The government pledge that Central Lancashire is one of 40 areas which will get a new hospital over the next decade is 'not a solution' to the current challenges facing the Royal Preston and Chorley and South Ribble hospitals.
That was the message from the vice-chair of the trust which runs the two facilities.
Tim Watkinson told a board meeting of Lancashire Teaching Hospitals (LTH) that the NHS in the region needed to “peddle down” on plans to overhaul acute and emergency services in the area - a process which last month saw the publication of 13 different options, which will decide the future of Chorley Hospital’s A&E.
Last weekend, the government announced that LTH would receive a share of £100m in “seed funding” to develop proposals for a new hospital in the late 2020s - but it was not one of the six trusts which have been told that they will get a new building before 2025.
“There is a fear that people may see that announcement and think, ‘Oh well, that’s the solution’ - but of course it isn’t.
“We need to be cracking on with [our existing plans], because we need the benefits a lot sooner than eight or ten years - and that’s even if we were successful. There is a danger that we hang back when we need to be pushing on.”
He also described as “a bit negative” a decision by a committee of Central Lancashire's two clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to delay whittling down the 13 options on the table to a shortlist for public consultation. The full range of options are currently being subjected to further scrutiny by clinicians.
Dr. Geraldine Skailes, medical director at LTH, said that it was too early to say whether the seed funding alone meant a new single-site hospital could now be included on the official list of options for consideration - it has previously been blocked because finance for such a scheme had not been secured. The government has said that cash for the new facilities themselves will be released once business cases have been prepared.
But Dr. Skailes added that the region still needs to “make changes to the way in which we are currently running our services”.
“I think we need to continue to move with our plan. The promise of some new funding is still very much just that - and we need to make sure we’ve got a very strong structure around how those decisions and plans are developed,” she said.
However, non-executive board director Paul O’Neill said the funding announcement was “a desirable complication”.
“If we think we might be getting a new hospital in ten years, then that is likely to impact on the criteria by which the options are judged - it will influence the financial and other considerations,” he said.
A recently-revealed blueprint for a so-called "super hospital", drawn up in 2016, put the price tag for such a project at £569m.
After deducting the £2.7bn allocated to the six hospitals which will get new buildings in the short-term, the other 34 projects would be left with just over £10bn between them, out of a purported total pot of £13bn – suggesting that Central Lancashire would have to receive a disproportionately large share if it were be allocated enough to construct a single-site facility.