Milestone for Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital ‘success story’

A decade after the keys were handed over to the new Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, the project has been hailed a success for patients and the local economy.

Great improvements in patients' treatment and care, more jobs, a new medical school and a boost to the city's research park are among the achievements which the new N&N has helped to bring to the city and county over the last 10 years.

While moving the hospital out of the Norwich city centre to Colney was controversial at the time, today hospital chairman David Prior says the benefits of being near Norwich Research Park and the University of East Anglia have been clearly demonstrated.

Mr Prior said: 'We now employ just under 6,000 people whereas 10 years ago it was just under 4,000 people. We employ a lot more doctors in particular and we are seeing far more patients.

'As an employer and deliverer of health care we are a much bigger and busier organisation than 10 years ago and we are having a much bigger impact on the local economy. We are providing a much better service, for example in cancer care, coronary heart disease care and stroke care.'

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There remain questions over the Private Finance Initiative under which the hospital was built and whether it represents good value for money for the taxpayer, but Mr Prior argues it was the only option and the result is a 'world-class hospital'.

UEA vice-chancellor Edward Acton said: 'The arrival of the hospital in 2001 was a major boost for the university and our other partners on the Norwich Research Park. Over the past 10 years we and the N&N have worked closely together on education and training.'

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South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon added: 'I think it has been a considerable improvement in pretty much every aspect. It's an excellent facility and they have got lots of a hardworking staff. I know from personal experience because my wife had our second child in the N&N and my wife's father has been in the hospital on various occasions.'

The building of a new hospital in Norwich was first mooted in the 1960s. It took the best part of four decades to make that wish come to fruition, and it was a long and hard road.

The operational date, when the keys were handed over, is officially September 21, 2001, but it was not until November that the first phase of the move into the new Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) on the city's edge, at Colney, took place.

The move was a massive operational task because, throughout, the hospital had to continue providing treatment and it was not until January 2003 that it was completed. In 2011 prices, the hospital is estimated to have cost �208m to build.

For N&N chairman David Prior, the building of the new hospital came exactly at the right time as it was able to benefit from a huge increase in NHS spending over the past decade, from around �50bn to �110bn.

Mr Prior said: 'I think it's been absolutely the right time. If we had been in the old hospital still there's no way we would have been able to meet this extra demand and it would have been inconceivable to have the teaching, research and education that we now have.

'It came absolutely at the right time and has enabled us to grow and to prosper. Our income was around �150m before the move and it is around �420m this year.'

That increase in income has come from the number of patients it is now seeing, as well as some from the medical school and research activities.

In 2000/01, the hospital treated 529,000 patients, of which 85,000 were in-patients, 38,000 day cases, 336,000 out-patients and 70,000 A&E patients.

Ten years later, in 2010/11, the hospital treated 717,000 patients, of which 79,000 were in-patients, 71,000 day cases, 480,000 out-patients and 87,000 A&E patients.

Critics have always said the hospital was not built with enough beds to deal with the increase in patients. The first outline business case was for 701 beds, but this kept on being pushed up and the current total is 1,010.

It is true too that winter pressures in particular have seen the hospital placed on black alert on occasion because it was full and unable to accept new patients.

But Mr Prior said: 'What we have seen is the number of in-patients treated in the hospital stay broadly the same but there has been a massive increase in the number of day procedures and number of outpatients we see. That doesn't require beds but does require staff.

'The trend towards day surgery and more day procedures has increased faster than anticipated.'

However Mr Prior added: 'I think what has not been fully appreciated is the demands of a growing elderly population on the health service –very frail, elderly people with multiple medical problems and the intensity and acuity of their care is greater than it was 14 or 15 years ago.'

There is no doubt though, that clinical outcomes have improved as new services and treatments have been introduced. Stroke care, cardiology, radiology and cancer care are four of the most high profile areas which have seen dramatic improvements. Like practically every other hospital across the country, car parking has been an issue. The move to a site on the edge of the city raised concerns and fears over accessibility, and planning restrictions over the number of parking spaces allowed means that it can often be difficult for staff and patients.

Ian Gibson, who was Norwich North MP at the time the hospital was built, said: 'I think the general public have been very happy with the treatments they are getting, by and large.

'Whether or not the new health service bill is going to change all that remains a huge, huge question.

'There's no doubt that the hospital has been a raving success as far as many people are concerned.

'The inconvenience of buses to it, and the parking arrangements still annoy people, but in general everybody I have met has been very happy with the service.'

Serious concerns have also been raised over whether the hospital will prove good value for money for the NHS, as it was built through a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) which will see the N&N having to pay large sums of rent and maintenance to a private company for the next few decades.

For North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb the PFI has been nothing short of 'disastrous', but he added: 'The facility and the people working there are something that we should be proud of.'

Tomorrow we look at some of the issues surrounding the PFI deal.

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