Waiting times: the strange delay in hospital funding

In 1828 a new hospital was established in Brighton in a building still in use today. The Barry building on Eastern Road is part of a collectionOld_Barry of buildings along the southern edge of the Royal Sussex County Hospital that are planned to be demolished as part of the “3Ts” programme – Teaching, Trauma and Tertiary Care” – that are planned to make the hospital a regional centre for trauma and cancer care.

In the early 1990s the then Conservative Health Secretary Virginia Bottomley took the decision to continue the expansion of the RSCH on the Eastern Road site, rather than begin again elsewhere. Under the Labour Government a Millennium Wing, new kidney unit, new Children’s Hospital, revamped A&E and a medical university wing were added.

In July 2007 the proposals to redevelop the southern half of the hospital were announced, and in July 2008 the South Coast Strategic Health Authority gave Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust the go-ahead to draw up an outline business plan. The following year a resident liaison group, which I now chair, was established to work with the local community during the ten-year design and construction of the project.

In 2009 the business case was approved by BSUH NHS Trust, with the then Trust Chair Duncan Selbie saying: ” We are pouring good money after bad to maintain these buildings even to the most basic 3Tsstandards.” By March of 2010 the first architect designs were released and the cost of the project was estimated at £400m.

In 2011 nine senior staff members and clinicians at the hospital wrote: “It cannot be acceptable that we still have beds in wards which were built before Florence Nightingale entered nursing. Those patients and their families who have been treated in our older buildings will not need convincing of the urgent need to pull them down. Every day we struggle to keep the environment safe, clean and comfortable and to maintain the dignity of the patients being cared for within it. And we do, but nevertheless they are totally unfit for purpose.”

In January 2012 Brighton and Hove City Council granted planning permission, and two months later all three parties on the council tabled and passed a joint motion calling on the government to release the funding to carry out the redevelopment. The motion stated “unequivocal support for this vital regeneration of the hospital” and called for “early confirmation of the funding required thereby securing its timely delivery.”

Shortly after that the outline business case was reapproved by the Strategic Health Authority, and the Argus reported Health Secretary Andrew Lansley was “expected to give a formal decision on the £420m hospital redevelopment this week”.
NHSHowever, the process then stalled. Although the SHA and Department of Health had given approval, the Treasury did not sign off on the funding from the NHS capital budget. Time and again it has gone back to the Trust for more financial information. Nine major submissions have been made over the past two years, but two years on from the project being given the go-ahead, and long after it was scheduled to begin, there is still no decision.

Tory minister Oliver Letwin said “it was not a case of whether, but when” the hospital would be redeveloped.” That was in July 2013.  Shortly after that our local Tory MP, in one of the most marginal seats in the country, launched his “campaign for a new hospital”.

On the second anniversary of the cross party motion to council calling for funding, I tabled a new motion calling again for “the funding already earmarked in the NHS capital spending budget..without further delay.” Conservative councillors refused to support  what they called an “illegal” motion, and echoed our Tory MP in saying the funding had not been earmarked. The Treasury and Department of Health say a decision will be made “in due course”.

If the funding has never been earmarked and isn’t available in the NHS capital budget, what has the last six years been about? If it has, why the delay in releasing it so that work on replacing 200 year old hospital wards can begin? Is there a deliberate timing in the announcement?

With just 400 days to go until the General Election, there must now be a suspicion that the long delay in treatment for this venerable old patient has less to do with patient care and more to do with the re-election prospects of our Tory MP.

 

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