Friday, February 13, 2009

News & Star reports "Major Cash Blow" to WCH

The News and Star reports here that there has been a major setback in plans for a new hospital for West Cumbria.

The paper's article today says that the NHS trust "found out this week that a maximum pot of just £100 million will be available – which may not be enough to deliver the new-build facility they had envisaged.

They have now admitted they may be forced to look at a part-refurbishment scheme – using some of the existing West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven – instead."

The issue was discussed yesterday at the board of the North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust.

Following the "Closer to Home" consultation, the trust is committed to providing new acute hospital facilities, with a minimum of 220 beds, in west Cumbria.

Up to now the proposal was for a complete new-build, possibly on a brand new site. After years of argument, there were signs that proposals for a new hospital would be put to public consultation later this year, although the date has kept slipping back.

I have been arguing that they must take a decision quickly, to ensure that we protect staff morale and keep good people at the hospital by giving them a secure future: this has become all the more important with the national economy going into severe problems and £35 billion sliced from government spending plans in the pre-budget report. The longer action is delayed, I said, the greater the risk that the money will no longer be there. Instead we should move forward as quickly as possible to provide modern services on the existing site.

Yesterday Kevin Clarkson, deputy chief executive of the North Cumbria trust, agreed that it is essential to resolved the matter quickly and put an outline business case to the NHS region bosses.

He also said the maximum amount of public funds available for the project will be £100 million – up to £70 million from the Department of Health and £30 million from the strategic health authority – which may not be enough. His report to the board states that

“A key issue for the project is the amount of capital that would be required for a complete rebuild to match the requirements set out in the Closer to Home consultation of 220-250 beds.

“Initial advice is that this may be challenging with the funding available.”

Instead the trust say they will now have to consider the partial use of the existing site rather than 100 per cent new-build. Professional advisers are being brought in to undertake a “rapid and focused” review of the options and report back to the board’s March meeting.

I am of course very concerned to hear about the money problems. However, as I was already of the opinion that the existing site is the best place for the hospital, if it means that the local NHS Trusts focus on providing the best available services on that site and moving forward to do so as quickly as possible, such a policy would be of benefit to patients and staff alike.


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