Campaign group claims independent report shows west Herts hospital rebuild plans would take longer than claimed

The Trust says the redevelopment programme team will consider the report presented by campaigners in further detail in the coming weeks

Thursday, 17th December 2020, 4:25 pm
Updated Thursday, 17th December 2020, 4:26 pm

A campaign group for a new hospital in west Herts are claiming that an independent report shows that plans for a rebuild of the existing hospital would take longer than planned.

New Hospital Campaign say that planning consultant Mike Naxton shows that trying to improve the situation at the cramped Vicarage Road site in Watford – the option favoured by the Trust – could take much longer than building a new hospital on a fresh central site.

A spokesperson for the group said: "This new evidence is crucial to the future of the area’s hospitals, because the West Herts Trust (WHHT) has denied calls for a proper appraisal of all options, arguing that a new hospital on a convenient new site would take longer than patching-up at Vicarage Road.

New Hospital Campaign group claims independent report shows west Herts hospital rebuild plans would take longer than claimed

"The Naxton Report concludes otherwise."

Campaigners believe the Report proves that a new hospital on a clear, convenient central site would provide better value for money and speedier delivery of new hospital facilities than the Vicarage Road options favoured by the Trust.

They say WHHT’s existing plans offer ‘very poor value for money and many more years of unpleasant working conditions and high maintenance costs.’

Mr Naxton’s report, commissioned by the New Hospital Campaign, uses advanced software to assess the options and concludes that a new emergency care hospital on a new site could be built up to three years quicker than the Trust’s favoured option of a mixture of demolition, refurbishment and some new build at Watford General.

A group spokesperson said: "The report shows that the Trust’s statements have systematically exaggerated the time it would take to build a new hospital on a new site – while unrealistically minimising the time it would take to carry out its plans for Vicarage Road.

"The Report reveals that a ‘Site Feasibility Report’ (SFR) produced in August 2020 by the property arm of WHHT’s corporate partner, the Royal Free Hospital London (RFLPS), offered blinkered evidence to make the case for Vicarage Road."

Key points in the 26-page Naxton Report include:

> The completion dates estimated in the SFR are not made on ‘a like for like comparison with options A-D [new site options] representing totally new Emergency and Planned Care Hospitals and E and F [Watford options] representing only the new buildings proposed for the Watford Emergency Hospital Campus.’

> The timescales for the Watford options set out in the SFR ignore crucial refurbishment, enabling and demolition works, without which the options will not be viable. If those are taken into account, the new site option is shown in the Naxton Report to be up to 3 years quicker than the Watford options.

> There is a risk of ‘Delayed progress [on the construction works] due to working restrictions ... [and] the requirements of working within or close to the existing operational hospital.’

The Report also says that ‘Additional remedial or replacement works may also be found necessary to the utility services infrastructures, many parts of which are stated to be in very poor condition ... there have been regular breakdowns that have caused disruption to patient treatments’.

New Hospital Campaign (NHC) member, building expert Robert Scott, has called on WHHT to take a look at the facts and give all the options a fair chance.

He said: “The thorough and detailed Naxton Report sets out the true facts about WHHT’s plans, and shows that there has been a systematic attempt by the Trust to massage the completion dates.

"The Trust is clearly keen to prove that it can have many new facilities in place at Watford by 2025, but it is likely to be wrong.

"‘The Trust has not fairly set out the case for proper appraisal of the option of a new hospital on a clear new site, basing its view on timelines that are full of the SFR’s exaggerated and inaccurate assumptions, as Mr Naxton makes clear.

"We at the NHC, especially those of us with experience of delivering large and complex projects, have watched with concern as the Trust has failed to take account of key considerations.

"The fact is that the high cost of redeveloping the Trust’s dilapidated and challenging estate means that, in terms of providing new facilities, the limited funding budgets for Watford will buy far less than building on a clear site.

"The Trust’s proposals just add up to very poor value for money and many more years operating out of sub-standard buildings, with unpleasant working conditions and high maintenance costs.

"The various building options being considered by the Trust for Watford unjustifiably claim much shorter timelines than any comparable NHS hospital projects.

"Indeed, there are many examples of redevelopments far less complex than WHHT’s plans for Watford that have badly overrun time and cost.

"The Trust has not done the basics in preparing for building at the Watford site.

"It has failed to:

- carry out the essential surveys clearly identified by Mr Naxton

- find feasible concept design solutions, or

- devise a safe implementation plan.

"This is not simply a case of the Trust being optimistic, it is a desperate attempt to gain government funding for redeveloping a dysfunctional hospital estate that it refuses to move on from, no matter how unviable its plans are.

"The Trust’s refurbishment proposals for some of the Vicarage Road buildings are about as logical as repainting a rotten window. The favoured option would see a new facility being built on a polluted slope.

"The decision to reject new site options was based on unsound and inadequate evidence, and Mr Naxton makes that clear.

"The Trust now need to accept that they were wrong to ignore the strong claims of campaigners for a convenient central site for hospitals in West Herts, undertake a proper search for such a site, and agree to examine all options fairly.

"The Trust owes nothing less to the people of West Herts."

A spokesperson on behalf of West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust said: “The trust has only recently had sight of the 26 page report published by the New Hospital Campaign which analyses the trust’s independent site feasibility study.

"Readers can view the independent site feasibility study along with a range of other documents covering costs and the decision-making process here.

"The site feasibility study was a key factor in the shortlisting undertaken by the boards of West Herts Hospitals NHS Trust and Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group.

"The redevelopment programme team will consider the report presented by campaigners in further detail in the coming weeks.”