

Jean Ritchie, from the New Hospital Campaign. Picture: Simeon Francis - Credit: Archant

Following a decision by local NHS leaders, Watford General Hospital is set to undergo a complete transformation – with considerable improvements made at St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead hospitals.

The decision was made by the boards of West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust (WHHT) and Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (HVCCG), who gave their unanimous support of retaining and redeveloping the existing hospital sites, despite pressure from campaigners.

Discussions focused on the ‘deliverability’ of the plans, with the risk of further delay balanced against the need to improve current facilities.

If the funding is approved, the development will involve a large new clinical block at Watford to replace existing facilities, excluding the current acute admissions unit.

Meanwhile St Albans City Hospital has been designated the trust’s COVID-free site, so must continue to provide planned surgeries. This will be enhanced by plans to overhaul its theatres, create a rapid access cancer diagnostic centre and expand the range of diagnostics available with new MRI and CT scanners.

Finally, at Hemel Hempstead there are plans to build a new urgent treatment centre and develop the range of medical care in areas such as diabetes and dermatology.

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The estimated cost of the development is approximately £590 million, with the majority of the funding to be spent at Watford General Hospital. This is due to its higher number of patients and poorer building conditions in comparison to the other two hospitals. Around £50m of the total fund would be invested at St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead.

These plans will be subject to review by the Department for Health and Social Care, NHS regulators and the Treasury, as part of the business case process. The trust must demonstrate that the preferred option delivers the best overall value for money and meets the government’s requirements in order to secure the funding.

WHHT chief executive Christine Allen said: “This is an important day and a big step forward on our journey to better buildings and facilities.

“This milestone is, I believe, a positive development for all our patients. However, I acknowledge that the continued concentration of emergency and specialist services at Watford will disappoint some residents of west Herts.

“We do understand the strength of feeling on this issue and the appeal of a completely new hospital on a completely new site.

“At the same time, we also have a responsibility to deliver significantly improved facilities as soon as possible. We approved a shortlist without a greenfield option because we believed that the risk of the timely delivery of this option was too high.

“All the new sites reviewed had pros and cons, but we all felt – and this was underlined powerfully for us today by our clinical leaders – that we must not pass up this significant opportunity to enhance all of our hospitals and make a massive positive impact to the experience of our patients and staff.”

Members of the New Hospital Campaign (NHC), however, believe that the survey the trust conducted on options for renovating hospital sites was biased in favour of renovating Watford General.

Jean Ritchie, of the NHC, said: “There is no way a decision based on such misleading, doctored and inadequate information can go unchallenged. And it won’t.

“From day one they knew what they wanted the outcome to be, and they have made sure, by manipulating the evidence and refusing to consider other information, that they achieved the result they wanted.

“Every bit of work they have done or have commissioned has been predicated on the eventual outcome being the current site for decades to come.

“The role of the trust has not been independent, which is a distortion of their position as custodians of hospital care for the whole of the population of west Herts.”

A spokesperson added: “We still cannot understand why the trust and the CCG are so determined to manipulate the facts and fail to challenge inadequate evidence from officials – all in the interests of a hospital that is on a difficult and polluted site, which is hard to reach.”