West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust shortlist rules out new hospital on greenfield site

The trust operates Hemel Hempstead, Watford General and St Albans hospitals

Friday, 2nd October 2020, 9:02 am
Updated Friday, 2nd October 2020, 9:06 am

Health bosses in West Herts are pushing ahead with plans to redevelop existing hospital sites – after ‘ruling-out’ the option of a purpose-built hospital on a new greenfield site.

Bosses at the West Herts Hospitals Trust – which operates Watford General, Hemel Hempstead and St Albans City hospitals – have already been given the green light to bid for up to £590m from the government.

And over the past 12 months they have been evaluating number of options – at existing Trust sites and on alternative greenfield sites – to determine which are affordable, provide value for money and can be delivered by 2025/6.

West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust
West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust

These options have included proposals for a single purpose-built hospital on sites that have included the former Radlett Aerodrome or Chiswell Green – neither of which are owned by the Trust.

But at a joint meeting of the hospitals trust and the Herts Valleys Clinical Commissioning Group on Thursday (October 1), agreed to focus on plans to develop existing sites.

The bulk of the investment would be focussed around Watford General Hospital, where emergency services are based – with £50m earmarked for investment at Hemel Hempstead and St Albans City hospitals.

But the plans will still need to be developed further and then be backed by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), NHS regulators and the Treasury before they can go ahead.

During the meeting, board members heard that all the suggested sites had been subjected to an independent feasibility study.

And they were told that the Watford site had been judged to have fewer risks – in terms of planning certainty and land acquisition – and that it was capable of being delivered soonest.

HVCCG chief finance officer Alan Pond said some options were achievable in the time scale and at cheaper cost – and there were ‘more speculative’ alternatives that weren’t necessarily achievable, as the land may not be available.

At the meeting WHHT medical director Mike van der Watt said the preferred option would significantly improve the way care was delivered – providing excellent care and state of the art facilities.

Chief executive Christine Allen stressed the need to be able to deliver within the time-frame set by the DHSC – saying this was now “an opportunity to provide facilities our patients and our staff deserve”.

And HVCCG managing director David Evans, who said: “This has been a long journey and I think now s the time to move forward with these plans.”

Earlier in the meeting the board heard from members of the public and local representatives – in support and in opposition to the preferred option – in addition to a number of written representations.

Speaking first, Graham Cartmel told the board members that the stakeholder reference group had been ‘little more than a sham’ and suggested there had been ‘glaring omissions’.

And he pointed to issues with the Watford site that included the slope, ‘dodgy drains’ soil contamination and hidden asbestos.

Cllr Margaret Griffiths said Dacorum Borough Council had consistently supported a new hospital – and not the redevelopment of Watford.

And in a written submission health campaigner Ron Glatter raised concerns relating to the site feasibility study and the online survey of public views.

Meanwhile Peter Ingram, from the Herts Valleys Hospital campaign group, recognised that the Trust had no alternative.

He signalled that the campaign would continue to collaborate with the Trust, he said the campaign would start to promote their own project after the meeting.

Backing options to keep the Watford site, ICU Matron & chair of Joint Consultative Committee Victoria Houghton pointed to the majority of staff lived close to the hospital

Cllr Asif Khan, representing Watford Labour Party, said he fully supported the Trust and suggested that staff and residents should not wait longer than necessary for a new hospital.

Watford MP Dean Russell said that Watford was the right site. He said the delay and uncertainty associated with other options was ‘not worth the risk’ – urging the meeting, ‘let’s get on with it’.

Elected Mayor of Watford Peter Taylor said that the council supported the board’s preferred option.

He highlighted the existing public transport and road links to the Watford site and that redevelopment plans included a rebuild of 90 per cent of the existing hospital.

In addition to the redevelopment of the Watford site, the plans also include a new purpose-built urgent treatment and diagnostics centre at the Hemel Hempstead Hospital, which would continue to provide diagnostic and outpatient services.

And St Albans City Hospital – designated as the Trusts ‘Covid-free’ site – would be enhanced with an overhaul of its theatres and the creation of a rapid access cancer diagnostic centre. Expanded diagnostic services available at the site would include MRI and CT scanners.

At the Watford site there would be a large new clinical block and new hospital facilities, with the majority of patient accommodation made up of single rooms.

The land earmarked for development by the hospital in Watford is either already owned by the NHS or is said to have been ‘pledged’ by Watford Borough Council.