Campaigners take legal action to fight for new hospital central to west Hertfordshire
- Credit: Archant
Campaigners for a new hospital central to St Albans, Watford and Dacorum are ‘reluctantly’ taking legal action against west Herts health chiefs.
The New Hospital Campaign served Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group (HVCCG) with a claim for a judicial review, meaning plans to redevelop hospital services could be scrutinised by the courts.
Earlier this year, HVCCG and the West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust (WHHT) formally backed plans to bid for £350 million of NHS funding. As part of that plan, all three local hospitals - Watford General, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead - would be retained, with the bulk of the investment focused on Watford General.
However members of the New Hospital Campaign (NHC) have long argued that one central, purpose-built hospital would better suit the needs of the growing population. They say that the decision to expand existing hospitals rather than building a new one was taken "without holding the required public consultation", and are calling for further public consultation.
The application for judicial review was made by campaigner Ron Glatter. His wife Edie Glatter, also a member of the campaign, said: "We did not take this action lightly, and have done so very reluctantly.
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"The CCG - working with the WHHT - gave us little alternative after they threw out, with almost no backup information, the option of a new hospital on a clear, central site accessible to everyone."
The campaigners have asked for a "full-blown consultation process", and suggested that the estimates upon which HVCCG's decisions have been based are misleading.
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She said: "We have always said that unless the new hospital option is fully and fairly considered, the decision-making process can have no credibility. This has not happened and the consultation must include that option."
The NHC pointed to its own survey, which was held over the summer, where 96 per cent of 1,500 respondents said the health authorities were not doing enough to involve the public in these decisions. They also claimed there is plenty of opportunity for consultation before the government makes a funding decision.
Edie said: "Our lawyers have written to the CCG asking them to agree to our requests, and thus ensure they do not waste public resources and time in defending the claim. We appeal to them to respond positively."
A judicial review is a legal process where a person can legally challenge the lawfulness of a decision, action or failure to act of a public body, such as a clinical commissioning group. It focuses not on the conclusion reached, but on the way in which a decision has been made and the procedures followed.
Therefore the challenge to the CCG's decisions will focus not on the decisions themselves, but whether or not the CCG made the decisions without holding the required public consultation.
A HVCCG spokesperson said: "We have been served with a claim for a judicial review in relation to WHHT's plans for hospital redevelopment - plans which the CCG approved at a board meeting in public in July.
"HVCCG is reviewing the claim with our legal advisors and will be lodging a response with the court shortly."
The WHHT also acknowledged the judicial review, but said: "We are seeking legal advice and cannot comment further at this stage."
A meeting at the county council to scrutinise the engagement during the decision-making process was scheduled for Friday (September 13), with contributions expected from HVCCG, WHHT and other interested groups, but has now been cancelled.
A Herts County Council spokesperson said: "The Health Scrutiny Committee was due to meet to look at the engagement that had taken place in relation to the development of the west Herts hospitals' estate.
"This meeting has now been postponed as a judicial review has been served on HVCCG. We would expect to be able to reschedule the scrutiny meeting in December or January."
A £20,000 fundraising campaign has been launched to fund the legal action.
Donations can be made at crowdfunder.co.uk/new-hospital-campaign, or directly into their bank account at DHAG-New Hospital Campaign, Lloyds Bank, sort code 30-80-49 and account number 34945668.