PFI for a new Queen Elizabeth Hospital?

CHRIS BISHOP A brand new Queen Elizabeth Hospital could be built under a £100m private finance deal - because it would be cheaper than modernising the current site.

CHRIS BISHOP

A brand new Queen Elizabeth Hospital could be built under a £100m private finance deal - because it would be cheaper than modernising the current site.

Talks have already been held between the trust which runs the QEH and West Norfolk council, to identify potential locations in the King's Lynn area.

Details of the plan emerged in a report to managers from Jeremy Cook, the hospital's finance director, who last night said that the current hospital on Gayton Road was approaching the end of its working life.

“This design of hospital was only built to last a relatively short period and we will be coming to the end of that period within the next five years,” he told the EDP.

“There's also the functionality of the hospital. A&E isn't big enough and some of the other areas are not in the right place.

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“Rather than spend a lot of money reconfiguring the hospital here, we're looking at a number of options.

“You usually find new build is the cheaper option. If you rebuild on the current site you have the difficulties of trying to deliver clinical services when you've got workmen in around you.”

As well as adapting its 27-year-old layout to the demands of 21st century patient care and surgery, there are a number of concerns about wear and tear to the current hospital site.

“It would cost millions to replace the roof which is giving us the greatest concern at the moment,” said Mr Cook. “Cracks are beginning to appear in the roof. It's not unsafe. It's not going to fall in. It's just going to cost a lot of money to replace it.”

Mr Cook said the timescale for the new hospital would be in the region of seven to eight years.

“It needs to be cost-effective and affordable,” he added. “We're currently working out what our clinical strategy is. That would decide what size and structure of hospital it would be. We haven't put a figure on it but I would expect it would be in excess of £100m.”

While the hospital has been up to £11m in the red over the last 12 months, it is on target to balance its books by the end of the financial year after making savings of more than £7m.

A number of options for financing the new hospital are being considered. They range from private sector funding, such as via the Norfolk LIFT - Local Improvement Finance Trust - initiative, to funding from income the hospital receives.

A report in the QEH's online newsletter Viewpoint, e-mailed to staff yesterday afternoon, said: “One further possibility is that any new hospital might be built with substantial input of private sector funding and leased-back to the trust, although we would have to draw heavily on the experiences of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital to ensure the tax-payers obtained the best-possible deal.”

Mr Cook said a preliminary meeting had taken place with West Norfolk council over possible sites.

“It needs to be a site that's not on the flood plain, with global warming,” he said. “We don't want to be flooded if we have a bad winter.”

The 480-bed QEH, which was state-of-the-art by the standards of its time, cost £17m to build. The hospital, which was opened by the Duchess of Kent in July 1980, was named after the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

It replaced the King's Lynn District Hospital, off London Road, parts of which were nearly 150 years old.

Last night North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham said: “I'm surprised in some ways because it's a fairly new site. When the Victorians built hospitals, they lasted 150 years and they're still working.

“I know the problem with a single or two-storey building is you have a lot of flat roofs, but it's shame if things couldn't be brought up to standard on that site, because people have an attachment to that site and there's a very happy atmosphere.”

Mr Bellingham said he was also “sceptical” about building another Norfolk hospital through a Private Finance Initiative deal.

“Rather than spend £100m now, they could end up over time spending more,” he said.