‘We don’t believe a word of this,’ was the dramatic response from Mike Penning, MP for Hemel Hempstead, at the public meeting to hear the new ‘refreshed’ proposals being put forward by hospital bosses for West Herts.
There were loud cheers for the MP from the 170 people who were at the Laureate Academy (formerly Cavendish School) to hear revised plans from the West Herts Hospitals Trust and the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group. The plans include a possible brand-new planned care hospital on a site between Hemel Hempstead and St Albans.
“We’ve been promised jam tomorrow before,” said the MP.
“Until you come up with something that puts these people first you can’t ask them to work with you. We would be a lot happier if it wasn’t bureaucrats telling us what’s good for us, and a lot better if clinical consultants were here doing the analysis.”
He stressed that Dacorum is the biggest area in West Herts, and has the largest population.
“We need the health care we deserve. Until that happens, we are not going to believe you.”
Nick Kennell from West Herts Hospitals Trust told the meeting that ‘the mood music’ means that the case for funding and investment in the area is recognised by government, and ‘we need to put forward something that will work for everyone.’
But he told the meeting that there is a ‘severe limitation on capital funds, and we need to look at lower development costs.’
He and David Evans, from the West Herts Clinical Commissioning Group, both underlined the need to get more care out of hospitals and into the community.
This was challenged by a member of the audience, who pointed to the overstretched and under staffed GP surgeries across the area.
The talk of ‘accessibility and the ability to expand’ was also challenged, if A and E is to be kept at Watford, which is inaccessible especially when Watford Football Club is playing at home, and where the site has no potential for expansion.
“It’s a trade off between what’s feasible and possible,” said Nick Kennell.
The loudest chorus of jeering and shouting came when it was suggested that a hospital on a greenfield site would mean people from Watford would have to travel further.
David Kerrigan, an independent researcher, presented statistics showing that residents in Dacorum and St Albans travel further to A and E than patients in 43 of the 46 districts in the Home Counties.
“Dacorum and St Albans are the cinderellas of the home counties,” he said, emphasising the ‘gross inequities’ between the north and south of the West Herts area.
The need for more hospital provision in the north of the West Herts area was underlined by a questioner who referenced the new garden town developments to the north and east of Hemel Hempstead, with a possible 20,000 more residents moving into the area. The meeting was told from the floor that in land area Dacorum is ten times the size of Watford, and St Albans is seven times the size, so inevitably future population expansion will be centred on these areas, not Watford, increasing the need for good hospital provision.
The meeting was told that a decision about the plans will be made by early 2019, and that the public will be kept informed.
Nick Kennell twice reiterated that a brand new greenfield site hospital was still on the long list of proposed options, and after the meeting Kathryn Magson, Chief Executive of the CCG, insisted that it was possible to look at the feasibility of building a completely new hospital, even in the short time scale of three to four months.
So far, Nick Kennell said in reply to a question, no decision has been made about the future of Hemel Hempstead and St Albans hospitals. He also said that it is impossible to consider making the planned care site one where, in future, more development can take place to provide a full emergency and maternity hospital.
The travel flow surveys carried out for the plan were challenged as out-of-date and only including morning traffic analysis. When asked about the land values of the three hospital sites, David Evans claimed they were lower than might be expected: £15 million for Hemel Hempstead and £20 million for St Albans. The value of the Watford site had not been assessed.
The two hour meeting was conducted civilly, but the prevailing feeling was one of cynicism about the ‘refreshed’ plan. Mike Penning’s words summed it up: “We do not believe a word of this.”