Patients, doctors and nurses are suffering from frequent ward closures and flooding in “dilapidated and unhealthy” buildings as a new hospital promised by the government has not yet been delivered, one of the top doctors warn.
Patient safety will soon be at risk unless a replacement for St Helier Hospital, in south London, is finally confirmed by ministers, according to the NHS trust’s outgoing chief medical officer. Some of the buildings are mainly NHS, while the wards are closed due to sinking foundations.
Writing on observersDr Ruth Charlton, the chief medical officer at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust, warned that they now faced a race against time before staff could no longer provide safe care.
“Now, we provide safe care – but it’s not easy in such a broken and unhealthy environment, and I’m afraid we won’t be able to provide the level of care we want – or need – for much longer. . . ,” he wrote. “Our patients and our staff deserve better than the current situation – where wards are closed because the foundations are sinking, and floods and leaks are certain every winter.
“Every day we wait costs money, and every year we have to spend more and more to update our old, dilapidated buildings – replacing scarce resources from the front line … there is no other option. We need to advance our plans to build our new hospital and make improvements to our existing sites.
The replacement hospital is one of the so-called “40 new hospitals” promised by Boris Johnson and included in 2019’s Conservative election manifesto. The promise faced criticism because it emerged that many of the projects are not new hospitals, but extensions or renovations.
An observers An investigation earlier this year found that most had not yet obtained full planning permission. Meanwhile, leaked internal documents suggest that the planned costs of the New Hospitals Program have ballooned to an estimated £35bn – thought to be more than double the original estimated cost – as the inflation and delays hit the scheme.
The entire project is being investigated by the National Audit Office, which is expected to deliver a critical verdict in the summer. NHS leaders have raised concerns about the schemes being involved in the long run, but tight government controls on spending mean there is widespread disbelief that the hospitals will be completed by the original 2030 deadline.
St Helier hospital, in the borough of Sutton, is believed to be one of the schemes with the most urgent need. “Last week we had to close one of our wards because the lift wasn’t working,” wrote Charlton. “The truth is this: we, our patients, and our staff can’t wait any longer. The longer these delays are, the more money it costs us — and the harder it is to keep our patients safe.
Some Conservatives believe that the lack of progress in the delivery of hospitals can have a serious impact on the constituencies involved in the next general election. The Liberal Democrats believe this will help them dislodge Tory MPs in Eastbourne, Lewes, Carshalton and Wallington, and parts of Berkshire.
“Communities that desperately need a new hospital have been left with a series of broken promises and a Conservative manifesto that isn’t worth the paper it’s written on,” said Daisy Cooper, the Lib Dem deputy leader. and health spokesperson. “The government needs to provide emergency funding to St Helier hospital and others to ensure they are safe places for staff and patients.”
Other local trusts have confirmed that they are unable to move forward with projects as they await government clearance and cash. In a response under the Freedom of Information Act, East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust – which is responsible for plans for a new hospital in Eastbourne – said it was “awaiting confirmation of the level of funding it will receive from the program and options. then put in place depending on the level of funding allocated”.
It said the trust has so far spent no money on the plan and no funds have been transferred from the government.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We are investing £3.7bn for the first four years of the New Hospital Program and remain committed to delivering all schemes. as part of the largest hospital construction program in a generation.
“We have always been clear that individual timelines are subject to change as we develop the national approach to hospital construction. Early preparatory work has already begun on the Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust project.