West Hertfordshire hospital bosses have been told only to focus on redevelopment plans that can be delivered by 2025, it has emerged.
And they’ve been given a list of options NHS chiefs want to see on their shortlist.
None of those specified options include plans for a new purpose-built hospital on a new site – although the shortlist will not be limited to those specified options.
But the failure by the NHS to specify that the option of a new hospital be included in a shortlist has concerned some campaigners.
And they have hit back claiming that a new hospital could be delivered more quickly than redevelopment at the existing Watford General (WGH) site.
In response, bosses at the West Hertfordshire Hospitals Trust (WHHT) have stressed that the option of a new hospital is still being considered.
And they say they will not know until the autumn – after all options have been subjected to the same ‘rigorous’ process – whether it will be on the shortlist of options, or not.
Bosses at WHHT – which operates Watford General, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead hospitals – were told they could bid for capital funding last year (2019).
That approval was based on initial proposals to NHS bosses that focussed on the re-development of the Watford General site, on Vicarage Road, with some additional works at Hemel Hempstead and St Albans City hospitals.
But as part of the continuing bidding process the Trust is now considering a range of options, including the development of existing sites and the feasibility of new ones.
A letter from the DHSC – just published by the Trust – has signalled that the Trust should restrict their work to options that can be delivered by 2025.
Signed by the DHSC’s second permanent secretary David Williams, it highlights a number of options that it says should be taken forward for in-depth analysis.
Those various options include investment of between £300m and £540m at the Watford General site and a further £50m and St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead.
But Mr Williams warns that this does not an indication that a scheme above the ‘indicative envelope’ of £400m would be “nationally affordable or supported”.
And he states: “The view of DHSC and NHSEI is that whilst options should not be artificially constrained by the £400 million indicative allocation, our appetite for deliverability and timelines particularly in the current climate, remains high.
“With this in mind, we would not expect you to undertake options appraisal on any proposal that significantly increases the timescales for delivery of the scheme beyond 2025 and we would also not expect options to be developed that materially change the indicative values of the options set out above.”
Throughout the process the New Hospital Campaign and the Herts Valleys Hospital groups have continued to push for a new purpose-built hospital.
Following the publication of the letter, the Herts Valleys Hospital group – which believes the best option would be for a new hospital on a site in Bricket Wood – have highlighted the 2025 deadline in Mr Williams’ letter.
And they have suggested that a new hospital on an alternative site could be a quicker option.
“The suggestion that providing either new or refurbished facilities by that date on the current WGH site is, frankly risible,” say the campaign group.
“[. . .] The construction phase of a new build facility on a clear site could without question be considerably quicker than that offered in Watford, and so deliverability and timelines are not a valid reason to discount our proposal.”
Meanwhile the New Hospital Campaign has also highlighted the absence of a mention of a new hospital option from the letter.
And, as a result, they have suggested that the Trust’s feasibility study of possible sites and stakeholder engagement is ‘window-dressing’.
“If the Trust keeps a new A&E hospital on a clear, central site off the shortlist it would make a mockery of any meaningful involvement of patients and the public in health service provision,” said Edie Glatter, from the New Hospital Campaign.
“The engagement programme would be a farce and a waste of everybody’s time and money.”
In response to the concerns, Helen Brown, deputy chief executive of the WHHT said that a new hospital option will be part of the ‘longlist’ of options.
She said it would be “subject to the same rigorous process and financial constraints as the other possibilities” – and that she could not say whether it would be on the shortlist.
“The letter from our regulators does not state that only three options will be on the shortlist,” she said.
“The letter set outs three options that they expect to see on the shortlist, which will have at least four options.”
And she added: “We are sorry to learn that some people are claiming that the engagement is not genuine.
“We have enjoyed meeting stakeholders, albeit virtually, and have found their feedback tremendously valuable.”
A site review – looking at the deliverability of five sites, including the current Watford General site – is being carried out by external organisations.