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Prime Minister steps in to organise meeting over hospital redevelopment project

A CGI image of the new Watford General Hospital. Credit: Watford Borough Council.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has agreed to “secure a meeting” with the Health Secretary to “unblock” proposals for a new hospital to serve West Hertfordshire “one way or the other,” after the issue was raised in Parliament by Hemel Hempstead MP Sir Mike Penning.

West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust (WHHT) is one of eight frontrunners in the government’s New Hospital Programme – a national scheme committed to building 48 hospitals throughout England by 2030.

In 2019, the PM visited Watford General and confirmed the local NHS trust would receive capital funding to redevelop facilities across three hospital sites. 

WHHT is currently pursuing a potential £590 million reconfiguration of its clinical services offered at Watford General, St Albans City and Hemel Hempstead.

This includes a £540 million rebuild of Watford General, on land adjacent to the current hospital.

The trust is preparing a business case for NHS England and the New Hospital Programme – who will determine how much funding is awarded to the project.

However, campaigners are continuing to lobby for a new emergency hospital to be built on a greenfield site, which is accessible to everyone in West Hertfordshire.

Speaking in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (24 November), Sir Mike Penning called upon Boris Johnson to back proposals for a new hospital.

The Conservative MP said: ”The Prime Minister cheered all of my constituents up when he came to South West Hertfordshire and said that we were going to have a new hospital.

“Sadly, even though the money is there, the local management of our trust have blocked it; they are going to refurbish Watford’s hospital and not give us a brand-new hospital on a greenfield site, which is what we want.

“Will the Prime Minister meet me and some of my constituents to unblock this, and tell the NHS that it needs to build a new hospital for Hemel Hempstead?”

Mr Johnson replied: “I am grateful to my right honourable friend and I do remember the issue being raised with me when I was with him.

“I will be very happy to secure a meeting with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, who I am sure will be able to unblock things, one way or the other.”

An outline planning application to redevelop Watford General was approved by the council in July.

The submitted proposal involves the construction of a hospital with three new clinical blocks at Vicarage Road. 

The proposed changes to WHHT’s estate is for all three hospital sites to have a clearly defined role. Emergency, inpatient and complex care is to remain at Watford General.

Hemel Hempstead Hospital will become the centre for planned medical care and long term conditions, with St Albans City Hospital focusing on planned surgery and cancer care.

The trust’s hospitals currently provide services to around 500,000 people living in Hertfordshire. WHHT believe retaining the three site configuration will “provide the quickest route to new buildings” as well as “a good future service model”.

Commenting after last Wednesday’s parliamentary exchange, Helen Brown, Deputy Chief Executive for West Hertfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “We share Sir Mike’s desire to see new hospital facilities for our patients and staff as soon as possible.

“However, our strongly held view is that the best route to achieving this is major redevelopment at Watford General Hospital and improvements to our hospitals in Hemel Hempstead and St Albans.

“We are excited about our plans which are fully backed by our clinical staff.”

Elected Mayor of Watford, Peter Taylor, added: “For years, independent experts have looked into this and produced many reports.

Every time they have concluded that the best way to improve facilities for all of us is to invest in new buildings at Watford General.

“The trust have worked on a detailed case but now we need the government to get on with delivering the funding needed to make this a reality.

“The Prime Minister can unblock this by delivering the investment Watford General needs, now.”

It was hoped the hospital redevelopment would be near completion by 2025, yet delays at a national level mean building work is unlikely to commence until 2024.

This month, local politicians wrote to Health Secretary Sajid Javid, requesting an update on when funding would become available for the project. 

The cross-party letter was signed by Peter Taylor, Elected Mayor of Watford; Sarah Nelmes, Leader of Three Rivers District Council; Chris White, Leader of St Albans City and District Council; Daisy Cooper, St Albans MP and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats; and Dean Russell, Conservative MP for Watford. 

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has stated funding for the redevelopment programme will be released, once a full business case had been approved.

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