Campaign group claims plans for redeveloping Watford General Hospital could make a bad situation worse

The survey was carried out in February and March this year

Thursday, 10th June 2021, 10:49 am

A campaign group for a new hospital in West Hertfordshire claim that a survey of public opinion has revealed that plans for redeveloping Watford General Hospital would make a bad situation worse.

West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust is proposing to redevelop healthcare and hospital services across West Hertfordshire.

During February and March 2021 the trust carried out a public and staff engagement exercise to share the proposed redevelopment plans. A feedback survey was carried out as part of this process.

The trust commissioned a company called Timmus Research to do a report on a survey that they ran on public attitudes to their redevelopment plans.

Less than 10 per cent of public comments about the West Herts Hospitals Trust’s proposals for the Vicarage Road site were completely positive.

The survey also reveals that many local people are deeply unhappy with the current performance of the West Herts Trust in trying to provide a caring environment for patients and staff at Watford.

The New Hospital Campaign (NHC), which wants a new emergency hospital on a central site accessible for the whole area, says the survey, carried out in February and March this year, proves a complete reassessment of the project is urgently needed.

The group says key public concerns about Watford General in the survey include:

- Poor access, the most common complaint, including: problems with traffic congestion on the M1 and near the hospital, inconvenient and unreliable public transport links, and meagre and poor quality parking.

- Uncertainty about the meaning of the Trust’s planned so-called ‘Three-Site Model’ which is supposed to share improved services between Watford, Hemel Hempstead Hospital and St Albans City Hospital. The Survey suggests that people need this to be explained better, saying ‘They want to know how [the model] ‘affects them personally and locally’.

- The heavy Watford bias of the redevelopment plans have caused a North-South divide, with people from Three Rivers and Watford keen to see the proposed redevelopments at Watford General but Dacorum residents being ‘far more negative about the redevelopment plans than respondents from all other council areas’. St Albans people asked for reassurance about the local services that would remain available to them and had concerns about travel to Watford General.

Ron Glatter of the NHC said: "This survey shows the depth of the crisis of confidence which faces the West Herts Trust.

"It is doubly disturbing, revealing not only that many people are unhappy with the present environment at Watford General, but that the Trust’s expensive and impractical plans for the future inspire little faith in many West Herts people.

“The Trust have try to play down access issues, claiming that distances to Watford are ‘reasonable’. But that misses the point.

"People find it hard to get to Watford General because of traffic congestion and poor and confusing public transport, with rail stations inconveniently situated and bus services and parking dire.

“The Trust’s redevelopment plans offer no help here – there will be restrictions on the number of car parking spaces, and no improvement on bus access.

"Trust plans for a new 500-space bike park suggest absurd over-optimism about the numbers of acute patients and staff who will brave dangerous local roads to cycle to Watford General.”

Mr Glatter said that the survey authors’ suggestion of further research into access would be of no help. He added: "Given the site they have chosen, how can further research resolve the problem?

"Access will get worse, not better, with traffic congestion bound to rise in the next few years as nearly 1000 dwellings, a hotel, large primary school and other buildings cluster round the constricted tower blocks of the redeveloped Watford General. Further research would just be window-dressing.

“The survey demonstrates clearly that access obstacles are especially concerning for people with special issues such as mobility and other problems.

"The report says that such people are caused ‘additional anxiety and/or high uncertainty above that created by any health concerns for themselves or others they may be visiting’ by the environment of Watford General.

"One lesson from the survey report is that ‘accessibility design’ is crucial, but this has been largely ignored in the redevelopment decisions taken so far.”

The group says other issues include a failure by the Trust to explain clearly where services are going to go after redevelopment. The ‘Three-Site Model’ attempts to provide services across Watford, Hemel Hempstead and St Albans hospitals, but it is poorly understood by the people surveyed.

Mr Glatter continued: “All in all, the public have delivered a stunningly negative verdict on the stewardship of the Trust and their plans for the future.

"Action is needed now to put this right. The option of building a new hospital on a clear central site, along with good facilities in all three towns, must be properly and honestly explored."

The cost estimates for the redevelopment of the Trust’s three hospitals (Hemel Hempstead Hospital, St Albans City Hospital and Watford General Hospital) have varied over time.

Last June, the trust heard from the Department of Health and Social Care that it could consider options up to £540m to replace the Princess Michael of Kent (PMoK) building at Watford General Hospital as well as £50m investment at Hemel Hempstead Hospital and St Albans City Hospital – a total of circa £590m - excluding inflation.

Since that time, the importance of net zero carbon and integrating estate and service improvements with the latest digital technology have been raised and will need to be considered alongside the existing plans.

These factors and the need to take account of lessons learned from Covid as well the need to match buildings with the future need of the local communities, are likely to lead to costs rising above the £590m figure.

West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust’s deputy chief executive Helen Brown, said: “We take the responsibility of spending public money very seriously and so, as we press on with our plans, we will also look for efficiencies.

"We are working hard to strike the balance between having fabulous new and refurbished buildings whilst pursuing good value.

“This is a once in a generation opportunity to transform the way we provide care and our hospital sites and so we are driven to make sure that we ‘right size’ our buildings and leave ourselves room to grow.”

She added: “We are continuing to work with the New Hospital Programme on our plans and how these impact on our costs, which we will share towards the end of this year when they are more fully developed.”