Campaigners claim Trust's 'guesstimate' could have misled government over west Herts new hospital timeline
The Trust says the capital cost estimates and economic analysis were indicative and subject to more detailed analysis at a later stage
Campaigners have called for fair funding for a new central hospital for west Hertfordshire, accusing the West Hertfordshire Hospital's NHS Trust (WHHT) of giving the government potentially misleading estimates of how long it would take to build.
The New Hospital Campaign say WHHT has now made big changes to its original estimate of the timetable for building a new hospital on a new clear site.
But, the WHHT says they emphasised that the capital cost estimates and economic analysis were indicative and subject to more detailed analysis at a later stage of the OBC process.
A spokesman for the campaign group said: "In February 2020 the West Herts Hospital Trust told the Department of Health and NHS England that it could take until 2028 or 2029 to build a completely new hospital on a new central site.
"The Trust’s favoured option of refurbishment along with some new build at Watford General Hospital could, the Trust said, be completed by 2025 or 2026 – three years faster.
"These estimates encouraged the Department – determined to have a new building in place by 2025 or soon after - to make an offer of a possible £540 million for the Watford work, and effectively to rule out any proposal for a new hospital on a central site.
"In a June 16 letter to the Trust from the Second Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health and Social Care, David Williams, the Department makes clear that a fast build is a very high priority: he says ‘our appetite for deliverability and timelines particularly in the current climate, remains high.’
"But now the Trust has made huge changes to its estimates of timelines for the new hospital.
"A study released in August saw the Trust lopping two years off its own calculation of how quickly a truly new hospital on a new site could be finished, and admitting that it could be ready by March 2027.
"It could take as long or longer to build at Watford General – where sick patients would suffer years of disruption and noise as construction vehicles trundled past their windows."
The New Hospital Campaign (NHC) say the new estimates from the Trust have transformed the situation, and calls on the government, who hold the NHS purse strings, to seriously consider fair funding for a hospital on a new site instead of 'unfairly favouring' Watford General.
They say a meeting of the Trust and Herts Valley Clinical Commissioning Group Board on Thursday (October 1) is likely to rubber-stamp the Trust’s favoured option featuring a new building constructed in Watford, on the Riverwell site, tucked in behind the Watford Football Stadium.
Jean Ritchie of the NHC said: "The New Hospital Campaign wants West Herts to have the modern hospital it deserves as soon as possible.
"These new estimates from the Trust show that we can have that within a few years – but the Trust doesn’t want a truly new hospital on a convenient central site.
"Instead it wants to make West Herts patients continue their treatment on the crumbling and inaccessible site next to Watford Football Club while a new hospital block, hundreds of new homes, a school and a hotel are built around them.
"In June, Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England made the puzzling decision to conditionally offer £540 million solely for one Watford option.
"This offer was mainly based on the Trust’s potentially misleading February 2020 guesstimate that it could take three years longer to build a new hospital on a clear central site than to try to improve the situation at Watford."
A spokesperson for the West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust said: "The campaign group is referring to a briefing note prepared for the Department of Health and Social Care and our regulators in which we provided a progress update and outlined the range of options to be considered as part of the Outline Business Case.
"We stand by the information we shared in this document. We emphasised that the capital cost estimates and economic analysis were indicative and subject to more detailed analysis at a later stage of the OBC process.
"The Department of Health and Social Care has been clear that we should not consider any options that significantly increase the timescale for delivery of the scheme beyond 2025.
"Given the poor condition of some of our buildings, it is essential that improvements are delivered in the fastest possible time.
"Whilst the timeline is challenging, there has been a great deal of serious thought and planning over a long time now on new buildings and new models of care and the overwhelming view from the staff is that they want to see this talk become a reality.
"The thought of any kind of a delay is much more of a concern than having to work at pace for the benefit of all the communities we serve."