NHS defends decision to renovate hospital services in St Albans, Hemel Hempstead and Watford
PUBLISHED: 15:58 21 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:58 21 June 2019
NHS bosses held a public meeting where St Albans residents had their say on the future of hospitals in west Hertfordshire.
The meeting was held by West Herts Hospitals Trust (WHHT) and Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (HVCCG) on Thursday, June 13, where they detailed the preferred plan to renovate existing hospital services at Watford General, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead Hospitals.
Multiple campaign groups have called for a new hospital central to St Albans, Watford and Dacorum, but the hospitals trust ruled this out after being given a £350 million spending limit.
All four options available involve emergency care remaining at Watford General, and the preferred proposal will see two new clinical buildings at the Vicarage Road site in Watford, with smaller renovations and improvements to services in St Albans and Hemel Hempstead.
Representatives from campaign group West Herts 21st Hospital Solution, who are determined that a new central A&E hospital should be built, attended the meeting and argued that investing so much in Watford General is "financially impractical". They also doubted claims that a new hospital would cost up to £700 million to build.
Clive Birch, one of the leaders of the campaign, said: "We have commissioned the UK's top hospital architects to demonstrate that we can have the sort of hospital this area needs, and which is accessible to everyone, and which will cost far less than what they are saying.
"The hospitals trust and CCG made an excellent job telling the meeting what a terrible state Watford General is in, stressing how it is not fit for purpose. Why, therefore, will they not consider that it is financially impractical to redevelop it?"
The group has raised more than £20,000 to pay architect firm BDP Healthcare to produce a design for a new hospital which they can take to the NHS.
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Clive said: "They want to inflict 12 years of even greater misery on us as they redevelop around the existing hospital. It is hell now, it will be even more hellish if they get their way. They have to be stopped."
St Albans resident Vanessa Gregory said: "Understandably people want to retain local hospitals and they think it is reassuring to have one nearby. "However from experience it can be a nightmare having to try to work out which one you need to go to for a service then being redirected to another hospital with overly stretched lines of communication. We have a rising population and predictions of an increase of 20 per cent in numbers of people over 65 by 2035. It is totally unsustainable to keeping patching up the old hospitals."
Hemel Hempstead's MP, Sir Mike Penning, described the meeting as a "total sham". He said: "This is an appalling decision. They say the decision has not been made, but we know it has. The hospitals trust make no pretence of taking on board any comments from local people and local campaigners."
However St Albans MP Anne Main, who did not attend the meeting, accepted that a new central hospital is unlikely but, along with St Albans district council, welcomed the improvements and renovations to St Albans City.
A joint statement from WHHT and HVCCG said: "We were pleased that over a hundred people joined us to discuss plans for redevelopment of hospital facilities. It was an opportunity for us to update people on progress towards agreeing a preferred option that we can submit to regulators next month and to hear people's views on our current thinking.
"At a discussion of both boards last week, a preliminary preference was expressed for an option that would see major investment in the emergency and specialist site at Watford, together with additional investment in the St Albans and Hemel Hempstead sites too.
"This preliminary preference will go into the draft submission that our boards will consider in decision-making board meetings on July 11.
"Last week's meeting follows months of engagement with local people. We know that some continue to press for the building of a new hospital on a greenfield site - an option that simply cannot be considered further because of the costs. Regulators have given us firm funding parameters and in order to secure much-needed funding our submission must be affordable and realistic."
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